Thursday, January 3, 2019

My NEW Goal for the NEW Year

For the last two years I eschewed the usual dreary list of resolutions in favor of focusing on one single bigger goal. My only requirement was that the goal had to be delicious: something that would give me a little shiver of joy every time I thought about it. For 2017, my goal was to submit something somewhere every single month; for 2018 my goal was to have ten hours of creative joy each month. I loved every minute spent achieving both of them.

I floundered a bit as I thought about what my goal for 2019 should be. (Actually, I floundered a bit until I found the goals for 2017 and 2018 as well). Here's what I've chosen, reminding myself that any goal can be revisited, and certainly fine-tuned, as the year progresses.

This is the year I turn 65 - how can this be? I, who still feel ten years old inside? Becoming an official senior citizen does mark a person as officially, in the eyes of the world, old. Or at least, old-ish. So my goal for the year is to embrace THE NEW.

One of my friends, author Tara Dairman, does this in a way that is particularly delightful. She makes a list, written on little pieces of paper, of a whole bunch of things she hasn't done before, things that push her out of her comfort zone and even scare her. She puts the jumbled scraps of paper into a jar and plucks one out each month. Her "new things" have included: 1) get a radically different haircut; 2) go on a social media fast; 3) try being vegan for a month; 4) cook one new recipe each week for a month; and 5) volunteer for a cause she believes in.

There's a whole book called I Dare Me, by Lu Ann Cahn, where the author shares how she shook up her stagnant life by doing a whopping 365 new things, one every single day for the course of an entire year.

I have found, however, that I do best with annual goals that are more narrowly work-focused, as I adore GETTING STUFF DONE. So for 2019, I am going to undertake six different, totally new-to-me work projects:

1. Teaching my first-ever online course (for the Graduate Programs in Children's Literature at Hollins University);
2) Writing my first book on a topic on which I initially knew absolutely nothing (a chapter book set in a club where kids are learning how to do coding);
3) Making my first serious effort to promote my books (as my After-School Superstars chapter book series launches in June);
4) Writing my first verse novel;
5) Making my first real attempt to publish the poems I've been writing for a decade now;
6) Writing and submitting my first shorter-than-500-word picture book (I published several picture books, many years ago, but they were twice as long in terms of text than the new word limit that has become all-but-mandatory these days).

This list lacks the appealing focus on the MONTH as a unit, which I've come to believe is crucial for life goals. I've become wary of any goal that requires me to do something every single day: miss one day, and it's all ruined! To focus on the year as a whole invites procrastination until a frenzied December arrives - another recipe for ruination. So I'm imposing a (weak) monthly structure onto this list.

The first two items on the list are guaranteed to happen simply because they have to. Students are already enrolled in the online course, which will run February-May, and the coding book is already under contract. Here my goal will not result in my achieving something I wouldn't have otherwise accomplished; instead it transforms my attitude toward what I'm already committed to doing. Instead of thinking "An online course? Yikes!!!!" or "Coding?????!!! Are you KIDDING ME, UNIVERSE?" I'm going to be thinking: "Ooh! An online course! What an adventure!" and "Coding!! Way to revitalize that aging brain!"

The second two items on the list are the most important to me. I just HAVE to do better at promoting my books if I'm going to continue to get them published in today's more competitive market, and I'm yearning toward this verse novel with every fiber of my being. Yet these goals are in danger of getting pushed aside by the urgency of the first two. So here I'm committing to logging ten hours a month from January through June on each one.

By June, the online course will be done, the coding book will be written and submitted, and the series will be launched (though there will be plenty of follow-up promotion afterward). Here is where I will turn to the final two new projects: publishing my poems and writing a picture book, logging ten hours a month on each of these, as well as on the verse novel - or maybe five hours a month? I can tweak the plan as needed. Tweaking is all to the good.

So that's the plan! It's a bit unwieldy compared to the crisply focused plans for 2017 and 2018, but I do feel excited about it, and that's all that really matters. I will prove to myself that even four decades into my career, I can still do something NEW! In fact, SIX new things! And find joy in doing them.

As poet Rainer Maria Rilke writes, "And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been."

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