Ebbs and flows

The end of a year is a time when most of us take time to measure where we are in our lives. Some pull out their resolutions from the beginning of the year to see how they fared. Some make lists of things they still wish to achieve.

I started out 2019 claiming it should be the year I would dedicate to finishing that darned second draft of my novel. I would allow myself to write some short stories and creative nonfiction pieces, for sure, but my main focus would be on the novel.

When measured against that goal, last year was a failure. I’m still less than half way through my revisions, and I’ve spent too many hours to admit just staring at the screen–or commenting on twitter instead of actually editing and rewriting.

In the last few months of the year, I tried to remedy this by using a system of SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound), which had the opposite effect of what I anticipated. I achieved less and felt worse about myself, and by the time December came around, I could no longer take the monthly humiliation of not having achieved the goals I had set for myself.

But while I’ve been procrastinating the work on my novel (or at least not making headway the way I expected), I have achieved other unexpected things, things I could never have imagined or planned for before this year. My return to poetry has brought a fresh wind of creative energy. My poetry practice is constantly in the back of my head, and I keep gathering words and fragments to put into my poems.

I have also written and reedited quite a few short stories, flash fiction and a few essays. I’ve spent time finding the right markets for my stories, and as a result the tally for 2019 was twenty acceptances. Two of my pieces received Pushcart nods. One essay was shortlisted for a prize.

So as I entered the new year, I swore off the SMART goals, and went for a simple list of pieces I’m working on and tallying up how much time I manage to claim for my writing. Despite lots of translation work in the first week of 2020, I have already counted up 7 hours of writing. I have finished three poems (in addition to lots of mediocre haiku) and drafted an essay.

My novel will have to wait until I have larger chunks of time to work with. But I don’t need to feel like a failure because of that. If I had kept to my goal for 2019, I may have ended up finishing my second draft, but I would not have let poetry writing back in my life.

In 2020 I want to accept the ebbs and flows of my writing life; allow myself to follow new ideas. Going with the flow already makes me feel lighter in my writing. I’m hoping that feeling will last.

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