I’m an optimistic soul. I tend to be flooded with ambition at the beginning of each new year. THIS will be the one, I tell myself. This is will be the year when I will do better, be better, accomplish all the things. In past years, I’ve set clear goals — sometimes massive lists of things I’d like to achieve, sometimes a single goal (as with last year).
There is value in taking stock of where you’ve been and envisioning a path for where you want to be. The way forward is sometimes confusing, and it helps to come up with a roadmap.
Figuring out how to shape that map is a form of experimentation in and of itself — setting up resolutions, goals, or habits, and testing them out to see what works. Maybe it’s a single word to embody the year. Maybe it’s a specific habit you want to create. Maybe it’s a new area of learning or craft you want to pursue. Maybe it’s a list of specific things you want to get done.
Coming into 2020, I’m feeling a little more tentative about my goal setting. The single goal that I set for last year locked me into path that caused more confusion and frustration than pleasure. I learned a lot from that experience, though it left me a little tender.
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is in full swing, with writers around the world diving into their novel or rebel projects. Words are spattering themselves upon page like rain — either in drizzles or downpours. Plotlines are taking root. Characters are waking up and blossoming into shape. Scenes are growing lush and vibrant.
At least, that’s the blessing I send out to all my fellow writers this month.
When I announced my intentions to partake in NaNoWriMo this year, one of the main methods of preparation was to eliminate all future considerations — all the little thoughts of what this new novel might be or become. In my first four days of working on the project, I have managed to get ahead of my daily goals, reaching just over 8,500 words. Along the way, it has been interesting to observe the little games my mind started playing, jumping past the present to future possibilities. Each time, I had to rein those thoughts in and find a way to keep writing.
Brain Game One: Future Success — The first day of working on my new novel was incredibly successful, which was a surprise and a delight. It had been a long time since I had such a smooth writing day, and I was proud of the words I wrote and the direction the story was taking. My brain, noticing me reveling in the pleasure of my success, immediately began jumping ahead. THIS would be the novel, this will be the one to achieve an agent and a publisher, oodles of money and awards, and —
Knock it off, I told myself. None of that matters right now. All that matters is here in the story. Who is this person you’re writing? What comes next? Stick to writing in the now.
Brain Game Two: Future Editing — As I continued on the second day, I found myself discovering the characters and what would happen to them through the act of writing. I allowed details and traits and events to evolve throughout a scene, allowing contradictions to take place and letting them lie, knowing I could come back and visit it later. My brain, however, would not let it be, insisting on telling me all the ways the previous passages would need to be fixed and fixed immediately.
Thank you, I told myself. But let’s worry about those things at another time. We’re focusing on the first draft. Let’s write in the now.
Brain Game Three: Future Failure — The process of writing is always shifting and not every day will flow smoothly. It was inevitable that self doubt would make its appearance, and it did on the third day. My brain fell right into lock-step, questioning whether these words would be good enough or whether this would just be another novel to sit languid in a drawer, ever unfinished.
Hush, I told myself. Everything’s okay. It’s a draft. It doesn’t have to be good enough. Just keep going, stick with the story and see where it leads. Write in the now.
. . .
As the month continues, I’ll have to face thoughts like this over and over again. It’s a continual process of pulling myself back to the present moment, taking a deep breath, and writing from where I’m at in the her and now. For the moment, I’m just enjoying the act of writing — which is exactly what I was hoping to get out of my NaNo experience this year.
If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo or working on any kind of creative projects this month, let me know how you’re doing. Do you find yourself fighting future thoughts? How do you deal with such thoughts and keep moving forward?
. . .
Note: This was first published in A Seed to Hatch, my (semi)-monthly newsletter on the writing life and things that are interesting to writers. If you enjoyed reading this, please check out the archives and/or subscribe:
During the month of December, I had a vast number of projects and deadlines going at once. What kept me from collapsing into a quivering mess from being so overwhelmed was taking out my physical notebook and writing down every necessary item that needed to be completed that month. That list, which I was able to return to daily, helped me focus my attention in order to actually get things done — not to mention the absolute pleasure of scratching a line through an item once it was accomplished.
This experience has prompted me to try out a Bullet Journal, essentially a system of tracking and planning one’s daily life in a way that’s entirely adaptable to one’s specific needs. There are hundreds of tutorials and inspiration posts about bullet journaling throughout the internet, all with their own unique way of approaching the system. If you bullet journal, I would love to know about your process too.
I’m not starting fresh with a shiny new book the way most people do. First, because I hate leaving a notebook only partially filled (it makes me twitch). Second, because this is kind of an experiment and I want to see how effective it will be for me.
