New Year’s resolutions for one writer

Joe’s Post #124

IMG_0274I was going to look back at 2014 and see what I accomplished. As a person, I accomplished a ton, including moving into a new house, being adopted by a new family and surviving our first family trip (to San Diego and Legoland).

But as a writer, well, you know what, I need to do better.

So what better way to start than with a new year than some good ol’ fashioned resolutions?

But how to start? What to do?

Silk’s list on the subject was impressive and extensive. I even checked out her links. Paula hit the nail on the head about being present and more deliberate in life.

But for all of us, I think it’s going to be personal to us, to who we are as people (or aliens), and as writers.

So here is what I decided upon. This is my writing list, not to be confused with my personal list that includes things like eating more steak, watching more TV and becoming the best Halo guy in the universe.

You will NOT defeat me!

1) I will work on making this blog better. Things like organizing the categories and adding guest bloggers and finding a way to link things to other people’s blogs (and books).

2) I will write every day. Yup, you heard me. It’s doable and it may not be for 8 hours, but I will not go to bed until I have written something. A blog. A short story. Another page or 10 on my novel.

3) I will read more. I already recognized how far I’d fallen off this bandwagon late last year. Like Monday or something. I’ve got a good load of books. I will make time to read them, and I will begin to learn from the best.

4) I will get a novel done this year. I would say 2, but let’s go for one since I somehow managed to get exactly 0 novels written last year.

5) Lastly, I will get my stuff out there, again. I took a real beating in the rejection area (which is like getting kicked in the nuts repeatedly,) but the true measure of a writer has to be not how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you get up. I need to get up more, brush myself off, ice my nuts, and get back in the game.

I’ll still keep the weekly updates cuz, wells, they’re fun. I’ll keep blogging about all things writerly that excite me, cuz, you know, that’s fun, too. And I’ll help all my writer friends achieve their goals.

If I can do all of that, I’ll have a great year.

******

Best show last week – The Hobbit Part 12 or whatever. Ok, it was a bit indulgent, but it made me laugh, it made me cry and it had an epic battle that lasted for pretty much 2 hours. What more could a nerdy guy like me want?

Book that I’m reading at the moment – In The Shadow of the Cathedral, by Titia Bozuwa. Almost done.

Pages written on new book  25 (nothing on the book from the 25th to now, but I’ll get back on track).

Social Media update – You can never ever figure out what’ll get a lot of hits or likes or comments. Like any writing, it’s subjective.

Health Everyone in the house has a cold at the moment. Will I be next? It’s one nasty-ass cold, too, so let’s hope I stay healthy.

Best thing last week  Had amazing dinners with friends and family (including 19 people at our house, a turkey dinner in Victoria, and my best friend cooking a 12 course meal!) I am officially fatter.

Worst thing  You know what? Nothing. It was a great week and I am thankful for all the wonderful people in my life.

The BEST book he's written so far IMHO.

Writer Help – Please check out Sean Slater’s latest book, The Unforgiven, a fast-paced thriller written by one of the best out there.

And hey, if you like this post, please share it on facebook or twitter or linkedin or just tell a friend.

 

My one-resolution New Year

new-year-2015

Silk’s Post #114 — It’s that time of year again. I’m not talking about the mistletoe … the eggnog … the gift giving … the fond embrace of family and friends … the endless turkey sandwiches … or watching the crystal ball drop in Times Square (does anyone still do that anymore, now that Dick Clark has gone to that great Dance Party in the sky?).

No, I’m referring to that last item on your seasonal “to-do” list: coming up with all the ways you’re going to be a better, fitter, smarter, thinner, more productive, kinder, better organized person next year than you feel you were this year. Statistically, 45% of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions, while 38% absolutely never make them. Sadly, the percentage of those who actually achieve a resolution declines with age. Apparently, 39% of twenty-somethings report success, while only 14% of people over 50 stick to their their promise. So a lot of us are starting from behind.

Now, I expect you’re staying awake at night thinking up your 2015 New Year’s resolutions. No? Perhaps you’re quite happy with yourself in every single way and can’t think of a thing to improve? Ha ha – that was a good one, wasn’t it? Or maybe you’ve given up the resolution game after making and breaking so many of them over the years?

That’s completely understandable.

I admit to being a resolution avoider myself.

It happened to me gradually over a lifetime, as the very same resolutions came up on my list year after year after year. None of them, frankly, ever got crossed-off for good. Eventually I realized I was renewing my resolve every year to become somebody else altogether: a svelte, athletic, helpful, self-disciplined, wise, cheerful, sweet-tempered, energetic person who finds time to do everything from running a business, to reading a book a week, to cooking gourmet meals, to travelling the world, to writing a bestseller or two every year. Talk about overreach. Of course, this fantasy goddess never materialized and the old me has remained firmly in place.

