Monday, December 13, 2010

That Time of Year: List Making for Writers, the Kindness Version

Last week I was corresponding with a writer who has signed up for my January Boot Camp class, and she was lamenting how she hadn't accomplished all she had set out to do as a writer back in early 2010. Couldn't we all say pretty much the same? Who gets it all done? It doesn't have to be a new calendar year to rededicate ourselves to achieving writing goals, though any outside impetus that helps get us started again is probably a good thing.

But what bothered me about this writer's attitude was that in fact she had made some solid strides in her writing efforts over the last 11 months and I was concerned that she was shortchanging herself, and more importantly, that her mind-set – disappointment, guilt, frustration – was not really going to be much help when she undertook in early 2011 to purposely rev up her writing muscles again.

In my experience, guilt, self-flagellation, regret and feeling as if you've fallen so far behind you may never catch up, may spur some initial action, but are rarely good motivators in the long run.
By now regular blog readers know I am a bit of a list-making fanatic, and each year around this time, I try to remember to make two lists surrounding writing. One is the standard What I Want to Accomplish Next Year list, only I make it a little bit forgiving (practical?) in the sense that instead of listing, say: Get published in X magazine, I'll put: Break into X tier of magazines (and then I'll list several that fall into the same general category in my mind). That way, I avoid feeling let down if I didn't land in my number one choice, but if I do get published, even once, in any of those on that list, I'll be able to see that I made at least some progress toward that goal.

The other list is What I Have Accomplished This Year, a private brag list of what I did do, what wonderful things happened for me, and what's significantly different for me, in a positive way, since this time last year. Here, I tend to go from the very specific and tangible ("landed an ongoing paid column at a website", "designed several new classes") to the task-oriented ("improved my digital photography skills") to broader more creatively nuanced areas ("wrote more prose poems", "read more good quality fiction", "wrote about X, a topic that previously scared me.")

I suggested to this writer that she especially tackle the second kind of list, giving herself credit for all that she'd done in 2010, to improve her craft and move her work along – all the ways in which she took herself seriously as a writer, the publication milestones (she'd forgotten or discounted several!), and how she'd taken steps to organize her writing life to fit around her day job.

It's great to have goals, and if New Year's resolutions are good motivators, then go for it. I just hope that writers everywhere – we are so tough on ourselves – can also take the time to look back, write down what's gotten done, and give ourselves a little pat on the back while we're at it.

Not too long ago, I wrote about how I'd recently come to terms with my tendency to constantly demand more of myself, and the need to balance that with recognizing what's already pretty darn good.

I'd love to hear how you approach the new year as a writer.


kario said...

With the fervent wish to be better about writing more.

This is a lovely idea and I, for one, am going to try it and see how I fare. Thanks!

Catherine Stine said...

Yes, accomplishment lists, or gratitude lists are always good. I am proud of myself for writing 50K+ words during Nano in November! Now I need to self-impose a January Nano so that I can bang out the last 70 or so pages of the draft!
Come visit my blog for Nano thoughts and holiday gift ideas for writers!

Uli said...

I always find that I'm stirred up to be more creative in the new year, and to do more reading and writing. This is probably related to one of your earlier blog posts -- I am rooted to a dry desk job with a fairly small circle of people I typically have contact with, but the holidays kick me out of that routine. My brain starts to hum as I visit neighborhoods and shops I don't get to often enough and try to solve the puzzle of finding the perfect gifts. Then the January calm after the storm is a great time to settle down and unspool everything my memory had recorded -- so I'm especially excited to be starting your class on Jan 6!

Alyssa C. said...

I agree with Uli about being more stirred up in the new year. I published a TON in early 2010. I had just made a resolution to publish 1 meaningful piece a month, and for the first several months, I published 2! Which may not seem like a ton...but for someone with a full time job, it was great. The problem is totally keeping up that momentum throughout the rest of the year. Life just gets in the way eventually. But like you previously wrote her, Life first, Writing Second. I think it's so important to give ourselves a break, and lay off because it's not easy balancing everything!
Can't wait for boot camp to begin! :)