My commute to my day job was effortless this morning. The roads were nearly clear and traffic was almost nonexistent. As someone who generally drives a minimum of two hours a day, this would normally be a cause of celebration. But these open roads are the result in numerous Silicon Valley folks working from home in the face of the corona virus — a reality that left me melancholy.
Turns out, nearly empty roads are a strange, haunting sight.
This month, I started a challenge to write 30 poem drafts in 30 days (a challenge I normally do in April during National Poetry Month, but I got confused and started it early, so here we are). I found a nice rhythm to the work at the start of the month, but have since fallen behind and am having to play catchup.
As more and more news flows in about all the messed up goings on in the world, the writing of poetry or fiction feels like a frivolous thing. How could putting words on a page possibly help anyone or anything?
I tend to start off each year with high hopes for what I’ll be able to achieve — and 2019 was no different. But looking back, the first half of the year was a struggle for me. Having set myself a single goal for the year, I was pushing and punishing myself to finish a novel that wasn’t connecting for me. That frustration overshadowed a lot of my work and my perception of my value as a writer.
When people asked me what I was up to, I often answered that I was hermiting — which sounds like a purposeful withdrawal from word in order to delve into self reflection. However, in reality, I was hiding, too timid to come out of my shell.
But recent months have been more positive. Letting go of the need to finish the novel was the wisest decision I made, providing a huge sense of relief. Subsequently participating in National Novel Writing Month and allowing myself space to dive into a new story and just enjoy the process of writing was a giant boon for me. The work was no less difficult, but the joy of writing was more present.
And then, I recently learned that Corvid Queen nominated my short story “How Bluebeard Ends” for a Pushcart Prize — a delightful acknowledgement for a story that was rejected numerous times before finding a home. (Here’s all the wonderful works Corvid Queen nominated.)
These recent wins have provided me a different perspective on my year. Looking back with a more positive lens, I can see more clearly the huge amount of work I’ve done.
I had three poems published this in the year — “Belatedly, The Refusal” (Glass: A Journal of Poetry), “A Little Background Information” (Cotton Xenomorph), and “Bride of Frankenstein: Our Lady of Rage” (Star*Line). I’ve also received an acceptance for a project coming out next year that I can’t quite announce yet.
I’ve also done a tremendous amount of work on my blog, publishing around 70 posts. Among these, I’ve conducted 15 interviews with poets — sevenPoet Spotlights on my blog and eightpodcast interviews for New Books in Poetry (the fact that I started cohosting a podcast alone is a wonder). Not to mention the number of other blogs, newsletters, poems, stories, and projects that I’ve have been and am continuing to work on.
In the midst of all this, I took three major trips this year to Venice, Iceland, and a family trip to Alaska. All while consuming an enormous number of books, movies, tv shows, games, and podcasts.
I’m grateful for this year. I’m grateful for words — those I’ve written and those I’ve read. I’m grateful for the breath in my lungs, for the rain pattering outside my window, and for the cozy sweater wrapped around me. I’m grateful for making it through the adventures and struggles this year has brought me — and I’m grateful to you for being here to share the journey.
Every year, I look back at last years goals and try to assess what worked and what did not work for me. 2018 was an interesting year, bringing a considerable amount of stress and anxiety — and I’ve noticed a number of others have experienced the same, if not more in that regard.
Just looking at my goals from the previous year, I can see that I’ve accomplished a couple of things: my blogging year was pretty consistent and I did manage to launch and successfully fund a kickstarter, among other things. But some of the major projects I was hoping to complete (finish the novel, run a half marathon) did not reach completion.
During the second half of the year, I’ve especially been felt a sense of stagnation. I stopped running, attending few writing events, and in general felt that there was little progress on my personal projects.
But this feeling of stagnation is a bit of self deception, because if I consider things as a whole, then it’s actually been phenomenal year for me in terms of writing and travel — a year I could and should be proud of. So, instead of worrying about what didn’t work for me in the past year, here are some of the good things that have gone down in 2018.
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
“I feel strongly that we’re only hurting ourselves as writers by being so secretive about money. There’s no other job in the world where you get your master’s degree in that field and you’re like, Well, I might make zero or I might make $5 million! We don’t have any standards in that way, and we probably never will. There will always be such a wide range of what writers are paid, but at least we could give each other information.” Cherryl Strayed in conversation with Manjula Martin, published in Scratch
Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, edited by Manjula Martin (founder of now-closed Scratch Magazine), presents a mix of interviews and essays on the act of trying (sometimes succeeding) to make money as a writer. These perspectives come from writers of varying backgrounds, from novelists and poets to news and creative nonfiction writers, to filmmakers. A number of writers I’m fond of are included in this book — such as Austin Kleon, Malinda Lo, Roxane Gay, and Daniel José Older — as well as many writers whose work is new to me.
Readers of Scratch will not find a step-by-step guide on how to “make it” as a writer. This collection of essays never reaches a consensus, except perhaps to say that the pathways to making a living as a writer are multitudinous and have not all been discovered yet. Lacking any one clear answer, the reader instead of directives, the reader is given personal journeys (sometimes deeply so). It’s not a matter of “this is how you should do it,” but rather “this is how I am doing it”.