This year, though, I am going to make a resolution. Just one.

According to the US government (and who knew they were keeping track of such things), the most common New Year’s Resolution is to lose weight. Here are the most popular resolutions according to Uncle Sam:

Uncle Sam’s List of Most Popular New Year’s Resolutions

  1. Lose weight
  2. Volunteer to help others
  3. Quit smoking
  4. Get a better education
  5. Get a better job
  6. Save money
  7. Get fit
  8. Eat healthy food
  9. Manage stress
  10. Manage debt
  11. Take a trip
  12. Reduce, reuse, recycle
  13. Drink less alcohol

My inner skeptic took a look at this list and rolled her eyes. Are these really the most popular resolutions, or are they the ones Uncle Sam hopes people will pursue? Statistic Brain, which is candy store for fact checkers run by eager number geeks, at least cites a source for their top ten resolutions list (research published in the University of Scranton Journal of Clinical Psychology):

Actual Top Ten New Year’s Resolutions in 2014

  1. Lose weight
  2. Getting organized
  3. Spend less, save more
  4. Enjoy life to the fullest
  5. Staying fit and healthy
  6. Learn something exciting
  7. Quit smoking
  8. Help others in their dreams
  9. Fall in love
  10. Spend more time with family

Okay, that sounds more realistic. These two lists only share five items, with “lose weight” as the unsurprising frontrunner (no wonder weight loss is a $60 billion industry). What is surprising here is the resolution to “fall in love”, something I never expected to see on a list with items like “quit smoking” (mind you, the online matchmaking industry is now up to $2 billion and growing passionately).

But what about writers? Our list of New Year’s resolutions won’t look like normal people’s. To be a writer is to struggle with a long list of perennial challenges that test one’s confidence, resolve, stamina, organizational skills, discipline, creativity, time management, relationships, imagination, ability to self-edit … oh, I could go on. And on. And on.

Many lists of New Year’s resolutions for writers have been proffered, all offering useful advice to be sure. Writer Unboxed does a list every year, including Even More New Year’s Resolutions for Writers (December 2014) by Keith Cronin. Jeff Goins offered 13 New Year’s Resolutions for Writers in 2012 on his writing blog. Even About.com published Top 10 Resolutions for Writers by Ginny Wiehardt in its fiction writing career section. And the prize for the longest list – the War and Peace of resolutions, if you will – goes to Word Counter Blog, which last year weighed in with 30 New Year’s Resolutions for Writers by Jennifer Derrick. Culling from them all, here is a solid list to consider:

One Dozen Curated Resolutions for Writers

  1. Stop procrastinating
  2. Read more
  3. Get organized
  4. Do your research
  5. Show up consistently
  6. Write from the heart
  7. Try something new
  8. Have more fun
  9. Stop beating yourself up
  10. Stop comparing yourself to others
  11. Finish what you start
  12. Submit what you finish

Of course, you’ve been hearing (and reading, and thinking about, and trying to follow) all these bits of good advice since the day you sat down at a keyboard. Nothing new here – simply the basics of good writing work habits.

But making glib resolutions is easier than achieving highly disciplined work habits. Each one of these writing goals is a hill to climb. Some of them, depending on your own nature, have mountainous proportions. And they don’t come with road maps or instruction manuals.

Take procrastination, for instance – one of my own deadly sins. Three months back, I blogged Wasting away in Mañanaville, in which I complained about typically meaningless and shallow advice on how to “cure” procrastination:

… the old “boot strap” saw is neither an explanation, nor a very useful prescription. Saying that procrastination can be stopped by having more self-discipline is like saying that rain can be stopped by having less water fall from the sky.

I posted a link to it in the Books and Writers group on LinkedIn. Last time I checked, there were well over 1,000 comments, so it must have hit a pretty deep nerve out there in writer land. If it were simple to acquire excellent writing work habits by simply summoning the will power to follow a few resolutions, there wouldn’t be much to discuss. It would be as simple as telling yourself “just do it”. There. It’s a wrap. Let’s move on.

So … if you’ve stuck with me this far (thanks, by the way), you’re probably wondering what in the hell my one, single New Year’s resolution is going to be. Is it, irony of ironies, “just do it?” Certainly not. That would be a story with a cheap trick for an ending.

My New Year’s resolution this year is about as simple as it gets, but I think it actually covers each and every piece of writing (and living) advice I’ve ever received. More than that, it provides the pathway for how to achieve success.

