Thursday, January 3, 2013

Answering the *I Did It List* questions from writers

Recently, in response to my advice about writers making an *I Did It List," focused on what we accomplished in 2012, I've gotten a lot of feedback; curiously, not here on the blog, but via email, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and on other blogs that passed on the idea. Besides letting me know that the exercise struck a positive chord for many writers (which I'm thrilled about), most of the messages ask me one of three questions: 

First, Do I have something against New Year's Resolutions?  No, not at all. I just don't like that most are framed in sweeping generalizations (I will write every single day no matter what! I will finally finish that manuscript! And it will be fabulous!) that answer to undesirable outcomes and/or negative mindsets (I'm a lazy writer! My work got rejected too damn much last year! I have to improve my writing no matter what!)

I make a new yearly *Want-To-Do List* in January, just after the kids go back to school, the house is no longer decorated, and it feels once again like real time. But I think of this particular year-ahead exercise as a way to update my writing career/writing life plans rather than as resolving to do things differently or anew or so very much better.

I rather like what Drew Myron says about mentally skipping ahead to March, when we're a bit more realistic. Sure, I think it's great to dream big, engage in all the self-motivation we can, put things in writing rather than letting all those great ideas float around in our too-crowded heads.

I also think it's useful to physically write down what we want to accomplish in the calendar year ahead; I'm one of those who really do believe there is some undefinable but real power in simply writing down what we want (as long as we also work at it!).

Armed first with an *I Did It List* though, I think we are likely to have a more realistic idea of the amounts of energy, time, and resources we can actually marshal, and then plan accordingly for that *Want-To-Do* list. And while there's power in committing to a big goal, to stretching, to taking on more in the future than we did in the past, we all have real life limits.

If, between jobs, kids, volunteer work, and eldercare, you are squeezing in three hours of writing per week, I wouldn't make a plan for 2013 that says you will write for three hours per day. The exception: If your *I Did It List* for 2012 was painfully short, and you know it's because you squandered time and energy, slacked off, hung out on Facebook or watching every episode of Homeland ten times instead of writing – then go ahead, resolve. But resolve to make a plan, find discipline, maybe ask for some help; not to simply to "write more."

Second: Shouldn't we also make an It-Didn't-Happen list, to be completely honest with ourselves? Nope – I suspect that, like me, you do enough self-bashing silently in your head (and maybe aloud to your friends) all year anyway – venting, complaining, apologizing about the rough drafts not written, the submissions not sent, the revisions not made. Blah, blah, blah.

Who needs a formal list to remind us of every place we fell short? 

If it's important, and you didn't do it – it goes on the 2013 Want-To-Do list. If it's not really important, and you just keep feeling badly that you didn't do it – stop, please. Spend that mental time thinking of new things to write, or improve that draft.

Third: What was on my own personal *I Did It List*?  Not telling -- except in oblique ways which you may pick up in future (or past) posts.  The things on my list are meaningful only perhaps to me, and for that year, and for what are likely personally idiosyncratic reason(s). They might look like nothing much to you.

But I will tell you this: The value of the *I Did It List* is not only in the satisfaction it brings, the positive reality check, when we first see it all on one list -- but later, in the lessons such a list can teach us about the way we work, about the way our writing life works (or doesn't work). Which will be the subject of my next post. Writing it is already on my 2013 Want-To-Do list.


Ryder Ziebarth said...

I agree, Lisa. Sweeping resolutions lead to expectations, and expectations can setone up for disappointment.The*I-Did-It* list lets me take realistic stock of my energy, my commitment level, my progress as a writer.I do not, however, follow up with a resolution list of To Do's; life has so many interesting trails, off-piste,and I like to leave myself open to exploring the unexpected hikes it offers me.I do try to live by one edict, which one might consider a resolution of sorts, and that is "Say Yes."

drew said...

Thanks for the shout-out. I've also heard great response to the "I Did It" list. It's a brilliant idea.

And I appreciate that you don't reveal your own list. Our accomplishments are made more sweet when measured against our very own sense of success.

Here's to a year of lots of Did Its.

Amy Morgan said...

Enjoyed the questions and comments Lisa. I finally did my "Did-It" list last week and it gave me a boost I wasn't prepared for. Also prompted a new blog post. I haven't set resolutions, but do have some commitments written down taht I'd like to have turn into "I-Did-It" and have set myself up with some extra tools in the beginning of the year to help make that happen (Like Writer's Bookcamp starting tomorrow!). I'm looking forward to what will surface in 2013.