A Writer’s New Year

The last candle on the Advent wreath has been lit. We’re half way through the Twelve Days of Christmas and coming face-to-face with the New Year.

There are so many bloggers posting about New Year’s resolutions that I hesitate to even mention the subject. Every year I tell you that I don’t make resolutions because I can’t face the idea of setting myself up for failure.

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But the year is almost over. This is my last post of 2014, and it feels like I should be sharing something of significance, especially since this is also my 965th post since I began here six years ago. 965!!! The trouble is, six years of blogging hasn’t necessarily been the valuable learning experience I expected.

It’s given me lots of practice, but amassing quantities of words doesn’t produce quality writing any more than long hours practising an incorrect tune on the piano produces the perfect song. Repetition simply reinforces a habit, bad or good.

During Sunday’s sermon it did my heart good to hear my son-in-law say he likes Mondays because no matter how badly he might have ‘screwed up’ the week before, Monday provides a clean slate, an opportunity for a fresh start.

You’ve heard me say many times how much I like Mondays, too, and I like the New Year for some of the same reasons. I don’t have to make a fresh start, but the opportunity is there. Of course, before the desire to do so takes hold, evaluating the status quo has to happen. That’s what the year end is for.

As writers, how do we evaluate the status quo?

  • Has our life changed for the better? Each of us will have various standards against which we measure our progress, improvement, or achievement. In each case, however, forward momentum is desirable. If we’re still in the same place we were at this time last year, still going through the same motions and offering the same explanations and excuses, we’re likely stagnating.
  • Are we satisfied/content with what we’re doing? Success can mean different things to different people. While some of us might daydream about a lucrative publishing contract, even if that were possible, the reality is that few are ambitious enough to put in the required effort. And that’s okay. Just because a person loves to write doesn’t mean being on a best sellers’ list has to be the destination. There are many outlets for creative writing, from composing letters of encouragement to shut-ins, to creating online devotionals or how-to articles. Discovering our niche and taking pleasure in it is a worthwhile achievement.
  • If a published book is our goal, are we taking appropriate steps to make it happen? Have we studied the craft of writing and what the constantly-changing publishing industry requires? Are we writing regularly, finishing what we start, getting our work critiqued and/or edited, researching and querying effectively, building a platform? Or are we only online, reading blogs, talking about writing and enjoying the social media experience? (Hey, I’m happy you’re here, but I know how easy it is to hop from one site to another and get nothing else done.) 

As writers, how should we move into the coming year?

  • Understand what’s needed to achieve desires and goals. If we’re already under contract, there are expectations and guidelines. Some will have specific edit deadlines. We need to have a realistic understanding of how many words we can produce or revise in a day or week, and the working conditions we require to meet those deadlines. Idealizing isn’t our friend. We need to know our abilities and limitations.
  • Stop procrastinating. A writer’s worst nightmare is procrastination. Yes, some of us work faster when we’re under pressure, but the resulting stress and long hours of work can make us crazy. (People think we’re a little crazy to begin with, but we don’t need to fuel their delusion.) If we’re waiting to finish a character sketch, or complete some research before we start writing, we may never get beyond that stage. We have to push out of the rut and get going… get the first draft done. There will be time later to revise and develop the story, but there’s nothing to edit on a blank page.
  • Become a list-maker. Don’t indulge in vague goals. Itemize specific plans on paper, put the list in a visible place, and check off tasks as they are accomplished. Seeing the results materialize will help boost our morale and fuel our drive to do more.

Notice how I haven’t mentioned ‘resolutions’? They don’t work for me, but that doesn’t mean I won’t continue to move ahead with my writing goals. Desire and intent are great motivators as long as they’re combined with action. 

What’s one thing you want/plan to achieve in 2015?

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“Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday.”

[Don Marquis]

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“Turning pro is a mindset.
If we are struggling with fear, self-sabotage,
procrastination, self-doubt, etc.,
the problem is,
we’re thinking like amateurs.
Amateurs don’t show up.
Amateurs crap out.
Amateurs let adversity defeat them.
The pro thinks differently.
He shows up, he does his work,
he keeps on truckin’, no matter what.”

[Steven Pressfield]

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March Madness (i.e., #wipmadness) is almost here!

We’ve reached that time again — our semi-annual dip into insanity. In November it was NaNoWriMo. Now March is almost here and we’re ready (sort of) to tackle March Madness. You’re invited to join the challenge. Whatever your bookish endeavour — reading, writing, blogging or illustrating, etc. — you tell us what you want to achieve in March, then you get busy and start achieving. Each day there’s a blog post to offer encouragement and act as a check-in location where you can report your progress and cheer each other on.

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Author Denise Jaden coordinates us, and today is Goal Setting Day on her blog, so click on over there and let her know your March goals.  They don’t have to be mind-boggling ones. Make them reasonable — ones that you know are attainable but that will push you a little beyond your comfort zone. Then let your public declaration boost your willpower.

There will be loads of encouragement and prizes galore to help provide motivation. In fact, Denise is offering the first prize to someone who comments on her post TODAY. 

We’ll tweet regularly under the hashtag #wipmadness, and bloggers will be posting their encouragement every day of the month. There will be lots of great prizes available to those who check in regularly. Here are the daily check-in locations beginning here on Saturday, March 1st:

It all starts here on Saturday, BUT you need to get yourself over to Denise’s blog TODAY and let her know you’re committed to our mad-dash month of writing (or whatever your pursuit) and make yourself eligible for the very first prize giveaway.