Sound impossible? Like magic? Well, I think it’s all in your head. And mine.

My resolution is: I will be mindful about everything I do.

I’ll think about how I spend my time, and invest it deliberately in the things I care most about. In my case, that automatically means spending more time writing and reading – and a lot less time on all the other meaningless distractions I allow to lure me into wasting precious hours.

I’ll think about how I feed and care for my body, and give it the respect (and extra help) it needs, and deserves, to stay healthy for as long as I can make it last.

I’ll think about how I nurture my mind and soul, to keep my thinking sharp, hone my curiosity, give oxygen to my creative spark, and deepen my appreciation of life.

I’ll think about how I treat my world and the people in it – the people and other living things that I cherish but too often take for granted.

This resolution is all about being more “present” (as Paula eloquently wrote about last week), more focused, more grateful, and more joyful. It’s not a prescription for what to do or how to do it. It’s more of a reminder to make everything count, to embrace life with purpose and not fritter away the gifts of time, health and relationships.

Simply think about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and what will come of it (good or bad), on every occasion you have a choice to make. All the time.   

If, minute by minute, you listen to your head and your heart – your best, mindful self – I believe you’re going to make better choices with less conflict and angst. Progress toward your true goals – goals you have purposefully chosen for yourself rather than assumed out of duty, or picked up randomly like a stray pet – will follow naturally.

Ambitious? Yes.

Idealistic? Undoubtedly.

Happy 2015 to all. I hope your year shines.

 

Twelfth month muse

december

Silk’s Post #111 — December first always catches me by surprise and leaves me a little stunned. It’s not like I didn’t see it coming, but when I flip the calendar over to the twelfth month, it always gives me the same kind of subtle flutter of panic as an upcoming deadline or performance.

It’s a psychological thing, the last calendar page. The year is running out. Winter is beginning. Harvest time is past and the few straggling remnants of the growing season – stubborn leaves, a few hardy geranium blooms, abandoned field pumpkins – now look out of place, targets for frost. Winter Solstice and the longest night of the year are just three weeks away. Whatever I wanted to make of this year, I have 30 more days to bring it to fruition.

NaNoWriMo is over (read Chuck Wendig’s great post, “NaNoWriMo Doesn’t Matter” for some morning-after perspective). Movember has been scraped away by thousands of razor blades. The month begins with the sobering World Aids Day. On December 10th, coincidentally designated Human Rights Day, the year’s Nobel Prizes will be awarded. The transition from November to December has been kidnapped by commerce, with the twin post-Thanksgiving shopping sprees, crassly named Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It’s a sure sign that Christmas-Hannukah-Kwanzaa-Yule – the most emotionally charged season of the year – is noisily approaching, demanding preparation.

December always flies.

Maybe it’s the holiday-dominated social calendar, or maybe it’s the short days, but I’ve learned that much of what I plan to accomplish in December will probably remain on my to-do list when the New Year rolls around. And I hate to admit that “the holidays” has now become, for me, a mixed blessing, an ever-elongating season to “get through”. Oh, I still love Christmas. In fact, I’m kind of a Christmas freak. But it’s a lot of work. I’m starting to understand why many people choose to trade glittery fir trees for swaying palm trees.

The December 1st reality for me, as a writer, is that most of my potentially productive writing days for 2014 are now behind me. I’m not giving up on setting goals and I’m not just making excuses. But I’m facing the truth. I’m not likely to suddenly acquire an extra helping of writing discipline in December. There’s a reason that NaNoWriMo happens in November, not July (its original month back in 1999) or December. Except for Thanksgiving, writing time doesn’t have much to compete with in November. In contrast, December is littered with time-intensive commitments.

But that’s what New Year’s resolutions are for. Renewal of resolve. Repair of failures.

So what can I do to make 2015 more productive, as a writer? The “just do it” prescription is a hollow toss-off. Of course one has to “just do it”. The question is how. And the answer is different for each person.

That’s what I’ll be doing some serious thinking about during December, while I put whatever time I can find into finishing my research and story plan. Personally, I need more than a happy pep talk with myself (c’mon, you can do it!). More than a stern bootstrap declaration (1,000 words a day, for sure). What I need is a project management strategy. A personal script with stage directions.

I’ve been working towards becoming a published novelist for several years now, not without some accomplishments. A lot of that effort has been spent climbing the steep learning curve of craft. But I will not go through one more year without producing a full, final draft of a novel I’d be proud to put in front of an agent, a publisher or a reader.

From my December perspective, with another year coming to an end, I realize that I am also at the “end of the beginning” in my writing career.

