I've talked here before about all the reasons, as a writer, that I love lists, of all kinds. And last night I sat down to compile one of my favorites -- a special kind of list that, instead of looking ahead to what needs to be done or what I hope to do, looks backward at what I have done. I call it the Did-It List (or the What I Accomplished List) and I tackle it every year at this time.
This ritual began about five years ago when I was feeling low about what I had NOT accomplished that year, and thought: well okay, so what HAVE I done this year? And so I listed it all, and felt better for all kinds of reasons.
I saw that I had been a lot busier than I had given myself credit for. I realized that even for goals not achieved, I had taken several steps in the right direction. I found that having accomplished something relatively minor but which represented a major stretch outside my writing comfort zone, was unexpectedly satisfying. I noticed that rather than the rut I had imagined I was in, there was actually a lot of variety on the list. I saw patterns I had not recognized before, related to when during the year I'm most productive. I began to understand that the amount of time involved in completing a writing project is not always in direct proportion to its importance, either emotional, financial or career-wise.
I've encouraged other writers to do their own version of a Did-It List, as a reminder of all the ways one has grown as a writer from year to year. I won't clutter up this post with my actual list because hey, who needs another writer brag post, and anyway it's mostly in a shorthand only I would understand. But it may be worth considering that last night's (that is, 2011's) list was different from many other years because in some ways it was less about what I DID because I wanted to, and more about what I had to do. It's worth it, I've realized, to look not only at the things I did which I am happy about and planned for and want to brag about, but also at the things I did out of necessity or obligation or self-preservation.
For example, in 2011 I did: - Survive the loss of a client of 4-plus years, replacing that monthly retainer check with other income. -Say goodbye to a 16-month gig as an essay contributor when a management shuffle triggered a payscale downsizing. –Refocus teaching energies when the continuing education classes had too few registrants. –Turn down a good offer to edit and write for a regional web venture, despite a true admiration for and instant camaraderie with the owner, because I knew in my bones I wasn't the right person for the job.
On one hand, I could look at this part of the list and see that I only DID these things in response to loss, bad luck, and maybe even poor judgment on my part. Or I could look at it as the kind of rebalancing that occurs every couple of years in my crazy writing/freelancing life.
And on the plus side, I saw that the work slow-downs coincided, almost precisely, to the periods when I found myself in need of more personal time and more focused mental energies to help my son, a high school senior, navigate the college application / visits / testing / essay-writing labyrinth.
There were wonderful things on my Did-It List too, thankfully. In the final analysis, I think the most important aspect is that there IS a list, that it exists yet again, another year, that in the last 12 months there was, again, a creative writing life, and a freelance working life built on writing, editing, teaching, ghostwriting and research. Good or bad, I DID it for another year.
Maybe you will want to write your own Did-It List. Maybe not. Either way, I wish you all the best in your creative endeavors in 2012, whatever you DO. Thanks for reading the blog, and if you're so inclined, go ahead and tell me what you DID do in 2011.