Sunday, December 29, 2019

Mixed Results for My Goal for 2019

For the last several years, I've organized my new year's resolutions not as a grab-bag of random, uninspiring, dutiful items (e.g., lose weight, floss more, eat more veggies), but as a single, unified year-long project selected for its sheer deliciousness.

My goal for 2017 was to submit something somewhere every month: book proposal, completed book, academic article, article revisions, essay, poem. The goal was not acceptance, but mere submission: that wonderful tingly feeling you get when you have something Out There In The Universe with at least some chance that any day - any moment! - the universe may give you a favorable response. I ended up with about a 50-50 rate of acceptance to rejection, but I was happy all year long pursuing this objective.

My goal for 2018 was creative joy: to log at least ten hours a month of creative joy in a special small notebook, with stringent requirements for what could be counted here. It wasn't enough just to get joy in my ordinary creative efforts; I had to ADD an infusion of joy by trying some new creative activity, or doing my usual one (writing) in some new place, or with a friend, or even just with Cool Whip on my usual Swiss Miss hot chocolate. I was happy every single month with this one, too.

My goal for 2019 (the year I turned 65, and so officially became a senior citizen) was to embrace the new, to celebrate "newness" in lots of ways in my creative life.  I picked six new things to do: write a book on a topic on which I previously knew nothing; teach my first online course; make my first serious effort to promote my books; write a verse novel; write a picture book with a very spare text (under 500 words); and make an effort to publish my poetry.

I did the first three items on the list:

One: I wrote Lucy Lopez, Coding Star, and so had to learn about computer programming, which was a wonderful challenge. Here I am with the eleven-year-old tutor I hired, Lorelei Held.

Two: I taught an online course for the graduate program in children's literature at Hollins University on the figure of the female author from Little Women to The Poet X. To my great surprise and delight, I loved it.

Three: Here I am in my chef's costume to promote Nixie Ness,Cooking Star.

But then mid-year my project petered out. I didn't have time to work on the verse novel because instead I was researching and writing Boogie Bass, Sign Language Star (with sign language another topic totally new to me, so at least in the spirit of the year's goal). And I found I simply didn't feel like writing a picture book or submitting my poems. I had put those items on the list just because a list of three items seemed too skimpy.

So: I did some new things - and loved doing them - but this goal didn't sustain my motivation throughout the year. It lacked the right kind of structure: "do x every month" is an excellent structure. "Do these six things, where you don't even really want to do three of them" isn't.

I also think I needed to branch out from newness-in-my-professional-life to newness-in-all-aspects-of-my-life. My writer friend Tara Dairman, another person who loves goal-setting, designed a year of newness for herself that was a lot more fun. She wrote down twelve things she wanted to do but was scared to do and plucked one from her "newness jar" each month. That would have had a lot more appeal for me, in hindsight.

I've just - today! - worked out my plan for 2020. It, too, has a sub-par structure, alas, but I'm excited about it nonetheless. It gives me the requisite tingle of joy when I think about it. So watch this space for details when the new decade dawns!

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Waiting for a Plot Twist in My Life

I was recently alerted to the fact that this month is not only the last month of the year, but the last month of the DECADE. My husband always thought it was silly to make a fuss about this kind of milestone, with people either celebrating or agonizing over turning 30, 40, 50. . . He said this was just our cultural fetish for base 10 math. But I enjoy using such milestones as an occasion for reflection.

One post I saw about the impending end of the year/decade was particularly striking to me: "May the last month of your 2019 be the plot twist you have been waiting for."


Instantly I decided to take this not as a friendly wish, but as an actual prediction. My plot twist is coming! My plot twist is coming! What will it be? When will it be? I started checking my email even more obsessively than I usually do, thinking that perhaps email would be the mechanism by which the universe would notify me of my plot twist. I returned to my old vice of Sudoku on my I-pad to pass the dull, dreary time until the plot twist would upend my entire life in some spectacular way.

But then I had two sobering realizations.

First, most plot twists don't happen as the heroine of the story is lying on the couch doing Sudoku puzzles or frantically checking her email every two or three minutes. (It's a sign of the unreality of contemporary fiction that characters are NOT shown spending three or four or five hours a day staring at their devices.) Plot twists happen, not as she is passively waiting with her hands folded, but when she is out and about engaged in the ongoing business of LIVING.

Second, and more disturbing, I'm not just a CHARACTER in the story of my own life; I'm also its AUTHOR. If there's going to be a plot twist in my story, it may be up to me to make this happen. And of course, I haven't even factored in the consideration that not all plot twists are good ones, moving the story to a happy ending.


So I now have half a month left in this year, and this decade. If I'm going to have a plot twist between now and New Year's Eve, I have to think hard about what I want it to be and then think hard about what I'd have to do to cause it to be. (Though I would appreciate some cooperation on the part of the universe here. Come on, universe! Let's work together on this one!)

In any case, I'm wishing for this last month of 2019 to bring the plot twist you've been hoping for, too.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Which Is More Fun: First Draft or Revision?

Well, I did it. I now have a fully revised draft of Boogie Bass, Sign Language Star completed and off to writer friends for their review, which will give me guidance for the next round of revision.

Most of my writer friends say that revision is their favorite stage of the process: they force themselves through the first draft, page by dreary page, knowing that the bliss of revision awaits them if they can only get that darned first draft done.

Unlike them, I've loved best the creation of the initial draft. The blank page didn't hold any terrors for me; it was an enticing invitation. I write my first drafts by hand, so I can work anywhere, without any need to find a pesky electric outlet. With revisions, in contrast, I'm tied to my computer.
Best of all, the standards for a first draft are so low! Author Jane Smiley is quoted as saying, "Every first draft is perfect, because all a first draft has to do is exist." Whereas the point of revisions is to make the book better - even, if possible, to make it GOOD. That is a much more daunting task.

With this book, though, I've crossed over into the camp of revision enthusiasts. This time the first draft did feel like a slog, even if I helped the process along by slogging in some beautiful places. I wasn't quite sure where the story was going, so I became afraid it wasn't going anywhere. I was fully two-thirds of the way through the draft before I finally started to fall in love with what I was writing.

But, oh, this time I GLORIED in my revisions. Now that I had at last discovered where I was going, I could lay out a purposeful-but-scenic path for getting there. Every change I made improved the draft so dramatically that I had to lift my hands from the computer keys to give myself rapturous hugs. I adored seeing the book improve so much with every new scene and every tweaked line.

One writer friend has already read this revised draft and yesterday delivered a most-welcome, extra-positive verdict. This book that I found so hard to write may actually have turned out better than the books I wrote with greater ease.

I'm relieved by this, of course, but also a bit uncomfortable. I refuse to subscribe to the "no pain/no gain" mantra for writing. In fact, I've staunchly insisted that joy is absolutely key: if the writer has to force herself to write, the reader is going to have to force herself to read. If there is no pleasure for the writer, there is no pleasure for the reader. And yet. . . this time, I think I benefited from my time of floundering and occasional episodes of despair.

I'm not yet ready to abandon my commitment to joy. I think my experience with Boogie's story just shows that the process of writing can vary from book to book. And I DID get abundant joy from this one; I just got it at a later stage in the process.

In any case, today I'm feeling . . . joyful.  And, hooray, hooray, more revisions lie ahead!