And a New Year Begins . . .

I’m a little late to the ‘Happy New Year’ party but I’m here with enthusiasm, does that count?  I hope the opening chapter of your 2020 was happy/peaceful/celebratory (pick one, or pick all three). Mostly I hope it began optimistically.  

January is a time of fresh starts, new beginnings. It’s a time when many of us make resolutions. And some of us resolve to make no resolutions at all. I’m normally in the latter camp. I’m goal focused – I love to set goals and look ahead with optimism – but I’m not so much for resolutions. Only something about this year feels different, and I feel compelled to set some writerly resolutions.

This year I will:

  1. Measure productivity, not results. We’re a results-oriented culture. Most businesses measure success by results and many writers do too. We often count the number of books or articles we publish in a given year, or the amount of money we make from our efforts. But some things are out of our control. This year I will concentrate on my daily productivity and worry less about results.

2. Listen more and talk less. What are your thoughts on that?

3. Set realistic goals. Life has demanded a lot from me over the last few years. I’ve been meat paste in the sandwich generation of life and it has played hell with my output. Unfortunately, I don’t see it changing any time soon. Nevertheless, I will set goals and do my best to reach them.   

4. Practice kindness. It goes without saying, right? But I’m not always kind to myself. Someone told me recently we should treat ourselves as we would treat a best friend. I think that’s important, and it’s especially helpful when life demands much of us. Or when we’re struggling to reach #3 (see above).

5. Treat that 1st draft as a precious baby. Don’t judge or criticize. Hold a protective, tender space; know it will grow and evolve but right now it needs acceptance and nurturing.

6. Find a new-to-me author. Or three. Or six. Read someone new. Read out of my comfort zone. Read and read some more.  

7. And number seven. Ah, 7. Did you know that in numerology number 7 combines the hardworking number 4 with the mystical and creative number 3. Seven is associated with luck, intuition, inner wisdom and magic. It’s prominent in ancient cultures (there were seven wonders of the world) and it has held significance in virtually every major religion. So, it seems fitting to end with a resolution to make personal renewal a priority this year, however that looks like in any given day or week. Hard work is good. Hard work combined with intuition, inner wisdom and personal renewal is better. In fact, I’d call it an unbeatable combination.

Happy New Year and happy reading.

What If?

Many years ago, when I was feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities and uncertain about what writing project to tackle next, a good friend asked me a very simple question.

What if you didn’t have to worry about (insert concern of the day here)? Back then I’m guessing I was concerned about family responsibilities and/or generating income. She repeated her question. What if you didn’t have that on your plate? What if you had unlimited options? What would you choose to do next?

What if is a particularly potent phrase, especially when it’s combined with the kingdom of possibility. What if you weren’t afraid? What if you could write whatever you wanted and know it would sell? What if you had the money/had the support/weren’t concerned about potential humiliation/had a sitter/lost that last ten pounds/looked into that trip?

What if can lead us out of our heads and take us to our hearts. It’s a good phrase to ponder, especially at the start of a new year. Choice, as Carolyn Myss says, is the most powerful thing we have going for us. If you’re interested and can spare 25 minutes, she has a terrific YouTube video on this very thing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-KysuBl2m_w    It’s worth watching.

Slaughtering the Goat

If you’re a squeamish, goat- loving vegan this blog may not be for you.

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a writer friend. The email, which was sent to a group of us, mentioned the phenomenal productivity of another writer who produces – wait for it – 100,000 words a month.

Yes, a month, and he has the books to prove it.

To which one of the group replied that the only way that would happen for her is if she slaughtered a goat and made a pact with the devil. So from now on I’ve decided to refer to my daily output or writing my words as ‘slaughtering the goat.’

Why is it that we’re never happy with our own pace of slaughtering the goat? Why do we beat ourselves up for being too slow (usually) or too fast (rarely; in fact I’ve never heard anyone complain about writing too fast)? When I stop and think about it, we all slaughter the goat differently and at our own pace. But the goat does get slaughtered. We get there in the end.

I beat myself up for a day or two after reading that email. Why don’t I write faster, why can’t I be more prolific? It didn’t take long for me to stop being so ridiculous. Traveling from one place to another takes time. Seeds grow when they’re ready to grow. Creating anything – needlepoint, art, a sculpted body – takes time too. I don’t expect instant results most of the time.

So why should I when it comes to slaughtering that damned goat?

I shouldn’t, except my writing friends are slaughtering their own goats and I’m peering over my fence watching how they’re doing it and I’m comparing their method to my method and worrying that I’m doing it wrong and being too messy and probably inefficient too. Mostly I worry, like a lot of writers do, that I’m not slaughtering the goat fast enough.

Because you know what they say: if you slaughter the goat slowly, it suffers. And nobody wants to make a goat suffer. That’s bad karma and God knows we don’t need more bad karma.

So what to do? The only thing you can do, I guess. Approach the goat with love. Treat it kindly. Carry out the slaughter the best way you can. And don’t compare how you do it to anybody else. In the end, it’s not about anybody else. It’s a deal between you and the goat.

Having Fun While Pursuing Goals

bicycle-1209682_640Last week, as part of an inventory for the New Year, I wrote a few lists:  things I love and activities I love to do; places that make me happy; my strengths and the things I’m good at; and some accomplishments I’m proud of. I called it my joy inventory and I did it to psych myself up for my annual goal setting session.

