Kate here, starting a conversation about New Year’s Resolutions. Whether we make them, what they might be, and why those particular resolutions. Wondering mostly, of course, about writing-related resolutions. Have you hit your stride and don’t want to rock the boat? Do you want/need to be more productive in the New Year? Or are you trying to break some of those bad habits that get in the way of your productivity–like lingering on Facebook to check up on friends or play games?
I don’t really make New Year’s resolutions, but last year I did make a couple of pacts with myself that have made this year much better. First, I decided to let go of envy–of that feeling of despair or disappointment when someone I know and like has book after book and success after success. How I felt didn’t matter to them, but it was getting in my way. So I let it go. Instead, I resolved to just take pleasure in my friends’ successes, especially when I knew how long and hard they’d worked for it.
And that led to my second resolution: attend more author events every year and be there to support my friends as they celebrated the publication of their books. That turned out to be a very good thing, too. I celebrated a lot of happy times and read a lot of good books.
Paul: I don’t try to make more than one resolution per year. That’s usually more than enough. Last year, I resolved to live a more intentional life: to make positive decisions about the way I want to live rather than be reactive in so many areas. Did I fulfill my goal? Yes, I think I did. That’s one good reason to make New Year’s resolutions, to experience the satisfaction that comes from having made a powerful change.
In terms of my writing life, I am resolving this year to read more of my contemporaries. I confessed on this Web site a while back that my schedule has made it difficult to read. Also, the hours I spend every day staring into a computer screen or at a piece of paper don’t incline me to pick up a book before I hit the hay. I need to get past these excuses (however legitimate they might be). Simply put, I don’t think you can be a decent novelist without reading other novels. The good ones inspire you, and the bad ones teach you what to avoid.
Reading can also be extremely pleasurable: a fact I had nearly forgotten in the whirlwind of the past three years. A few months ago, I happened to pick up Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom at my in-laws’ house, read a few pages after dinner, asked to borrow their copy, and found myself burning through chapters in several marathon sessions. I enjoyed Franzen’s novel immensely and found myself feeling a familiar sensation that I hadn’t experienced in ages: I didn’t want the book to end. Novelists need to be champions of the importance of reading—now more than ever—and I believe we start by being enthusiastic consumers of fiction. People can sense when you’re bullshitting them, when you’re more interested in promoting your own books than in participating in the culture that books create. It doesn’t take Holden Caulfield to point out that a writer who isn’t also a gung-ho reader is a world-class phony.
Vicki: Both of you raise so many excellent points. First off, Kate — kudos to you for your goals (I prefer that term to resolutions) and letting go of what’s got to be the deadliest of the Seven Deadly! It is so easy to slip in to a chronically unsatisfied state when it is so much more fulfilling to live a grateful life. Paul, I think you are spot on about the importance of writers being readers. My excuse at one time was that I did not want to be influenced by other styles of writing as I struggled to find my own. Happily that is in the past and I’m really enjoying reading again.
I enjoy the process of resolution making. I divide up my yearly goals into different categories (professional, personal, stuff I want to do around the house.) I have found that the key is to write them down in a place where I can periodically check in, like my date book. That is what turns my itemized list from “dreams” to “goals.” My big writing one is writing and publishing a e-book in 2012. I also have a stand-alone that I’m going to flesh out. Those two, along with finishing the writing of Contract for Murder and writing Darby #5, should keep me busy. Let me add “Sell a Several Million Dollar House” to that list so I can get a housekeeper.
Lea: I spent a number of years in my past life doing strategic planning, so setting goals/making resolutions is now part of my mindset. (Ask my husband about the lists I make ….) But the truth is that without those lists to keep me focused (like Vicki I have different lists for different parts of my life) I wouldn’t finish half of what I need to do. In 2012 my number one goal personally is to lose weight and this time keep it off (ugh.) Not a unique goal, but important. Professionally, I need to produce more. I have one contracted manuscript due March 1, and I need to write at least one more book after that — if possible — two. No excuses. I know my weaknesses: I plan and research my subject to death and then I get hung up checking (and answering) email. I’ve heard of “anti-distraction” software programs (SelfControl, WriteRoom, Freedom, Isolator) that you can set to block the internet for a predetermined time. I think I’m going to try them. It’s a new year! Onward! And best of luck to all of us in reaching … and surpassing … our goals!
