Nine Good Gifts for the New Year

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image16221614I’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. 

  1. 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!)
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.)
  4. Writing because you love it; loving what you write. (Because otherwise what’s the point?)
  5. Stretching yourself creatively. (Try a new genre; set yourself challenges in voice, point of view, vocabulary, structure)
  6. Making a virtue of ‘down time.’ (Try meditation, walking, Tai Chi, swimming, playing with your children or animals)
  7. 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.
  8. 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.)
  9. 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!

Photo credit:

© Andrej Štojs | Dreamstime.com

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About Juliet Marillier

Juliet Marillier has written nineteen novels for adults and young adults as well as a collection of short fiction. Her works of historical fantasy have been published around the world, and have won numerous awards. Juliet's new novel, Tower of Thorns, will be published in October/November 2015. Tower of Thorns is the second book in the Blackthorn & Grim series of historical fantasy/mysteries for adult readers. The first Blackthorn & Grim novel, Dreamer's Pool, is available from Roc US and Pan Macmillan Australia.

Comments

  1. says

    Juliet, I really enjoy your posts.

    The nine things you listed are much more important to me than a detailed breakdown of goals and an unwavering writing schedule. That tends to get done without a list for me. But the other stuff…I need it, practice it, and feel crappy when it goes by the wayside.

    And my lovable pooch, Rameses, is snoozing beside me, head cramming closer and closer to my laptop (one more move and he’ll shut it) – a shelter rescue that I couldn’t live without.

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    • says

      Thank you, ML! All the best to you and Rameses from me and my mini-pack of rescues. Your description of him is wonderful.

      I hope we all take time to nourish the inner self this year; my dogs remind me frequently to do so.

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  2. says

    I’m not a goal setter or resolution maker either, though I am always trying to Improve. These gifts are wonderful and exactly what I need. Thank you.

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  3. says

    Let me try this again. I think comments were still turned off earlier when I stopped by.

    Juliet – I always appreciate your posts so much. And I feel that these nine things you’ve set out are much more important than a rigorous schedule. I manage to remember to get the writing done.

    But not taking care of myself in the down time is my downfall.

    I’ve got a rescue pooch sitting here snoozing right beside me, cramming his head further and further into my laptop. One more push and he’ll shut it!

    Thanks for reiterating the “important stuff.” :)

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  4. Elizabeth says

    Nor do I make resolutions. Improvement is a pleasurable, fun, curiosity provoking process that comes from within, not a looming mandate imposed from without.

    Great list! #2 has me thinking about volunteering at a shelter. I’ve been wanting to do volunteer work, but I still speak poorly the language of the country in which I live. Dogs won’t care! Thanks for the idea.

    To the list, I’d add exploration. Work exploration into your day. Walk a different route to the store or to work and look around. Take 15 minutes to have a coffee in a cafe you’ve never visited before. Ride the bus through a neighborhood you’ve never seen. Read a book told from a viewpoint you disagree with or pick a book up randomly. Eat at a strange restaurant or have a picnic in a park across town.

    Thanks for the post.

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    • says

      Oh, thank you for this, Elizabeth! I love the idea of working exploration into the day, and your examples show how easy it could be. Stretching the comfort zone, but gently …

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  5. says

    I actually do like to set goals but not so rigid that if I don’t meet them I feel like a failure. But, for me, it’s like the start of the new school year where packages of yellow pencils, bright notebooks, full boxes of crayons, remind me that the year ahead is a blank piece of paper I get to fill in however I want.

    Having said that, your nine gifts are awesome. I live in the mountains and a day without a hike or fresh air leaves me feeling stifled. I have a rescue weimaraner that needs frequent kisses on his smelly nose, and remembering to look outside myself and serve others is vital.

    Happy New Year to you, and all the readers, however they organize their perspective.

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    • says

      ‘But, for me, it’s like the start of the new school year where packages of yellow pencils, bright notebooks, full boxes of crayons, remind me that the year ahead is a blank piece of paper I get to fill in however I want.’