Goal setting is all well and good but achieving those goals can be an insidious business. It’s a little like going on a cycling trip. The planning stage is great. You sit down with a cup of coffee and surf travel sites or read guide books. You dream about where you’ll go, what you’ll see. Departure day comes and you’re psyched. And the trip starts out great, it really does, and you’re taking in the scenery and enjoying the daily work out and the feeling of accomplishment. The destination is an eventual goal but the journey is what it’s all about. Everybody knows that including smug little you.

At some point along the way, however, possibly after a day of bitter rain or being forced to detour up a grueling hill, pedaling becomes a chore. You aren’t covering as many miles as you expected to and you’re running into roadblocks as well. Your ass hurts, you stop taking in the view, and the only accomplishment you care about is getting to your destination. So you put your head down and you pedal. You pedal and pedal and pedal on. The trip, you decide, was a terrible idea and clearly not yours. You’ll never do it again.

Until you do.

It’s a lot like goal setting. If you set goals this new year, there’s pretty good chance at some point over the next twelve months you’ll curse yourself out for not reaching your goal fast enough or you’ll get discouraged when you hit a roadblock. You might even decide goal-setting isn’t for you. And maybe it isn’t. But pacing yourself and learning to enjoy life while you work towards your goals helps prevent disappointment and burnout. At least that’s my theory. I’m going to test it out this next year.

I’m going to make time for the activities I love to do. When crap happens and I feel beaten down, I’ll pull out my list of simple pleasures (most of the things I love are simple pleasures) and renew myself that way. If I get discouraged and feel my goals are out of reach, I’ll skim my list of accomplishments and remind myself that I’ve achieved other goals in the past and I can do it again. If I get a bad review or a rejection, I’ll revisit my list of strengths and tell myself I can handle this new challenge too. And at least once over the next year I’ll visit one place that makes me happy and renews my spirit, even if that means I’m only a few miles from home.

I’ve done my joy inventory. I’ve set my goals. And I’m pedalling with optimism into 2017.

Happy New Year and Welcome to 2017!

joywordAt the beginning of a new calendar year we often ask ourselves what we’d like to accomplish in the next twelve months. I do and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. But when I sat down the other day to think about how my next year will shape up, it occurred to me that there’s something I need to do first.

I need to take inventory. Retailers do it, generally once a year. They check out what they have left in stock, look at what’s sold and what hasn’t. Other businesses review their business plans on an annual or even semi-annual basis. Some do a SWOT analysis (looking at their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats). I’ve done the SWOT thing with some writer friends several times and it’s a great exercise, especially in a group setting with people you respect and trust. But my next writing retreat is months away so I’m taking stock – taking inventory – on my own this time.

And my inventory list is focusing on joy. Why joy, you ask? Because between Christmas and the New Year I had coffee with an artist friend who confessed she’s feeling burned out. She’s normally the gung-ho sort, always up for a challenge, always creating new things. But she admitted she’s pushing herself to create, and the idea of doing more in 2017 left her feeling exhausted. I can relate. 2016 was a bitch of a year and I felt burned out by the end of it.

I’m pretty sure joy is one of the antidotes to exhaustion and burn out. It certainly helps fill a well that’s close to dry. So if you want to do a joy inventory along with me, grab a pen and paper or sit down with your laptop and open a new file.

We’re going to make a few lists. Don’t groan. It’ll be fun. And since it’s 2017, we’re going to limit each list to 17 items.

List 17 accomplishments you’re most proud of. Do it fast; don’t overthink it. It doesn’t have to be something you accomplished this year. And don’t limit yourself to professional accomplishments either (For example, I’m proud that after ten years we managed to grow a kiwi on our vine in 2016. It speaks to our tenacity and patience).

Note down 17 strengths or things you’re good at, both personally and professionally.

Next, jot down 17 things you love. Come on, this one’s easy. I can think of 17 things I love to eat, for heaven’s sake. Your list might include discovering a new writer. French press coffee. A hot bath on a cold night. The smell of sweet peas. The sound of church bells. The touch of a kitten’s fur.

Then write down 17 things you love to do. Think out of the box. What about travel? Star gazing? Meeting a friend for lunch? Needlepoint? Fixing an old car? Doing your taxes? (okay, maybe not taxes).

Finally, list out 17 places you’ve been that make you happy. If you have trouble with this one, add in a few places you’d love to go that you know would make you happy.

That wasn’t so hard, was it? Now you have a sense of what brings you joy and a written record of your proudest accomplishments. Next week I’ll talk about how to use the joy inventory when it comes to goal setting.

 

Halfway There

halfway-pointThis blog’s been quiet but I haven’t been. I returned from a week in the sun and immediately jumped into a couple of big projects (one personal and another professional) with tight deadlines. So it’s been some serious head-down-and-get-to-work time for the last few weeks. Thankfully, the personal commitment wraps up near the end of the month and the writing commitment by mid-July.

Speaking of July, the start of the month is only days away and that means we’re half way through 2016. I set goals every January and when the following December rolls around I’m sometimes pleased, but not always. I figure the midpoint of the year is a great time to reassess. We all know goal setting keeps us focused, drives us forward, makes us accountable and provides satisfaction in the end.

But that’s only if we keep those goals in mind.

So over the next week I’ll revisit my objectives for 2016 to see how I’m doing. There’s still time for a course correction, and better I do that now than face disappointment come December. Before I do that, though, I’m taking some time to celebrate with family and friends.

Happy July 1st if you celebrate Canada Day and happy July 4th if you’re south of the border. fireworksvictoria