Do it! Go on… don’t over-think it. Just click HERE and spill your plans to Denise. Then we’ll see you back here on Saturday for the kick-off. I guarantee it’ll be worth it.

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The View from Here

Have you ever yearned to be somewhere else… to see something other than the everyday ordinary? “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” is a saying with more truth in it than I care to acknowledge.

With our lake-to-lake and through-the-mountains travels concluded, I could be mourning the lack of all the beautiful scenery now that  we’re settled into our daughter’s home, “baby”sitting our two granddaughters. I could be immersed in catching up with a holiday backlog of laundry, making lunchtime grilled cheese sandwiches and playing paper dolls while regretting the end of lazy vacation days.

It’s easy to get sucked into a mundane mentality — to see the dust and dirty dishes and wish for something more… more what? More interesting, attractive, stimulating? When I let such thoughts overtake, I miss the fragments of everyday joy that encapsulate the ordinary.

Yesterday, while saying goodnight to the precious youngsters, I happened to glance out the window and discovered this:

If I hadn’t lifted my eyes, I would have missed something just as spectacular as anything I saw on our trip through southern BC. And it was right there, waiting to be recognized outside the window through which I normally only “see” the neighbours’ homes, passing cars, light standards and the occasional person walking a dog.

As an aspiring author, I often don’t see beyond the daily writing and my wish to have my novels published. I don’t accept the pleasure of the endeavour as being enough.

As a wife, I frequently fail to acknowledge the comfort, companionship and assistance of a very thoughtful husband because he’s always here and I expect him to be.

As a woman… as a mother… as a member of my church, community and world, I fail to experience all that life is, because I fail to look and truly see.

Ann Voskamp challenges me to find joy in ordinary moments and to be thankful for them. It’s a challenge I accept and also pass along to you. This weekend a new month begins — a fresh start, not only for grandchildren returning to school, but for us leaving vacations behind and taking up the regular routines once again. It’s an opportunity to revamp my attitude and rearrange my priorities. I’m going to print out Ann’s 100 Days Calendar and use it not only as she suggests, but also to record at least one special joy discovered in the ordinary of each day.

Acknowledging the view from here will encourage me to use thankfulness to overpower lingering discontent.

Let’s get a head start on September. What one everyday joy can you find today for which to be thankful?

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“Open my eyes so I can see 
      what you show me of your miracle-wonders.”

Psalm 119:18 (The Message)

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“Open my eyes that I may see
glimpses of truth you have for me…”

Clara H. Scott
(Click composer’s name to listen to the hymn)

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Resolutions and the Journey of Life and Writing

When I’m driving you can be sure I’m focused on the road ahead. I see the twists and turns, the potholes in the pavement, the mileage or street signs. I watch for pedestrians, traffic signals, and other vehicles. I don’t do a lot of sightseeing. That’s why, on a longer journey, I enjoy being the passenger, not the driver. I like to check out the scenery.

Of course, if I were the driver I could stop and get out whenever I wanted to take a photograph instead of having to snap through the windshield as scenes whiz past, which is the case when my husband is driving. He’s very focused on reaching our destination in the shortest possible time.

There are many quotations that compare both life and writing to a journey. One comes from Steven Tyler who said, “Life’s a journey, not a destination.” I agree with him, to a point. Life and writing are progressive activities. They are pursuits that should bring us a sense of pleasure and satisfaction. Unfortunately, without some kind of goal in mind they are purposeless. I can’t imagine getting into a car and driving for days to nowhere in particular even if I might enjoy the view along the way.

At the start of a new year many people make resolutions that include admirable goals. (I hasten to add that I don’t make resolutions; I don’t like setting myself up for failure and too often lofty goals are unattainable. As I mentioned in a blog post last year, I prefer to have intentions. “Intentions involve more commitment than a wish or desire, but don’t involve a self-inflicted promise. So if I don’t manage to achieve everything I intend, the disappointment won’t be too demoralizing.”)

Setting realistic goals may be more conducive to success, but how do I differentiate between realistic and unrealistic?

Unrealistic goals are usually the ‘someday’ kind… the dreams you have that require an unlikely coincidence or someone else’s intervention before they can possibly come true.  Realistic goals are ones you can make happen without any help. For instance, I might say that some day I’d like to own a racehorse that will win the Triple Crown; or I’d like to write a novel that will be on the New York Times Bestsellers List. Both are possible accomplishments but not from my current position. Both would require a lot of preparatory work but even then would depend on circumstances over which I have no control. On the other hand, owning a top quality, well-conditioned racehorse, or writing a well-crafted novel might be within my sight with the right amount of commitment.

Whatever the task ahead of me, even if it’s something I could do, I may be so overwhelmed at the immensity of it that I’m unable to make a start. To quote Michael Ehret, Editor-in-Chief for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild, Small successes build confidence.” Whether it’s major weight loss, finding money for a racehorse, writing a novel or just cleaning the basement, if I break a job down into reasonable components and tackle just one feasible portion at a time, I’m pretty sure I can eventually accomplish the whole project without anyone’s help. I just have to make a start.

It’s ironic that Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know,” yet his writings are the source of much-quoted bits of wisdom. One that I like is: “As long as a man stands in his own way, everything seems to be in his way.”

Another of my favourites is by Mike DeWine: One of the most important things that I have learned in my fifty-seven years is that life is all about choices. On every journey you take, you face choices. At every fork in the road, you make a choice. And it is those decisions that shape our lives.”

And then there is the famous one from Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu, A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

I could wrap up these mental meanderings in a nice neat summary, but I suspect you get the point.

Do you have a realistic goal in mind for 2011? What steps will you take to achieve it?