      What a great analogy – it conjures up not only strong visual memories but the emotional memories that go with them.

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  6. says

    Oh thank goodness! Not another person screaming at me to sit in front of my computer all day long. Thank you for some common sense advice that leaves room for balance in a writer’s life.

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  7. says

    A beautiful list of things! I, too, have noticed the prevalence of lists reflecting back on 2012 and looking ahead to 2013. I think it’s very easy to leap giddily into a new year with a pile of ideas and aspirations at hand, but it’s good to be reminded of the simple ways in which our creative lives are fed. Thanks!

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  8. Aimee says

    I am much more likely to accomplish things that I carefully list and add to my calendar, so I use that and I use resolutions. My resolution last year was to write a novel. I’m thrilled to say I’m finishing up the second draft of that novel now (and it went through one professional developmental edit already). I say use whatever works best for you and believe in yourself. “Do whatever it takes” has been my mantra and it seems to be working. We’ll see!

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    • says

      How wonderful that you finished your novel, congratulations! All of us in the WU community understand what an achievement that is.

      I agree, if resolutions work for you, use ’em.

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  9. says

    “[T]he 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.”

    Hear, hear.

    This post is pure loveliness, Juliet. Thank you, and Happy New Year to you!

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  10. says

    I also don’t make resolutions, but I am a goal setter and I’ve set my goals for the year. Interestingly, one of them is to breathe! I thrive on being busy and accomplishing things and sometimes get caught up in it all. I sleep very well at night and generally don’t lose sleep, but there are times when I have to remind myself to just sit back and breathe for a little while.

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  11. says

    Love these ideas Juliet and there is nothing like doing something good for ones self. It is part of the rejuvenating process. I knew writing would be difficult but I didn’t expect the level of exhaustion I am left with. I often forget to take time out and relax. These are great lifestyle commitments. And while I suppose you could over do them, most of us won’t. Happy New Year and thanks for you thoughts.

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  12. says

    I agree with Elizabeth (above), and would add to your #9 to get out and explore. Walk in nature. I understand what treadmills are, but I can’t for the life of me understand why people subject themselves to them when there is so much to be seen and smelled outside. I find that routinely breathing the outdoor air is nourishing to the soul. Thanks, and Happy New Year, Juliet!

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    • says

      Spot on, Vaughn. Having dogs helps a lot with this one – mine ensure I am out in nature far more of the time than I would otherwise be!

      It can be a challenge for inner city dwellers, I imagine. I am remembering my trip to New York City for the RWA conference in 2011. Mostly I was in the hotel with a large number of other writers, and that was rather full-on for me, though it had its fun side. My highlight was my day off, when I walked from Times Square up to Central Park, then spent the afternoon strolling around by myself under the trees, drinking coffee at a lovely little cafe, watching people enjoy themselves, appreciating the green and the openness. I remember that vividly.

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  13. says

    Excellent post and beautiful thoughts! I have “wishes” this year because while resolutions tend to bite me, wishes can come true. I want to get healthier. I want to write two new books this year. And I want to find my bravery and not be a raving lunatic when my baby girl leaves for the Navy in July. :)

    I love your thoughts about getting outside and while I wish I could take on a rescue animal, I have to be happy giving all my love to my old lady dog Ruby. <3

    If it weren't freezing and raining, and if I weren't at work right now, I'd totally be inspired to go for a walk!! :)

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  14. Denise Willson says

    If I had to chose a GIFT for 2013 it would be to allow one of my personal goals to bloom and broaden into other parts of my life; the LEARNING GOAL. I try to learn something from everything I do, say, read, etc. Every experience has something to take from it, something to learn. Sometimes I learn about myself. Sometimes I learn about others. I always learn something about writing.

    What can you learn if you open your mind to the possibilities? Everything.

    Denise Willson
    Author of A Keeper’s Truth

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  15. says

    I landed on the same passage as Therese, Juliet. Unless one is granted an epiphany, I’ve found small actions are the best way to bring about a mindset change, to explore what is possible.

