I’ve never been big on New Year’s resolutions. To my mind, the best time to fix something that isn’t working in your life is when you realize it isn’t working. If you decide you’re overweight in April, why not work on it then? Why wait to the randomly determined January 1st (when gyms will be packed in any case). But then I saw a stat. that said more people who make resolutions in January carry through with them. So this year I’ve decided to break with old habits and attitudes, take a look at myself, and determine what needs to change. This, then, is my top ten list of things I will work on in the new year, in no particular order.
- Dare to fail
I read the following quote from Michael Jordan back in October: “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occassions I have been trusted to take the game winning shot and I missed. I have failed over and over again in my life… that is how I have succeeded.”
Fear of failure is paralyzing. It will prevent us from participating at all. Yes, rejection hurts. Yes, it dents our fragile egos. And it’s a lot easier to remain within our cozy den, away from all that hurt and rejection. But I won’t get better until I participate. That’s what Jordan was saying: you can’t make the shot until you miss it a couple of times (or a hundred, or a thousand) first. Every rejection contributes to success.
- Give up
Yes, I know this seems at odds with the previous resolution. But I don’t mean stop trying. I mean stop pressing forward in the face of inevitable failure. Sometimes a story just isn’t working, and no amount of tinkering is going to make it work. Sometimes it’s better just to abandon it and move on. I learned this lesson in business twenty some years ago. I was running the newsletter division of a magazine publisher in London. My boss, an accountant by profession, taught me that it’s OK to give up on a title that just isn’t working. Shut it down and move on to something that’s easier and more successful. There are always new opportunities somewhere. Why waste your efforts pushing against a closed and locked door?
Also (on this same general theme) sometimes the book you’re reading is just awful, and won’t get any better. I’ve wasted too many hours with books I hated just because of my obsessive compulsive need to finish every book I start. It’s time for that to stop. Enough. From now on I’ll give a book fifty pages to capture my attention. If I’m not engaged at that point, I’m putting it aside and picking up another one.
- Embrace my inner slob
There’s one in all of us. The person who would rather hang around in the house all day in our PJs, playing solitaire on the computer, and reading trashy novels. Anything, rather than write. Wikipedia is a tremendous resource for procrastinating writers. You can waste hours on it, and chalk it down to research. The Internet in general, and email in particular are tremendous time sinks. Whole days just disappear down their gullets. Why would I embrace such behaviour? Arent’ we supposed to fight it? Confront it, and stare it down, until it turns and stalks away, its tail between its legs? Well, that’s what we’re told. But not all procrastination is bad. If you’re hesitating to get back to the writing, there’s probably a reason for it. You might be stuck, not knowing where the story goes next. You might be scared to ruin the great start you’ve made. We’ve all had stories unravel on us: fall apart under our fingertips. You might actually (imagine this) be tapped out and tired, your imagination exhausted by a crazy schedule. So I’m giving myself the permission to slack off every now and again, if that’s what my brain tells me it needs. Sometimes all it needs is the time and space to work out its next move, and bothering it with your need for the next sentence is not going to help. So get out of the way and let it think.
- Stop working so hard
This is one my mother-in-law is convinced I’ve already embraced. Largely because she doesn’t see writing as work (especially as nobody pays me to do it). The fact is, writing IS work. It’s hard, challenging work, that drains you, both emotionally and (surprisingly) physically. That’s the way I generally write. But it doesn’t have to be. Not always. Sometimes it can be pure fun. Human beings, I’m told, learn best through play. So I’m going to devote a bit more of my time this year to playful writing. Writing that I do for the fun of it.
- Abandon my goals
This is related to resolution four. One of the things that makes writing work and not play is those pernicious goals: there’s a contest we’re entering, a journal we want to get our work into. Nothing wrong with that, of course. If we don’t have goals in life we’ll never achieve anything. But if I’m to write playfully, I’ve got to stop focusing on these goals — something somebody else determines is a measure of success, and focus instead on the rewards of the writing itself. The fun that can be had in exploring different styles, voices, genres.
- Break the rules
I’ve spent the last several years working hard on my craft. I’m now at the point of diminishing returns: each book on I read on the craft of writing teaches me less and less, and reinforces old lessons more and more. Nothing wrong with that. It’s good to remind ourselves of what we already think we know, because it’s pretty easy to get slack and lazy, let’s face it. But the more literary journals I read, the more obvious it becomes that there are herds of writers out there, accomplished craftspeople, who work entirely within ‘the rules’. They colour within the lines. Their work is consistently good, but rarely really interesting. So I think I’m ready (now that I know them) to break the rules now and again. Not badly (at least not at first). Just for the hell of it, and to see what emerges.
- Savour rejection
This is somewhat related to resolution one, but it’s subtly different. Someone (I forget who) once said that the writers who are truly blessed are those who haven’t been published yet. Because they’re free. Free of expectations, critical shackles, the need to match their former achievements. They can write what they want. They can enjoy total and unshackled liberty. True, that’s because nobody’s heard of them, or still less, cares about what they write. But it’s still liberating to think that, with every rejection, that freedom is extended a little while longer. Just as long as it doesn’t last forever.
- Stop deferring pleasures
This year I’m actually going to do with the things I’ve long wanted to, but haven’t because “I’ve got to get the book finished/the story collection done/a few pieces in journals” first. Forget that. If I want to walk the length of Yonge Street (1178 miles) to raise money for Toronto Rehab (who got me back on my feet after my heart attack) and blog about it, I’m going ahead and doing it.
- Laugh more
This is self-explanatory, and health-promoting. Particularly, I want to laugh more at what I write: I’m hoping I’ll be laughing because it’s genuinely funny, but I’m prepared to poke fun at it too, if it’s that bad.
It’s better for my blood pressure. So much is out of our control in this world. It’s pointless contorting ourselves about outcomes we can have no influence or control over. I’m going to focus on the things I can change, and let the rest go.
So that’s it. My list for 2013. What are you going to change this year, and why?