Thursday, December 19, 2013

Writers: A Year-End Call for *I Did It* Lists. Join me?

Three years ago, I first shared with blog readers an end-of-year list-making activity I'd grown to cherish. Not making a typical New Year's resolution list, aka the list of things I should do and maybe will do for about a week and then quit doing.

No, my year-ending ritual is to make an *I Did It List*.  

A mini brag book, so to speak. Each December since, I've talked about how it has become important to me to spend some time at the end of the year noticing, recognizing, and recording what I accomplished in the year that's ending.

I am a writer who--like many of you--routinely deals with rejection from editors, setbacks, uncooperative drafts, lost opportunities, time constraints, deadlines, idea droughts, revision hell, and other unfriendly aspects of the writing life. One December, after I'd had a particularly awful week, I needed some perspective. Surely I had done something right that year I could be happy about?

It would be a short list, I was sure. I was wrong. I had actually done a lot. 

I don't mean only the "big stuff" (like getting published someplace nice or winning a contest or landing a new gig), but also many less obvious, less shiny, but significant ways I'd grown as a writer and further developed my writing life. 

I noticed that some interesting items were things that had whizzed by without initial notice, or whose contribution to my writing life grew more valuable only as time passed, or activities which had seemed like busy work or frustrating tedium, but upon inspection made a big impact.

I invited others to do the same. Since then, many writers have taken up the *I Did It List* challenge.

I would like to encourage everyone to join me again this year, and make your own *I Did It List* for your life as a writer. 

What did you get done? What new thing did you try? Did you intentionally move ahead or move sideways, or back to a better place? What did you learn? What did you do differently? 

Did you make X more submissions than you did the year before?  Did you make one submission, finally conquering your fear of hitting send?  Did you start something? Finish something? Work hard on the middle of something? Take a class? Read more? Find a writing friend? Go to a conference? Write regularly? Learn to blog? Ask for help?  Help another writer?

How long should your list be? As long as you keep thinking of things that mattered, that you set out to do and did, things that you are proud of, pleased about, jazzed by. As long as it needs to be to include even stuff you didn't mean to do but now that you think about it, you did and you're glad you did.  Or as short as it takes you to nod, smile to yourself, and realize that--despite any internal default I-should-do-more setting--you did a lot this year.

List it, and be proud.

Then what?

Nothing, really. I make my list, read it a few times, then put it away until I am having a particularly awful day in the new year; then I take it out and skim it. Oh yes, I'll think, that's right, I actually do accomplish a lot each year, despite awful days, awful weeks.

I like to imagine we can all keep our lists to ourselves, mostly because I don't want to encourage folks to create *I Did It Lists* to outshine other writers' lists, or read like one of those overblown exaggerating holiday letters we all hate to get (and rarely believe).

So while I'm suggesting the list is a personal activity, I'm also thinking that the experience of making the list is something useful to talk about publicly. Write a blog post, Facebook update, a tweet, Tumblr or newsletter note about what making an *I Did It List* did for you. 

What, if anything, did it tell you about the one wild and precious writing life you already have?

However, while my personal take is that my list is for me, yours is for you, I'm aware that spreading this idea via a blog post that I'll be sharing around the web, and expecting others to keep lists private may seem a little strange. And, I'll concede that it is possible to gain (and impart) something meaningful out of sharing such a list

But let's at least also take public the collective experience of many writers compiling *I Did It List*. Think of the positive rippling effect we can create by reviewing our year and writing down the highlights, the shared power of naming what we really and truly did; instead of listing what we should/could/ maybe will do, or the soul-crushing empty exercise of shaming ourselves for what we did not do.

Mind you, I have nothing against also making a list of things you want to do in the coming year to make your writing life better. But first, consider how good your writing life already is, and what you did to make it that way. Join me, and who knows, perhaps like other writers did last year, your list will not be only about the writing life, but about life.

Find some time in the crazy final two weeks of the year. Create your *I Did It List* and ask other writers to make their own. Concentrate on what you did, not on what's to come or what's come undone.

Please share this post, and let me know if you have started or completed your own *I Did It List.* 

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons/Daehyun Park


Pam Houghton said...

I love the idea behind this. We really do accomplish more than we realize but it doesn't often feel that way.

Amy Morgan said...

Lisa - did my first list last December at your prompt and was hesitant to do one this December as I have not had a productive past six months. However....this has spurred me to re-look at the first five months or so of this year. Thanks for the reminder and the nudge to always keep moving forward.

Shaun Hunter said...

Such a good idea, Lisa. I got the Did It list itch last week and instantly felt lighter. Thanks for the encouragement with this, and for your blog: one of my go-to hangouts.

drew said...

The "I Did It" list has transformed the way I view my writing life, in that it helps me really see the big and small moments of the year behind, and that energy of "success" then propels me happily into the year ahead.

Thank you for this wonderful idea (and for linking to my blog post). I'm so happy to see your idea spreading.

Steph Auteri said...

This has been my lowest-income year since I lost my first post-college job and started receiving unemployment checks 10 years ago. Part of this is because I was feeling distracted: I went through a yoga teacher training program, earned my certification, and began building a new side of my life up from scratch. Part of this is because I became disillusioned by much of the publishing industry. As a result, I stopped pitching, stopped working on my manuscript, and started flailing about for how to maintain my writerly identity in a way that was palatable to me.

Still, when I saw one of the tweets that led to this post, I started drawing up an I Did It list of my own that included writing wins, yoga wins, and personal wins. And I can't quite believe how rich my 2013 has been.

Whew. This makes me feel a whole lot better. :)

Tameri T. said...

I blogged my response. Thanks for the nudge.