    To your list I’d add mindful cooking and consumption of real food. Soup in particular.

    Happy New Year!

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    • says

      Totally agree, Jan. I think cooking (either vegetable soup or bread in particular) and making compost are the two activities that most closely resemble writing fiction/storytelling – there’s an alchemy in putting the bits together and seeing them morph and change into something wonderful and new. With the soup/bread, the eating part is nice too!

      I tend to suggest these two activities to people who feel as if they have writer’s block.

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  16. says

    I linked to your post through Therese Walsh’s Facebook post. What wonderful words of wisdom. Thank you for sharing. In regards to animals, all ours are rescues (people think we rescued them but it works both ways as you know) and now that our inn is full, we tame and foster a litter of feral kittens each year through Forgotten Felines in Sonoma County, California. I just wanted to mention even if someone can’t give an animal a forever home, maybe they can bridge the gap by fostering for a local shelter or animal rescue organization.

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    • says

      Thank you, Cerrissa – that is a great suggestion for those who can’t provide a permanent home for a rescue animal. There is always a desperate need for foster homes. Here in Australia, if you foster for a rescue organisation, your vet bills are covered by that organisation until the animal is adopted into a permanent home. I imagine that applies in the US, too.

      I salute your effort with the feral kittens, that must be both very challenging and wonderfully rewarding. As you say, rescue goes both ways.

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  17. Debby Hanoka says

    On behalf of writers like myself who do not have children, thank you for mentioning the value of pets. My twelve year old tabby is my therapy and my “nurse-cat.”

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  18. says

    Lovely thoughts, must apply myself to more learning, even at age 69, but I may substitute Painting and drawing for writing, as an activity , Looking forward to getting out and growing things again, and I will definitely get my hands dirty, and dig that strawberry patch over before spring ! Happy new yer everyone

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    • says

      Happy New Year, Maureen! I’m a firm believer that we go on learning all our lives. (I picture you creating a magnificent painting of your first basket of freshly-picked strawberries.)

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  19. sue knight says

    Thank you Juliet for your wonderful words of wisdom.
    I hope 2013 is a productive, happy and healthy year for you that involves lots of taking time to smell the roses moments!
    Thank you for the words, bookwise and postings.

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  20. says

    Juliet, I *love* your post, esp. #7:

    “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.”

    That really *is* key, isn’t it?

    I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions either. Every day I strive to learn more, do better, improve my life and others in some way. It can be something as ‘small’ as complimenting the bank teller on her earrings & bringing a smile to her face or as ‘big’ as getting myself outside for a walk in the neighborhood.

    I revel in nature’s abundance and diversity: squirrels’ antics around the trees in our yard, birds congregating on/in our bird bath, photos from the astronauts on the ISS. It’s an expansive Universe with such wonders to behold!! Taking a moment to be inspired by all of this is truly a gift. You’re right on the money! :)

    Thanks for such a heartfelt post. May 2013 bring you, everyone at Writer Unboxed, and your readers great joy, prosperity, health and creativity.

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    • says

      That might be the key word: wonder. Being open to the wonder of the universe, whether it’s in tiny things or gobsmackingly big ones.

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  21. Marilyn Slagel says

    Number 6 is my favorite, Juliet. After months of getting to the published part, working full time at night as a med. editor and the time just doing the normal things of life I was desperate for some down time.

    For the last two weeks, I’ve done only necessary things. The rest of the time I’ve watched the birds at the feeder, watched DVR programs and worked a jigsaw puzzle of the Statue of Liberty – relaxing, mind freeing activities.

    I’m not sure how long this break is goig to last – I’ll know it’s over when my body tells me I can move forward again.

    Of course, I hope I’m not just procrastinating on my WIP….

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    • says

      Marilyn, re that comment about procrastinating – I’ve been increasingly aware of how guilt can weigh us down. It is very hard for me to take time for activities that are not writing-related without feeling guilty, even though I know that’s a wrong-headed way of thinking. So I keep reminding myself that those other activities are making me healthier, happier and more creative, and that the writing will be better as a result. I love your list of relaxing, mind-freeing activities.

