I’m not keen on New Year’s resolutions. It’s too easy for us to end up in a mire of guilt, weighed down by our failure to meet our own expectations. On the other hand, defined goals can help those of us who might otherwise become TV watching, junk food eating couch potatoes, with nothing more to show for 2013 than an empty file entitled First Draft and five extra kilos around the waistline.
This week, Facebook is chockers with people’s summaries of 2012 and their goals for 2013. There’s some over-sharing about last year’s highs and lows, and some lofty goals for this year. Good luck, people. If I’d been you, I might have made those goals slightly more achievable: a steady, gradual weight loss rather than losing 20kg over the year, completing a certain number of pages a week rather than writing an entire novel before Christmas, reducing chocolate intake rather than giving it up altogether.
Making your resolutions public may steel your resolve, because of the shame you’ll feel if your entire social media circle sees you fail. (Not that they’ll care, but you’ll feel the shame anyway.) Or it may place unnecessary pressure on you, making it almost certain that you won’t meet your goals. Of course, if you are the kind of person who thrives on order, and if your resolutions are well thought out, the list may encourage you to stretch yourself and help you to stay on track.
I didn’t share my highlights and lowlights of 2012 on social media. Mine would have been a jumble of veterinary emergencies and scrambles to meet writing deadlines, a couple of novels published and some family ups and downs I choose to keep private. And I’m not making resolutions. I won’t put ‘finish both books before deadline’ on a list, because it’s something I have no choice about. I’m a professional; writing is my job. If there’s a deadline, that’s when the manuscript has to be ready. I won’t put ‘keep weight down’ on a list because, as a cancer survivor, I need no reminders of how important that is.
Instead of offering you 2013 Resolutions for Writers, then, I wave my magic wand and present you with nine good gifts for the coming year.
- The wind in your hair, the rain on your skin, the sun on your back, the richness of freshly turned soil underfoot. (If you live in a city apartment, plant up some pots with flowers or vegies. Go for regular walks in the park, and use your five senses to experience nature. If you have a garden, make compost. Get your hands dirty!)
- The joy of providing a forever home for a shelter animal (Not all of you will be able to do this, but it’s a great way to nourish the soul. If you can’t take on a homeless animal, you could volunteer to walk shelter dogs, or help out at a refuge.)
- Social interaction, and I don’t mean online! (Writers can easily get into the pattern of spending long hours alone, maintaining their social contacts mostly online. This is not great for your physical or mental health. Make an effort – go out to coffee with a friend once a week, join a book club, walk your dog at the park, meet like-minded people in the flesh.)
- Writing because you love it; loving what you write. (Because otherwise what’s the point?)
- Stretching yourself creatively. (Try a new genre; set yourself challenges in voice, point of view, vocabulary, structure)
- Making a virtue of ‘down time.’ (Try meditation, walking, Tai Chi, swimming, playing with your children or animals)
- Learning that the best motivation for getting on with things – your work in progress, your diet/exercise plan – does not come from the note on the fridge, but from deep within you. Changing your mindset; doing the right things not because you ought to, but because you want to.
- Being generous with your time, even if you don’t have much of it to spare. (Read to an elderly person; help out at your kids’ school; fill hampers for the needy.)
- Breathing. (Step away from your screen regularly. Go outside, look at something beautiful and breathe slowly for a few minutes. You live in the real world; it is the source of your inspiration. Honour and respect it with all its flaws.)
Some of these gifts will come easily. Some, you’ll have to work on. The more of them become a reality for you, the richer your life will be. The richer your life, the richer your creative work. May this be a peaceful and inspired year for you.
Please feel free to add to the Good Gifts list!