New Year’s resolutions are, on the whole, kind of a sham. Let’s be honest – if the desired change is very important, you won’t wait for an arbitrary deadline. That said, there is value in reflecting on what you want out of life and strategizing to realize those goals.
In 2020, I pushed my chips in and attacked the resolution thing for the first time in… well, if not in my life, certainly in years. I set two goals in response to inconsistencies in my life: finish my manuscript, and start reading again. My wife and I love going to bookstores and picking up another volume or four on date nights. When we got home, sometimes she made a ritual of arranging the latest haul and taking a picture for social media. After all that hoopla, the books found a place on our color-coordinated bookshelves (these things happen when you marry an art major) where they often sat unmolested, gathering dust.
I know. It was sad.
I don’t think I am alone in finding that the traditional liberal-arts college experience unintentionally killed my love for pleasure reading. I read so much in college for ‘work,’ I had no energy left to read for fun. Until that phase of my life, reading was one of my favorite pastimes. In 2018, I wrote the first 30K words of a manuscript … then it sat. More sadness.
I determined to change.
Much digital ink has been spilled over effective goal setting. Coming from a corporate environment, I still have nightmares about S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound – I did not have to google that) goal meetings. I won’t retread that here. Rather, let’s explore what that looked like for me in 2020:
Goal 1: Start Reading Again
I decided to read 18 books by the end of the year. That doesn’t sound like much, but for context, I read only about 7 books (give or take) over the previous three. We are all busy with work, family, civic organizations, friends, and a host of other demands. If this COVID pandemic has taught me anything, it is probably that I was too busy. But, I digress.
I analyzed my schedule for the space for my reading goal, and found that I already had the time, I just needed to stop wasting it. The only change I made was to put my phone down and read for 30-90 mins before turning off the light at night. That was sufficient. I kept myself accountable with the default note app on my phone. Simple tools are often the best.
Goal 2: Finish the Damn Book
A longtime friend recently described me as “the most goal-oriented person he knows.” I had not realized that about myself, but I do like having a project, and I dislike leaving things unfinished. From the minute I dropped the habit of writing after the initial push in 2018, it bothered me. I thought about opening that file almost every day for a year and a half. Restarting an abandoned project is daunting. Writing consistently builds momentum, but an abandoned manuscript has significant inertia. I had to read that first half-draft again several times. I tweaked, trashed, un-trashed, and rewrote my outline. I set a habit and stuck to it – I wrote before work, many lunches, and a few nights. I want to highlight that I limited my night-writing – hobbies and side-hustles should never usurp family, even if you’re a family of two. So, restarting is daunting, but not impossible.
A good part of those early 2020 writing experiments was exploration. There is a difference between loving to read and loving to write. I did not really know at that point whether I enjoyed the act of writing itself, for itself, or the idea of being a writer. You can see that conflict in my first few posts from April.
I know now that if I never publish a book, I will keep writing. It scratches a certain itch, a desire to create, to distill big ideas into entertaining packages, that nothing else can.
I learned how much I had to learn, so I educated myself. I am still constantly educating myself. The spring was for writing. This summer, editing. Fall, for gathering feedback and building up resilience.
I cannot describe how good finishing that race felt. I know that I have a long way yet to go, but right now I’m enjoying this phase, this moment I find myself in. I hope that regardless of the frustrations, you find joy in your progress as well, reader.
What about 2021?
Reading in 2021
We’re going to keep this reading train chugging along, but with a new focus. This year I want to make sure that at least 12 of the books I read are by American minorities. In the past, as a consumer, I never considered who the authors I read were or where they came from. Reading about the industry this year, and looking at my own patterns, most of the books I have purchased are by white people, and, from that set, most are men.
There are encouraging trends and conversations happening within the industry. The collective has been aware of this inequality for a while, but online bestseller charts and bookstore shelves still skew monochromatic. I can’t entirely blame the sellers for that, because 1) there is marketability in name recognition, 2) It takes many years to build that recognition and 3) the movement to actively elevate diverse voices is relatively recent. The traditional publishing industry does not strike me as very nimble. That said, I feel a responsibility to do my part by expanding my own horizons and using my platform, small though it may be, to highlight diverse voices.
Writing in 2021
I will focus on craft this year. To that end, I’m going to write six new, good, short stories that I am proud of. Some of my early shorts I cranked out. My standards have changed since early summer. I need to slow down and savor the process. I intentionally avoid goals regarding what happens to those stories in the market, because I cannot control whether they are accepted.
I will finish my novel rewrites-based-on-feedback by the end of Feb. 2021.
I will finish submission materials by April 2021.
I will submit The Book every three weeks after that point. To my gut, this feels like an appropriate rate that strikes a balance between quality and quantity. On the one hand, there is a lot of luck in this game, and you want to have as many lotto tickets as you can get. On the other, there is value in being discerning. You want to target agents and small pubs that work with work similar to yours. There is no shortcut to research for figuring that out. Also, there are a lot of predators out there that target new authors. PSA – 1) money flows towards the author, and 2) any agent or publisher that seems more focused on attracting AUTHORS than READERS should raise a red flag. Publishers, editors, and agents are flooded with submissions. If they seem desperate to read your unsubmitted material, walk away.
What About You?
I don’t expect that you care too much about my specific goals for the coming year, reader, but I hope that my experience encourages you to passionately and proactively pursue your dreams in 2021.