2019: looking forward

Resolutions, goals. Goals, resolutions. Who knows.

I went back and re-read my resolutions from last year, and they still generally apply. I think I’ve done a pretty good job with my mindset this year, but there’s still always more work to be done. Most of my systems started degrading and falling apart after the Europe trip, and it was hard to get things back on the rails totally. Which makes sense, but I want to figure out how to make my own systems and structures more robust and much less fragile.

But resolutions are different from goals.

I think of goals as discrete tasks that can be accomplished. I think setting goals is almost more difficult than making resolutions (though the difficulty of execution may be flipped there) because it’s very easy to fall into a trap of working towards something that isn’t actually helpful.

For example, word count. It’s important to recognize that a word count and a complete, coherent work are two different things. Fulfilling a word count doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve completed a story. Which isn’t to say that word counts aren’t helpful — they very much can be if you are using them to measure what they should measure. But I think that there has to be a clarity there that is often missing when I talk to other people about their goals and when I’m thinking about my own.

My plan this year is to have three month goals, revisit and re-evaluate, and then refocus periodically throughout 2019. Most of the three month goals are project related goals. Originally, I had come up with some deadlines for certain things, but then I realized that most of those were completely arbitrarily decided. I don’t have enough context for how I work and what this whole writing process is to set reasonable timeline goals.

I talked with Adam about this at length, and he pointed out that the main thing that goals help clarify is where you should direct effort. And really, since effort is the main thing you can control, that’s where you should focus your goal-setting. That way, you can more easily adapt to whatever a project demands rather than sticking too rigidly to arbitrary metrics.

I like this way of thinking about things, because at the end of the day, I really just want to feel like I put in a full day’s work and directed my effort the way that I needed/wanted to. And in NaNo, I ran into this thing where, because I was so focused on a daily word count goal, sometimes I prioritized putting down new words over doing the plotting work that my story demanded at the time. Which really just left me with a bit of a mess and a good amount of rewriting in the future. I don’t want that kind of thing to happen again.

That’s why I’m trying to be extra careful and deliberate with the goal-setting, because I have a tendency to stick a little rigidly to arbitrary structures, and I have trouble adjusting them because I’m worried things will fall apart.

Here are some things that I know really work for me, so one of my goals is to just be much more consistent in how I approach them:

  • Morning pages/reflection — In the past, I would do them consistently, then wake up one day and think “hm, I feel pretty good about where everything is at, guess I can stop now” and then shit would just fall apart. I’ve learned that my morning pages are critical for me because it’s where I end up processing a lot of the mental bullshit that I come across courtesy of the jerkbrain. So. I’m going to stop tempting fate and just keep doing them.
  • No internet in the AM — There was a long stretch of time where I got really good about charging my phone in the office, and then staying off the internet until the afternoon. It was great because I wasn’t distracted by podcasts or email or anything; I could simply focus on the task at hand and be more present. This intermittently falls apart because the internet is fun, y’all. Fun and distracting and the long arm of entropy. So, I’m going to go back and re-examine this habit loop and try to pick it apart.
  • Movement — After our traveling this year, I basically just stopped working out. That’s taken a toll on me. I’ve come up with a workout plan and will take more walks during the day from now on. Walking around the park in my neighborhood is also a really helpful way for me to work out story issues since I stroll without music/podcasts/audiobooks and instead just look at the world and think.
  • Deep Work structures — There are some practices from Deep Work that I found particularly helpful.
    • Writing out a daily plan in a loose, flexible schedule was especially great for my productivity. It wasn’t a rigid thing, which was key for me. It was just a way for me to know exactly what I should be doing currently and doing next.
    • I also found scheduling shallow work super useful because then I could just write down a list of emails/phone calls/whatever that needed to happen, and when I came up to a shallow work block, I would just go down the list. That way I didn’t have to keep a running mental tally of what I was supposed to do.
    • Taking a moment at the end of my work day to set the agenda for the next day and deliberately shift my attention from work to evening. A wind down ritual.

My over-arching goals for January-March are:

  • Submit chapter one of my fairytale story to the writer’s group.
  • Polish four short stories and get another round of beta feedback. Then start submitting.
  • Read the subset of professional speculative fiction magazines that I’ve picked out consistently.
  • Set up the business-y side of stuff to support my writing (LLC, bank account, etc.).

And then, just so I have the resolutions to remind me of the general mental state/attitudes I should be working towards (because they were good ones and still definitely apply):

  • Resist entropy.
    • Always know why.
    • Focus on process and refinement.
    • Keep distractions at a minimum.
  • Be healthy.
    • “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” – Michael Pollan
    • Focus on movement and feeling rather than numbers.
    • Focus on what I’m eating, savor it. Don’t eat mindlessly or to feed negative emotions.
  • Embrace kindness.
    • Forgive yourself and treat yourself with kindness.
    • Be honest, with yourself and with others, about what you need and what you are capable of. Trust others to respond in kind.
  • Create anyway.
    • There is no mood or muse, only the war of art. Some days will be hard. It’s supposed to be hard.
    • It’s okay to be envious. It’s not okay to be jealous.
    • Let go of extrinsic reward. Focus on improvement.
  • Have courage.
    • Find community.
    • Don’t let fear or complacency keep you from what you want.
    • Stare into the deep. Name it. Then let it go.
  • Live joyfully.
    • Cultivate mindfulness.
    • Stop. Appreciate. Feel gratitude.
    • Own what you love without shame.

Happy 2019, everyone!