Barb: Like Lea, I did a lot of strategic and operational planning in my prior life. I’ve written about how I’m learning to be a good boss for myself and how I miss the rhythms of the corporate year. When I was working, our boards always required us to have plans and budgets completed before the last meeting of the year, which was usually around December 21, and I remember how great it felt that day to get that giant check mark and feel set up for the coming year. We used a system of cascading goals and performance metrics that over the years has become second nature to me.
Personally, I’ve always done to-do lists (more on this in some future post) and monthly goals. But this year, I was on a long car ride the day after Christmas, and I started to write some resolutions. I looked at them after I’d sketched them out and realized they mimicked corporate goals–one personal, one for writing, one for the business of writing, one for Level Best Books, one for Sisters in Crime New England and the New England Crime Bake (where I’ll be president and co-chair respectively this year). So I took the time to calendarize the goals and add performance criteria. We’ll see if this amounts to anything. Of course, like a corporation, I’ll try to remain nimble (not my best trait, by any stretch). Things can change at any moment.
I hope everyone has a great 2012!
Julia: Vicki, Lea, Barb – I’m in awe of all your organizational power. I’m terrible at setting goals and even worse at planning to make them happen. Honestly, if I didn’t have Ross to keep me on track, I’d probably spend most of my life stumbling around in my pajamas, wondering what day it was. That being said, I did set a goal last year that I’ve managed to keep and put into practice. Like most of us, I have a tendency to get caught up in the rush of day-to-day activities; work, shop, chores, must-dos. After Ross successfully completed his cancer treatment, I resolved to take advantage of the small moments and to be grateful for the opportunities to spend time together as a couple and as a family. That resolution made me much more intentional, to use Paul’s apt phrase, about saying “yes”: yes, we can all go to the beach, yes, let’s stop at Red’s Eats, yes, I’ll leave the computer and play cards with you. My life is the richer for it.
This year, I’m going to take that focus and turn it toward my writing. I’ve also fallen into the habit of letting day-to-day activities interfere with writing time, and as we all know, once you’ve fallen out of the story it takes that much longer every time you do sit down to get back into it. (In the same way that taking a few weeks off from exercising means spending the same amount of time getting back to the level of fitness you had before you stopped.) I used to write every day, and I have to get back to that place. I suspect for writers, this is an even more common resolution than losing weight!
Kate: I think Paul has hit the nail on the head with the idea of living a more intentional life. And I need to borrow a leaf from all your books about making a list about what I want to do in the coming year. I can get so bogged down by all the choices. Which book to work on. When to work on it. How to prioritize when everything is so fascinating, and when my projects are all on-going or rewrite and what I love best is first draft. But time is finite. And, to paraphrase an old rock and roll song, I’m not a kid anymore. Time is not infinite.
But also, as Julia points out, it’s important to live and love as well as write–and it gives us so many things to bring back to the writing desk. If we never get out, we miss character and story, setting and sensory stimulation, and, dare I say it, life itself.
Happy New Year!
Jim: I think if I had one goal for my writing for 2012 it would be less OCD about it all. I have no trouble at all focusing on the book I’m working on. Unfortunately, a great deal of trouble focusing on anything else (including my contributions to this blog.) So my one resolution for the coming year is “For God’s sake, lighten up and smell the damn roses!”
Happy New Year one and all.
Sarah: I recently read a Vanity Fair interview with P.D. James, who responded to the question ‘What is your favorite activity?’ with the reply, “Writing.” Now, this is a woman who has written a great many words, and you’d think a bit of the thrill might’ve worn off by now. And, I suppose, it’s possible to fib a little to a Vanity Fair interviewer. But somehow I don’t think she was fibbing. It made me stop and think about the work I do, why I do it, and how much I enjoy the process — that is, when I let myself enjoy it.
When, for instance, I stop worrying, while I’m writing, about deadlines, and editorial requests, and agents’ and beta-readers’ suggestions or criticisms. When I forget everything but the characters and what they want, instead of what I want, and what everyone else wants. When I deep-six the memory of what an Amazon reviewer said, or what some other writer thinks about ‘cozies,’ or what exactly a ‘cozy’ is, anyway, and whether or not I’m writing one. When I write the same way I ride a bike, or walk the dog: all process, all flow.
So my resolution this year is to put that baggage down. Just…drop it. After all, it’s not doing me or anyone else any good. And having already begun to put this resolution into action, I’m happy to report that if Vanity Fair wants to interview me, I’ve got an honest answer ready. Because the truth is, writing really is among my favorite activities — as long as I don’t try to be a baggage carrier, too, while I’m in the middle of my own work. Happy 2012, everyone!