My first effort was a story I wanted to write for years. But I didn’t know how to write a novel yet. It sits in my drawer, a first draft of a first book, waiting to be re-written by the writer I’ve become. My second effort was a story I conceived to fit into our 5writers challenge. But it was more like an exercise than a story that had deep meaning to me, and I didn’t know my own voice yet. It also sits in my drawer, half finished, waiting for me to decide whether to resurrect it.

Now I’m working on a story I have passion for, one that delves into human issues I care about. I feel that I’ve finally found my voice, and I’ve learned enough about how to write a novel that I think I can bring sufficient craft to the mission.

2014 is my last year of rehearsals. December will be my last moment backstage – pacing, running through my lines, psyching up, envisioning my performance.

2015 will be my year.

Showtime.

 

Top 10 ways to spend 2014

Dawn of 2014, Fulford Harbour, Saltspring Island

Dawn of 2014, Fulford Harbour, Saltspring Island

Silk’s Post #67 —  Like my 5writer friends, and apparently many other bloggers I read, I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions. And yet here we all are making lists that we take pains to describe as “not resolutions.”

I think this whole concept of a picking a random day – January first – to represent a kind of annual life re-set button must be pretty powerful. The urge to look in the mirror, critique ourselves, and vow to change what we aren’t satisfied with (there’s always something, isn’t there?) seems to be built in to our DNA. I think we all long for renewal of the spirit, a fresh start.

You might suppose we’re just following traditions established by a thousands-of-years-old agrarian calendar. A ritual to chase the shadows from a long winter’s night. If that were the case, though, we’d start the “new year” on the day after winter solstice, when lifegiving daylight hours begin to lengthen again, by a few minutes each dawn. But I think there’s something more going on here.

The universe may run on in an endless cycle, but people do not. Our time on Earth is finite, and perhaps that’s taught us to measure things. One of the first things we teach children is how to tell time. After all, we only have so much of it, and the only thing we really have control of in this world is how we spend it.

Maybe that’s why so many New Year’s resolutions evaporate so quickly. We make wish lists of ideals with a sense of wild optimism about what we can change through sheer willpower. “Love is all you need” is a beautiful truth, but it doesn’t really help you lose weight. Believe me. If it did, there would be a lot more svelte women.

Everything we achieve has a cost, and the only real currency we have in life to pay for these things is time, attention and energy. These are in our control, if we’re lucky. Other things, not so much. We pay attention. We spend time. We expend energy. But they’re all finite – we have only so much of them. Every year I become more aware of this.

What we choose to do with this capital defines our lives. This may seem ridiculously self-evident, but knowing something intellectually, and feeling it in your bones, are two entirely different things. I’m finally ‘getting’ how critical it is to invest in the things that are truly important to me. It makes me want to kick myself when I think of how much of this capital I’ve blown over the years on the penny candy of wasted time, mindless distractions, hopeless or unworthy causes.

All the things that make us human – feelings and thoughts, creativity and passion, courage and curiosity, imagination and resolve, strength and compassion – amount to nothing but intent if we don’t give them shape and substance by investing the time, attention and energy to put them into action. In other words, wishing doesn’t make things happen.

Still with me? Sorry for the somewhat dark digression. But after my long philosophical side trip I’m back, full circle, to New Year’s resolutions.

My new theory about fresh starts is that it’s best to to free them from the dictatorship of measured goals. My new goals are measured in mindfulness.

I know, I know. I can hear the groans of the 1000-words-a-day people, the lose-20-pounds-by-summer people, the closet-cleaners, the strategists and the strivers among you. I can hear myself screaming … Nooo-o-o-o-o! … and feel my head rotating 360 degrees while my eyeballs pop out of my skull. I NEED GOALS! I get nothing done without a goal! What kind of blasphemy is this, anyway?

It’s true. We all need goals, and I’m not planning to skip off into a field of daisies without a destination. But I want to set a different kind of goal – one that helps me invest my time, attention and energy in the right direction … without defining the outcome in quantified, pass/fail terms. You’ve heard of yo-yo dieting? It’s got a lot in common with broken New Year’s resolutions. So if I have one “resolution” this year, it’s that I don’t want to spend my time anymore on yo-yo anything.

Here’s my top 10 list of things I want to invest more time, attention and energy into in 2014. I don’t know what will come of it or where it will take me, but I expect I’ll encounter, and hopefully achieve, some goals along the way that have been on my list for a long time. I may even find some new ones. Who knows? What I’m sure of, though, is that I won’t be wasting my capital.

1. My head

I want to learn some new stuff. Listen more and talk less. Read. Study. Fill boredom with challenge instead of escape. Get out of my comfort zone more often. As Elon Musk recommends: “just sit and think until my brain hurts.”

