New Year’s Unresolutions

(Since the temp will not be above zero for the next couple of days, I’m spending a lot of time looking at pictures of warmer days.  Hence the flowers to the left and me quietly crying in the corner.  SO COLD!)

I used to be a huge fan of making New Year’s resolutions. I’d scribble impossible lists of all the exercise and healthy eating and meditation I was going to do over the coming year, only to review the crumpled lists at the end of the year with a strong feeling of guilt and failure.  Then I came to my senses and realized no one prospered from me starting the new year feeling bad about myself.

So this past week I spent hours with a purple pen and a yellow legal pad, reflecting on the past year of writing and jotting down plans for next year.  I even found my list of intentions from last year (okay, these were more like resolutions than not):

  • Complete research for second novel by the end of February
  • Revise rough draft of second novel and send second draft to beta readers by the end of July
  • Conduct preliminary research for third novel and apply for grant funding by mid-June
  • Write six short stories and submit at least three to literary journals
  • Write ten flash fiction stories for ten contents and/or journal submissions
  • Blog seven – ten times per month (lucky you!)
  • Write a rough draft of yet another novel – I have two planned and will write one, depending on how a few external circumstances resolve themselves

I did okay.  I won’t bore you with the details, except to say that I am starting the new year with a novel to revise and a rough draft to finish.  I published several flash pieces and decided I am not a short story writer.  I embraced slow blogging.  I didn’t get the grant but I learned a lot from the process.

Mainly I recognized my pattern of biting off more than I can chew when it comes to setting goals.  I don’t want to do that this coming year.  I do have plans – I’m going to keep writing and revising.  I’m going to keep blogging.  And I have an exciting announcement about my first novel coming soon.

But more than anything, I have one overriding goal:

To explore my full potential and creativity as a writer.

And I have five practices that will help me live into that goal:

  • Reflection – I need time to dream, ponder, doodle.  I spent too much of the fall trying to churn out word counts, afraid that I was “wasting time” otherwise.  But in order to write well, I need time to stare out the window, “wasting” writing time, mulling over my characters and plots.  Inspiration usually comes when I’m writing but it’s supported by dreaming, too.
  • Intentionality – Sometimes all I really need to do in order to stay focused as a writer, is to spend a little time each day or week setting a few goals and intentions, while also being realistic about how much I can reasonably accomplish.  It’s much more concrete to “write 5,000 words by Friday” than it is to “work on novel this week.”
  • Risk – I’ve always secretly worried I don’t take enough risks.  That I’m content to live on the sidelines. I also realized last year that I’ve accomplished the things I’m most proud of by taking risks.  I have a thing about wasting time (see above) and I think I shy away from risks because I’m afraid I’ll have wasted all this time on something that failed.  But, as the universe has been reminding me lately, we learn and grow from our mistakes and failures, maybe even more than our successes. More news on specific risks to come.
  • Simplicity – I took down the decorations last week and I kept going, getting rid of items in the house I no longer use.  I also deleted a ton of shows from the DVR, shows I know I will never watch.  My closets are next.  I work best in clean, uncluttered spaces.  This applies to intangible things, too.  I’m done beating myself up over things I “should” do.  And I’m not going to let people steal my time – I’ve always been good at this but circumstances necessitate even more vigilance.  There, less mess – physical and emotional – and more time to write.
  • Self-care – This comes closest to a resolution.  Mainly it means getting enough movement and good food and sleep to stay healthy and functioning.  But I’m not going to beat myself up if I don’t lose 10 pounds or get to the gym every day.

So, we’ll see what happens.  I’m off to tackle my closets!

The Tyranny of the To Do List

photo (7)I come off as a fairly patient person.  I can stand in airport security lines without rolling my eyes.  I will play endless rounds of Parcheesi – we only play the preschool rules at my house, however, which means the preschooler always wins. I can even stand at a cutting board and snap the ends off pounds and pounds of green beans until my eyes glaze and my fingers cramp.

It’s all a ruse.  Inside I’m beset by growing irritation, a tightening abdomen and increasingly snarky comments.  (Which I say only to myself – did I mention I’m also somewhat passive aggressive?)

I often feel this way in February, with endless weeks to go until spring and the memory of warm fall days long gone.  I’m booked this entire weekend, which is unusual for me, so tasks I usually ignore until Saturday are already overdue.  I’m behind in planning meals, buying countless Valentines for preschool (not to mention addressing those countless Valentines), and I my kids were sick part of this week, so I didn’t get everything done on my writing to do list.

And there it is – my problem.  The tyranny of the to do list. I work well with specific goals and I’m good at giving myself (and sticking to) deadlines. But when things are chugging along merrily, I tend to give myself just a little too much to do.  “Wouldn’t it be great if I finished two blog posts, a short story, read the rough draft of my novel, made extensive revision notes AND queried multiple agents this week?”

(I’m not kidding – this was actually my to do list this week.)

Oops.

Even with sabbatical (or maybe especially with sabbatical, not to mention having kids), I’ve come to see time as a commodity.  I don’t want to waste it.  My inner narrative goes something like this:

  • I must maximize my time, because in a few months I head back to work and I need to do everything I can to launch this writing career.
  • I must maximize my time, because my kids are in preschool and I want to honor them by writing as much as possible when they’re not at home.
  • I must maximize my time, because “something might happen” to throw off my well-laid plans in the future.

Yep, I’m also a bit of a control freak.  Thus, one of the most surprising (and difficult) aspects of writing: you’re thrown headfirst into your deepest insecurities and anxieties. (Don’t even get me started on the roller coaster of emotional badness I go through whenever I get a rejection.  Actually, yes, do get me started on this – we’ll talk more about this in an upcoming post.)

I’ve been a Buddhist long enough to know that leaning into places of insecurities and anxieties are precisely where transformation can happen, if we’re brave enough to look them in the eye.

So today, at least, I will choose to be kind to myself by examining my overly-ambitious to do list and learn to be more realistic about my time next week.   I will try to cut myself some slack and also continue to explore my relationship (and clinging) to time. Maybe after I watch a few cat videos on the interwebz first…

Barrier: Overly ambitious to do list causing anxiety and irritation

Solution: Step away from the list (go back and review it later), look at pictures of warm, sandy beaches online instead, dream of sun

Trying hard not to believe in omens

I’m not one for omens, even though I write fantasy novels, but I’m already a little leery of 2014.  In the past three days my dryer broke, my pipes froze and my basement flooded.  Fortunately, all of these things can be fixed and I’m also still on sabbatical, so really, every day is still Saturday, even if the basement floods.

Even though 2014 may be off to a rocky start, I’m optimistic it will progress well, especially if I set a few writing goals and stop bothering the plumber every time he comes to visit.  With that in mind, here are my writing goals for 2014:

  • Complete research for second novel by the end of February
  • Revise rough draft of second novel and send second draft to beta readers by the end of July
  • Conduct preliminary research for third novel and apply for grant funding by mid-June
  • Write six short stories and submit at least three to literary journals
  • Write ten flash fiction stories for ten contents and/or journal submissions
  • Blog seven – ten times per month (lucky you!)
  • Write a rough draft of yet another novel – I have two planned and will write one, depending on how a few external circumstances resolve themselves

So that’s my year.  Probably overly ambitious, as is my nature, but I also do well with deadlines, so let’s see how it turns out.  Bring it on, 2014!