Essentially, I’m hoping it will help me with the tracking of my goals throughout the year, as well as with breaking down the bigger goals into bit sized bits for progress on a day to day basis. So far it’s going well, which brings me to:
My Goals for 2018
1. Clear My Schedule Enough to Be Able to Focus on THE NOVEL – I would love to be able to put “Finish the Novel” on here, but I know down in the depths of my wailing heart that would not be practical. I can’t seem to focus on the novel, while I have a number of projects going that need my attention right now. The plan is to clear the handful of things that are most important to me, with the aim of launching into novel revisions by July 1st. These things include:
A Kickstarter project to create a chapbook of erasure poetry that I’m launching this month.
Finish story/chap based on the 12 Dancing Princesses fairy tale
Write all of the episodes of a webseries that I’m working on with some filmmaking buddies (probably most important on this list since it involves obligations and deadlines and other good things like that)
Finish and submit various poem and story things (though some of these could be put on hold once the noveling recommences)
Prepwork for the novel (a bit of research, outlining, and so on that will be helpful when I get to the editing)
The trick is going to be not piling on more projects in the meantime, which is going to take some self control.
2. Return to THE NOVEL – Assuming all goes well, I’ll spend the second half of the year focusing on the novel. Just doing that — digging into the work and making progress — would be amazing.
3. Run a Half Marathon – This has definitely been on my list for a couple of years, and I refuse to give it up. I’ve run 10K races before, so running a half marathon should be doable. The key is sticking to a running schedule (4 times per week) that allows me to accomplish training goals.
4. Blog At Least Once a Week – Donna Vorreyer and Kelli Russell Agodon have started up a blogging challenge for poets for the year, in which every participating poet agrees to post something about poetry (craft posts, reviews, interviews, etc.) at least once a week. Since I’m always trying to make sure this blog stays active, I jumped on board. If you want to keep up with my posts without having to think about it, you can subscribe in the sidebar. The list of participating poets is here.
5. Other Goals:
Attend an open mic or author reading at least once a month
It’s been a rough year — and I know I’m not alone in expressing that sentiment. Putting aside the politics and news stream (which has been a constant barrage of stress and frustration), if I were to sum up 2017 in a single word, it would probably be: overwhelmed. As it turns out, this has also been my usual response these days to the question, “How are you doing?”
The year also presented a great family sorrow, as my grandmother, Florence Schlegel, passed away at the end of November. She had an amazing history — worked as a coat check Girl in NY, serving the likes of Howard Hughes and other celebrities; worked at Lockheed Martin constructing aircraft during WWII; lived on a homestead in Alaska and shot three black bears; served her community in Anchorage in a number of ways; and she was always witty and funny, and all around awesome. We miss her so much.
For all the stress and sadness that the year has yielded, though, it’s also offered up some wonderful experiences — adventures in travel and the writing life, some amazing books, and delightful moments with friends and family.
Below is some of my 2017 journey. If you’re inclined to share, then I would love to hear how your year treated you, as well.
I feel like I’ve done more writing than I’ve done in any previous year, although I don’t really have a way to prove that (and I’m not certain it’s true when I think about the multude of 30 challenges I did in 2016). I haven’t really been keeping track of word counts or other forms of tracking, partly because my work has been across so many diverse projects (poetry, script writing, fiction, etc.).
A part of why I might feel this way is that I’ve been trying to consistently focus on my writing in two ways — first, by getting to work early and using the extra time to write, and second, by using my lunch time to write. These little chunks have been helpful in not only getting words on the page, but also accomplishing the business side of writing, like getting work out on submission.
During the year, I sent out 47 submission packets (with anywhere from one to five poems or short stories — nine more than previous year I received 42 individual rejections and had a total of ten poems and one short story published. Not bad. Nowhere near the 100 rejections I was aiming for, but still not bad.
This does not include the collaborative poetry, submissions, and publications that have occured over the past year. I am so grateful to Laura Madeline Wiseman for being my partner in this work, and an inspiration in general. Together, we have had eight poems published in 2017, and have received an acceptance for our chapbook, Every Girl Becomes the Wolf, to be published by Finishing Line Press.
For a couple of years, I have been doing weekly updates noting writing progress, books read, goals for the week, and other tidbits. The idea of these posts was to hold myself accountable for the progress (if any) that I was making, as well as keeping the blog itself active. I started off 2017 continuing these posts, but stopped doing them about halfway through the year when they began to feel more burdensome than helpful. Rather than spending time crafting an obligatory weekly post, I tried to focus on posts with more content to them, like my revisit of The Dark Tower book series.
In total, I shared 45 blog posts, about half the amount of posts from the previous year. I’m okay with the lower number, since it’s more important for me for focus on finishing my existing poetry and fiction projects than sharing things on the blog. However, I would like to share more (hopfully) thoughtful posts in the coming year.