2. People

I want to be a better friend, partner, colleague, citizen. Pay more attention to people I care about. Give them my time. Get to know more, and more about, people outside my own orbit. Do something to help make this a civil, healthy, hopeful, peaceful society. Do something generous that no one will ever know about.

3. Nature

I want to spend more time out in it. Let it do its magic in my soul. Take care of it better.

4. My heart

I want to look into it again, the way I used to when I was young and every heartbeat rang in my ears. Open the boxes and bins that haven’t been seen in years. Tend to the sore spots, shine a light in the dark spots, wake up my sense of joy.

5. My health

That thing I said about people? I’m one of those people I want to be a better friend to. Take care of. Spend more energy on. Be more mindful of. Be generous to.

6. My work

I want to re-learn the discipline that drove me through 35 years of hard work on behalf of others, and apply it to hard work on behalf of me. I’ve earned that. To write because I love to write. It’s a calling. Period.

7. My stuff

I want to honour the icons that matter, value and take loving care of the things I choose to surround myself with, and unburden myself of the lifetime of meaningless debris I’ve accumulated. Give some things away. Polish other things. Let nothing I own, own me.

8. My soul

I want to remember it’s there – that spiritual being inside – and get to know it again. Souls need a lot of attention, like any living, growing thing. I need to fertilize mine. And water it more.

9. My artist

I want to free my inner artist from the bonds of daily practicality. Listen to her when she insists that functionality is insufficient. Live more creatively. Pay attention to beauty. Make things with my hands. Embellish. Sing. Knit. Paint. Imagine.

10. My sense of occasion

I want to make more moments special. Observe rituals that feed the heart and the memory.  Pay attention to fun. Bake cakes. Wrap presents prettily. Make somethings out of nothings. Laugh more. Remember how to celebrate. Take play more seriously.

Happy New Year everyone!

New Year’s resolutions

2014

Joe’s Post #76 — Ok, to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of New Year’s Resolutions. Sorry. It’s something I like to do on a monthly basis. You know, make a resolution not to clean my ear with a sharp knife.

Or not eat my weight in fish and chips.

However, I do like to make a plan for the New Year. Call it a resolution if you want, but I call it a plan.

So here it is.

cropped-greece-glorious-greece-045-800x2671) Blog more. Hey, I love blogging. I really do. I’ll begin to blog about my life as the most confused new parent of all time. I’ll blog about Vegas. About the trip we took to the hospital. About my trips. Movies. I’ll be Mr. Bloggie, blog, McBloggie. I’ll repost here, but it’ll be at justjoebc. Please check it out. Please comment, especially if you think I’m awesome or funny or just plain wrong.

2) I want to take more pictures. I bought a new camera. Nothing fancy. But it’s new. And shiny. I will take pictures with it. I’ll post a few. I may even figure out that pinterest thingee, but that thingee make be a plan for another year.

dummie3) I want to make this the best blog I can possible make it. I think all of the 5/5/5 writers do. To that end, though, I bought books. Yes, books. I will read those books. Even the ones that make my eyes spin and my brain wish for a marathon on America’s Top Model. I will try out a few things from those books. Stay tuned.

4) I want to continue to learn how to write. To that end, look at what we’ll be trying to do in Feb. The Outline. After that, I’ll try writing a book based on that outline. Then work on figuring out something new I can learn or do better. I’m thinking I’ll have to take a very serious look at either structure or how to write sex scenes.

5) I will get all my short stories in the mail. Let’s say one a month. No, let’s say two. And keep them in the mail. My goal for Jan, then is to get “Every Dog” (about a robot dog and his boy surviving in a post-apocalyptic wasteland) and “I am Fey” (about a young boy living in a magically altered NY who has the power to read memories with a touch) out.

4) I will get more queries done. Sent off I mean. I took a beating last year and need to nut up and start getting them out again. Both for Desert Rains (which probably needs a better title) and The Araxi Chronicles (which I still believe is a pretty damn good story.)

5) I will begin, once again, my weekly updates. Ok, you can’t begin something again, but you get my drift. I’ll restart it. See below.

Queries this Week: 0 – Desert Rains  0 – Araxi Chronicles.

Short Stories Sent off: 0

New Year’s Resolutions: (Not resolutions!!!! Plans!) 5

Number of times I found half-naked pictures of girls when I googled “crimes of passion”: 11

Number of times I thought about a blog but didn’t write it: 4

Friend Who Started Reblogging: 1 (check out her post.)

Next week, my first poll. Who is hotter….?