Monday, January 12, 2015

New Year's Resolution: Celebrate Your Accomplishments

I gave a talk on Saturday afternoon, on new year's resolutions for writers, for the Society of Children's Book Writers (SCBWI). To my great surprise, 40 people crammed into the meeting room of the Arvada Public Library to hear me speak. Apparently, I'm not the only writer who is wild to make new year's dreams, goals, plans, objectives, lists.

I began my talk, though, with the case against resolutions:
1. According to one survey, only 8 percent of people keep them. A full quarter give them up after ONE WEEK.
2. Resolutions can not only fail but even backfire. Writer Anne Lamott says that her therapist asked her, when she announced a new year's diet some years ago, "That's great, honey. How many pounds are you trying to gain?"
3. Resolutions seem to come from a place of self-dissatisfaction. THIS year I won't screw up (the way I did last year). THIS year I'll take of the weight (that I put on last year). THIS year I'll write the book (that I got stalled on last year).

So the task I set for us in the workshop was to try to figure out how to achieve the good of resolutions (since I was speaking to a room full of people wild to make them, including myself) while avoiding these pitfalls.

I began with sharing my own system of documenting what I call "Nice Things and Accomplishments" month by month throughout the year. This system of recordkeeping ensures that we avoid at least the third pitfall on the list: reinforcing a sense of shame and failure. I have a little notebook where I list each month's biggest achievements and greatest joys. I'm picky about what I list: writing a chapter counts, writing a page doesn't (unless it's maybe the VERY first page of a project I've been dreading for ages). Having lunch with a friend doesn't count, unless it's a friend from out of town visiting, or unless conversation at lunch was particularly life-changing. Reading a book doesn't count (I keep a separate list of all the books I read in a year), unless the book was especially wonderful. Three that made the cut here were War and Peace (well, natch!), Emily of Deep Valley (the one Betsy-Tacy book I hadn't read because it was out of print for so many years), and a 1910 novel called Queed that is mentioned in Carney's House Party (one of the Betsy-Tacy books).

I usually end up with seven or eight items for each month. Looking back at my list for 2014, I see that I had a low of five for June and December (but some of these were huge - e.g., in December I revised a novel, extensively, and sent it off to my publisher AND I celebrated Kataleya's first Christmas where she starred as Baby Jesus in the Living Nativity on Christmas Eve). I had a high of fourteen for March (some of these were passive things, on my part, like finding out, through diligent self-Googling, that Kelsey Green, Reading Queen was a Washington D.C. Capitol Choice book and Zero Tolerance was on the Cooperative Children's Book Center's best-books-of-the-year roundup.

So far this year, January has three things: 1) the sermon I gave on the three wise men for Epiphany Sunday (which might have been my best sermon ever), 2) a labor-intensive (but very fun) review I did for Routledge of a scholarly children's literature collection that they are considering for publication, and 3) the very talk for SCBWI that I'm blogging about here. I already know that more are coming. I'm going to write my abstract for the talk I want to give at the Children's Literature Association conference in June, and I'll submit it by the deadline of Jan. 15. (Note that I will give myself credit for writing and submitting the abstract, and get credit again when/if it's accepted, and credit again when/if I deliver it). I'm going to start writing the fifth book in the Franklin School Friends series. I'm going to move to Indiana and launch my new semester of teaching there. So I'm guaranteed to get at least six, and maybe more if I do more self-Googling and unearth another little nice tidbit or two.

I have a tendency to wail about my life: oh, I'm accomplishing so little! Look at all the time I'm still wasting on Sudoku! Look at those mornings I can barely get myself get out of bed! But then, I look back at the list in my little notebook, and I see so many accomplishments documented, month after month after month.

So my resolution for you this year: start keeping your own "nice things and accomplishments" list. And my resolution for myself: keep adding to mine, item by item, month by month, all achieved in an hour a day.

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