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  22. says

    Thanks for these reminders, Juliet. All resonated with me. And I found some striking similarities between the start of your post and the start of my own last one a couple of days ago. Remembering to lift one’s head–I’m with you 100% on that!

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  23. says

    I’m late to the party, but wow. Juliet, this is a beautiful piece.

    I particularly agree with the gradual changes. It’s something I’ve talked to countless other people about at my “day job” as a weight loss counselor for years. The burgers and fries people who start a program and eat nothing but grilled chicken and salad for three weeks lose a lot of weight in three weeks. And then we never see them again because they get tired of grilled chicken and salad.

    I need to work in my gardens more this year, but I think I’ll start this time with plantings in the small one out back, instead of trying to overhaul the massive one in the front yard, which was on my list last year but never got done because it just looked so daunting.

    Thank you so much for sharing.

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  24. says

    Great piece. I offer:

    –Do the day. Whether you’re sick, or feeling down; whether you feel like the world is against you, or if it actually is–no matter what, do the day. Even if it’s only lasting half the day at work; even if it’s doing a mediocre job, as long as it’s the best you can do that day; even if it’s writing some crappy words as part of some crappy draft in which not even one stupid word will see a better draft–just do the day. Because at the end of the day, even if it’s been lousy, you’ll at least be able to say that you did the day. Sometimes, it’s all you’ve got. And if you don’t, at the end of the day you’ll hate yourself even more because you didn’t try to do anything at all that day. It’ll be just another thing to dislike yourself for.

    So, do the day.

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    • says

      Yes – a particularly helpful mode of thinking for those writers who suffer to a greater or lesser extent from depression, and there are many of them.

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  25. Bee says

    I’ll add a few to the list.

    1. Prayer. Communion with God is such an endless gift.

    2. Music. I’m making a note to find what music soothes me and enjoy the luxury of listening to it on a stressful night.

    3. A good book. Writers work SO hard on transcribing character journeys and hearts on the page, trying to capture worlds that can live and breathe on the page and giving those worlds to others. For those who find writing chooses them as much as they choose it, the compulsion to write is both a gift and a burden. If I’m knee deep in a project, I feel so grateful opening a book for an hour or so and letting someone else “do the work”, so to speak.

    And speaking of work, I’m not sure if you’ll see this comment Juliet. but I just read Flame of Sevenwaters and have to thank you for writing it! And the series in general. In particular, Sorcha’s tale in Daughter of the Forest and Fainne in Heir to Sevenwaters both had such a deep effect on me (particularly the former). It was so wonderful to see the story tied up in Flame of Sevenwaters. Especially Ciarnan! For some reason, that character touched me so much as the series progressed. I just loved conflicted heart, and his serious mind. Whenever he was on the page, I just wanted to read more of him. And as improbable as it seemed, I wanted him to fall in love again. (perhaps with someone like cheerful and titleless and unaffected, like handmaid Rhiann? lol) Anyway, the conclusion you gave him in Flames was so fitting. I won’t give any spoilers, but I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed the series as a whole, especially his parts of Flame. I thought the writing in his sections beautifully captured the passion and the strength of the character.

    I know the thought of going back to Sevenwaters probably exhausts you, and I hope you feel gratified by completing the task of 6 novels! As a reader and a fan I can’t help but selfishly hope for another trip there. But whether it happens or not I just wanted to thank you for all your efforts. I’ve really enjoyed reading your work and look forward to whatever tales you tell next :-)

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  26. hilde van baelen says

    Dear Juliet,I really love your books,bought them all. I got to know them when travelling in New Zealand, happy to find them in the UK and here in Belgium too.I wish you all the best for 2013 and hope you keep writing.I most like both viking novels. PS : my 13 year old grandson loves them too,he is reading my english version,though we speak Dutch here in the north of Belgium.

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    • says

      Thank you, Hilde! I’ve heard that the Dutch translations of my books are very good, but I guess something is inevitably lost along the way. Please say hello to your grandson from me.

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