Wednesday, December 31, 2014

One More Year-End List for Writers: I Did It. Did You?

For the past couple of Decembers, I wrote here about what I call my *I Did It List,* and encouraged other writers to draw up one of their own before the year ends. While I did make my own list a few weeks ago, I haven't mentioned it here, yet. Actually, the blog's been unusually quiet since mid-November, as I grappled with the end of an unexpectedly busy teaching semester. 

But then  Erika Dreifus reminded me today about the importance of the list and why I feel so strongly that writers write one. So, with a few hours left to 2014, here goes.  
The idea, in brief, is that you sit down at the end of the year and list all the things you accomplished – big, small, significant, minor, planned, surprising: whatever you find worthy of patting yourself on the back about. Most of what goes on my list is related to writing and work that is tied to literary endeavors – publishing pieces I'm proud of in particular venues, teaching a new class, hitting income goals.
But occasionally more general things make the list, things that contribute to my writing/work life, or to my life, but aren't the kind that result directly in publication, assignments, jobs, or books: one year, I listing having remade my home office after 23 years; another, that I learned more about photography; this year, I listed that I read more for pleasure than usual and began touring colleges with my younger son. 

I've written before about why I think the process of making and thinking about this kind of a list  matters a lot more than scratching out the tired old writers' New Year's resolutions (Write more! X words per day! Get a book deal! Write every day! Quit procrastinating on Facebook!).  
And, I find it a lot more instructive, helpful, compassionate, and interesting than the self-recriminating lists many of us make (if only mentally) of all the things we had planned (resolved?) to do and did not get done, the list of letdowns, perceived failures, rejections, and false starts.
You can see some of my thoughts about why the *I Did It List* is important -- and what kinds of things you might considering putting on it, and why it's different than a list of goals -- here, here, here, and here
One of the caveats I put on myself (though you are welcome to ignore) is that I keep my full *I Did It List* private. I don't post it here or anywhere; it's for me, only. Sure, during the year, I've mentioned  things I'm proud to have accomplished on the blog, or posted on Facebook. But I like knowing, when I'm making the list, that it isn't for publication. The list, I believe, reads quite differently than if I knew others would be reading it. But make your own any way you like, and do with it what you want.

 The other "rule" I have is not to make the *I Did It List* some kind of accountability activity, holding it up against any list of goals I've made throughout the year. For me, it's not about whether or not I succeeded at X or Y, but about what I did.
Did I try something new? Learn something?   Say YES to something and have it work out? Make some interesting mistakes? Some of the best things on my list this year could not have ever appeared on any "to do" list, because they represent my taking a leap when an unexpected invitation, request, or prod was provided -- and having it turn out well, not-so-well, disastrously. But you know what, I did it!
Here's what I was thinking today: My *I Did It Lists* are beginning to represent for me, an answer of sorts to that wonderful Mary Oliver poem/question; it's what I've done, this year, with my one wild and precious life. As I'm making the list, I love remembering, then writing something down, and thinking, "Oh yeah, I did do that. Cool!" 

Before the new year starts, or in its early days, look back for just 15 minutes, and write your own *I Did It List.*  If you're like me, or dozens of others who have told me what the experience was like, I'm betting you'll find more on there than you imagined, and feel pretty darn good about it in the process.
Images: All Flickr Creative Commons.  Mary Oliver quote, Julie Gibbons; Red notebook, Alexander Levin; Woman in snow, Benjamin Staudinger; Happy man, Neal Fowler.