A Writer’s New Year
January 1, 2011
So this is the blog where I don’t write about New Year’s resolutions, and how, we as writers should make all kinds of promises to ourselves to do more, to do better, to up the ante in our writing lives for the next year. This is the blog where I don’t tell you to plan the great American novel or the great American memoir you’ve been wanting to write for years, but haven’t. Where I don’t tell you to make three contacts that might prove useful in your writing life. Where I don’t tell you to make a writing schedule you can stick to. Where I don’t tell you to write 500 words a day every day, or 750, or 100. Where I don’t tell you to write 20 hours a week or 2 hours a day.
And I’ll tell you why. It’s been my experience that most of us make New Year’s resolutions we can’t possibly keep. We’re busy enough as it is, and we’re only human, and lifestyle changes aren’t all that easy to make all that quickly even if we have the best intentions in the world. Lifestyle changes take a long time to make. And they’re best made taking a baby step at a time. So if we make grandiose New Year’s resolutions (work out six days a week; write two hours a day; be nice to my partner all the time; cook gourmet dinner four nights a week), a few days or weeks or months down the road when we find that list of our New Year’s resolutions and we discover that we haven’t done what we promised ourselves we’d do, we’ll feel terrible about ourselves, we’ll beat ourselves up, we’ll tell ourselves we’re no damned good.
So why bother to make New Year’s resolutions at all if they’re so hard to follow?
To me, New Year’s resolutions are just another way of us telling ourselves we’re not good enough the way we are.
What if, instead of making New Year’s resolutions we probably won’t keep, we spend a few hours telling ourselves we’re fine just the way we are, that our essential selves are fine, and that there’s nothing we need to do today, tomorrow, or the next day to transform ourselves into better people?
So what do I do on New Year’s Day instead of making New Year’s resolutions for myself as a writer?
I think back over my writing year, and I gather information about what my writing year was like. I look over my planner and my journal and I think about my yearlong writing journey. I take stock and I acknowledge where I’ve been without judgment, without accusation or praise. I simply try to “see” what my writing life was like last year.
So this is what I learned about my year’s writing.
I learned that I started writing a blog about writing memoir, and that I wrote one entry most weeks. I learned that a good number of readers of my blog found what I wrote useful. I learned that it felt very good to take time out from writing my memoir about my father to write my blog. I learned that writing my blog helped me become a more fluent writer than I’d been because I gave myself a time limit for each entry (one hour) and some ground rules (write what you’re impelled to write; make minimal revisions). I learned that I’ve laid the groundwork for a new book about writing. I learned that I want to continue this practice.
I learned that during the month of March I decided to undertake what I called “the final push” for finishing the memoir about my father. I learned that until March I was terrified of the book but that when I started the final push in March I became less terrified though I was still frightened of the book (and still am). I learned that it took me four months to revise a very difficult chapter. I learned that I continued to work no matter how tough the work felt. I learned that making my “Next To Do” list every day and at the end of each day worked miracles for me – focusing on only one thing at a time was less overwhelming. I learned that I’d overlooked a substantial body of research I had to do and I had to stop and do it. I learned that giving my work to other people to read was helpful up to a point, but that I had to stop because I lost my focus and became confused by the input I received. I learned that I have five solid chapters finished. I learned that I could make a chapter-by-chapter outline of my book. I learned that I finally understood what my book was about. I learned that I needed to write a proposal if I want to secure a publisher for this book. (This is the first book in a long time that I’ve written without a contract.)
This is where I’ve been on my writing journey. There’s more. But this is enough to show you what I do, what you might think about doing, so I’ll stop now.
I think that you can see how much more useful this is for a writer than wasting time making New Year’s resolutions. It’s like pausing when you’re on a long journey, standing on the top of a rise, and acknowledging where you’ve been, the hard work you’ve done to get where you are, before you think about plotting a course for where you want to go next.
Where I am right now.
Where I am right now is simply put: I’m nearing the end of writing my proposal for my memoir. I’m at the beginning of revising the chapter about when my parents met. I’m no longer terrified; I’m no longer afraid; I’m not sure of myself either; but I’m in a pretty good place with the work right now.
And what’s the next part of my writing journey? To continue revising that chapter about my parents when I’m finished with my proposal.
That’s it. It’s not a grand plan. It’s a simple plan. I don’t want to say “Finish the memoir” because that’s too grand a plan. I don’t want to say “Finish revising the chapter” because that’s too grand a plan. I just want to know what the very next tiny little thing I’ll be doing in my writing life. That’s all I need to keep my going. Anything more than that would probably stop me dead in my tracks.
So, see where you’ve been. See where you are right now. And look just a tiny way down the writing road.
May we all have a blessed writing year.