Normally I share my top reads in a longer, separate post — but I’m starting to run out of spoons to make it through the end of the year, so here’s a truncated version.
My reading stats are they lowest they’ve been in probably a decade. In years past, I’ve averaged about 90-100 books per year, this year I’ve managed 45 (as of this posting), which kind of pains me. The reason for this significant drop in my reading rate is because of how I refocused my time at work (taking up my lunch to write instead of read) and the introduction of Netflix into my home life (and the subsequence TV binge-watching that that implies). That said, I’ve managed to read a number of books that have delighted me this year, which I present below.
Top Ten Fiction Books (with series books counted as one)
The Obelisk Gate & The Stone Sky (Broken Earth Book #3) by N. K. Jemisin
It’s been an interesting year for running. On the one hand, all totalled up, I ran 73.63 miles over the course of year — which sounds like quite a bit. But most of those miles were in the first half of the year with March being the highest month at 17.58 miles. All of this is reflective of how my motivation regarding running shifted throughout the year (with an impact on my body health).
One of the highlights of my running practice this year was attending the She is Beautiful Run in March (despite being incredibly hungover at the time). My sisters came along and we took part in the joys of this event. I’m looking forward to finding more events like this next year.
The day job certainly kept me busy in travel and sent me on some great adventures, including some good times in Nashville, Tennessee and most notably a two week trip to Dubai and Singapore, during which I fit in a short hopover to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I loved the cultural experiences of that trip, although the heat and humidity was so intense that I was soon happy to head home to more moderate weather.
And just for funsies, my sister and I put together a two week trip to South America, squeezing in a few days in Peru (including Machu Picchu), Chile, and Argentina. Since our time was so short, we only saw a fraction of these countries, each of which I would like to take far more time to explore.
Well, that’s my year in a snap shot. How was your 2017?
Last night, I slipped out of my routine and to check out the Well-RED poetry showcase, featuring poets published in the Spring Mother Tongue anthology at Works/San José. The event was hosted in part by Poetry Center San José, a rad organization and a great place to turn to for more on South Bay Area goings on in poetry. It’s the first time I’ve been out to a literary event in months (probably, maybe, at any rate it’s been a rather long time).
Spring Mother Tongue is an anthology edited by Arlene Angeles Biala, Santa Clara County Poet Laureate. The collection provides a space for poets to share the stories behind each of of their own names. “You may recognize yourself in us. You may recall your own name(s) and stories around it/them and be moved to use your own poetic voice. I hope that you do,” writes Biala in the introduction.
The readings present a nuanced and layered exploration of names and what they mean. Some are funny, some are sweet, some explore the ways names are used to strip power away from us, and some are reclamations of power. It’s a beautiful anthology, one I recommend picking up, especially if you’re a local to the Bay Area, California.
What I’m Reading
I am about halfway through and entirely loving Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, which is about vampires in Mexico City. The story is told from multiple points of view, both those of humans and the vampires themselves. I’m loving learning about the different species of vampires, each with their own evolutionary traits of abilities, strengths, and drawbacks. Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a fantastic writer, quickly rising to the top of my list of favorites.
What I’m Writing
Over the past week, I completed a draft of a six page poem — the longest single poem I’ve ever written. Most of my poems tend toward the shorter side, 30 lines or less, and I’ve thought of myself as a poet who just wasn’t the type to write longer pieces like that — but apparently I’ve proved myself wrong. I’ve set it aside for the time being, letting the original flow of idea rest, so that I can come back to it for an edit later.
I also have episodes of a web series in progress — episode one has been done for a while, and I’ve started in on the opening scene of episode two. If I can focus and not get distracted by all the shiny poems I seem to be wanting to write this week, then I can probably finish drafts of at least two more episodes before I head out on my next big bit of travel in a week and a half.
The Running Life
Got my first run done in over a month on Saturday. It felt great to hit the pavement, good for my muscles and good for my soul. I was able to run a bit farther than I expected considering how long it’s been since I last went for it, which was reassuring. I need to get back into the routine. I can tell that my body needs it.
Total miles in the last week: 2.20
Total Miles for 2017: 70.84 miles
“a poem is an utterly free space for language; no objective and definite criteria could possibly apply to evaluate it. In fact, poetry is the only utterly free space for language that I’m aware of, and that is what makes it indispensable to me, and also what makes writing it and reading it a political act: Any act where freedom is urgently at issue is a political act, and any space that makes us aware of our innate freedom is a radically political space.”
Leah Schnelbach’s fantastic essay “Sometimes, Horror is the Only Fiction That Understands You” is a wonderful exploration of what Stephen King’s writing has meant to her in life — and as someone who read every King book I could get my hands on in high school, I completely resonate with this.