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Into the new: reflecting on reading and writing in 2019

Lemon blossom, close up: a sign of December

December is, for me, the season of reflection. For the past week or two, as things have wound down at work, in the garden, everywhere, I’ve been thinking about reading and writing – what I’ve been doing over the past year, and what I’d like to change.

I didn’t get as much writing done in 2019 as I had hoped I would; there’s nothing new in that (does anyone ever get as much writing done as they had hoped?). I *did* have breakthroughs with a couple of different projects that were stalled at this point last year, and I know how I want to proceed with them now. The trouble is that I have too many concurrent projects going, and it’s not yet clear to me which of these I will pursue first and which will wait. This decision is at the forefront of my reflections right now. I will decide this, sometime over the next few weeks, and we will see.

On the positive progress side of things, I was able to return to reading in 2019. I read lots, and I wrote about reading, too (here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). I’m happy about this – both the reading and the writing about it. My reflective reading brain is slowly creaking to life again, it seems. I am so glad to have it back.

And yet, despite this, I’ve been frustrated by my reading lately. This has happened before (and it’s a not-uncommon experience), but, this year (and maybe in previous years also, I don’t know) and for me, I think my frustration isn’t a purely internal phenomenon. I think it has to do with what’s being published, at least in part (this and this and this contain some previous related reflections).

When I’ve felt this in previous reading slumps, I’ve pushed back against my instincts, telling myself it’s all internal. And maybe I was right; I did manage to get out of those previous reading slumps. But this time, I’m going to try something new to address this. Following up on some recent thoughts on self-publishing/small presses, I’m going to try to devote a majority percentage of my 2020 reading to works published by small and independent publishers, rather than by the big 5.

I’m still working out how I will actualize this, but I’ll write about it here as I figure it out.

Met my goal!

Somehow, achieving this doesn’t feel as good as I imagined it might….

I don’t know if I’ll do this again. Definitely in the short term it’s not helping my productivity.

I’ll re-evaluate in a few weeks.

…and 30% there

This writing goal does make rejection easier to take overall, but the shiny is starting to wear off. It may just be getting another one in quick succession that’s bringing me down today.

But it may also be that this is only a positive writing goal if I keep producing, and I haven’t been recently….


On the edge of this
chasm – wide and deep, opaque –
I cast pages forth.

(It’s been a while since I did this much submitting. It is scarier than I remembered. But on the upside, I am working towards that 2017 writing goal….)

First of Ten for 2017

Naturally, right after posting about not liking to make specific writing goals, I read something that convinced me to give them (or at least one in particular) another go.

Cheryl Klein, executive editor at Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic and author of The Magic Words, recently sent out her January newsletter. Among other things, she discusses New Year’s resolutions and writing goals – and among her suggested “experience” goals was one that resonated with me: get ten rejections. Klein talks about this goal in terms of bravery, which is definitely one aspect of it; but to me it also suggests productivity and perseverance, two qualities I’d like to cultivate in myself.

Plus, rejections are hard, even when they are expected; this goal turns at least the first ten into benchmarks.

So, without further ado: my goal for 2017 is to receive at least ten rejections of my creative work.

And I received the first today, 5 January.

New Year’s and writing plans

I’ve written elsewhere about why “productivity tricks” often don’t work for me with my writing (or with anything else I do, for that matter). So, I don’t make New Year’s resolutions and I don’t set specific writing goals either.

But I am thinking, right now, about what I’d like to be doing with my writing this next year. It’s partly the New Year, but probably more that I’ve had my first downtime in a long while over these past few weeks. I’ve finally had the time and energy to think about writing: what needs finishing as well as what comes next.

For this reason my idea file has been growing like crazy this past week. I thought I’d written about the idea file before, but I can’t find the link so perhaps I never have. Basically, it’s just a file into which I stick anything that strikes me as being the root of a story. And by anything I really do mean anything – there are fleshed-out story plans in there, and links to news articles, and random phrases I like the sound of, among other things. I used to do this on paper (and I still sometimes do) but my habit of simultaneously using many notebooks meant I lost a lot of ideas. So it’s a word doc on my computer these days.

This isn’t an original idea. I’ve heard of numerous other people who do this in some way or another. But it’s genuinely one of the most useful habits I’ve ever acquired. When I’m trying to get started on a project, I go to the idea file. When I’m attacked by a shiny new idea, it goes in the idea file. When I’m stuck and need a little inspiration, I go to the idea file. And when I’m thinking about what I want to accomplish in the New Year, I – you got it – go to the idea file.

After such a slow year, in which my time was gobbled by many non-writing tasks, it feels very good to have a growing idea file 🙂

Happy New Year, everyone – best wishes for 2017.