From A to Z: A Writer’s Guide to the New Year

From A to Z is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com that examines the nuts and bolts of the writing (and publishing) process.

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As we head into the last few weeks of 2017, I’m here with a quick activity to help put your writing year in perspective before we hurdle into a brand new one.

When I feel at a crossroads in my professional life, I use a similar process to think through my accomplishments and goals, and the guide can be adapted to reflect on anything else that’s important to you. The goal is to take some time to quiet any voices of self-doubt, acknowledge your accomplishments, and set the stage for what comes next.

1. Prepare your space.

Put on some relaxing music, pour yourself a cup of your favorite beverage, maybe even set out a small snack tray. Grab a notebook and your favorite pen. This should be a fun activity rather than a daunting one! And be sure you have at least 90 uninterrupted minutes: no need to feel frazzled for something so important.

2. Set a timer for seven minutes. Write down your “shoulds.”

“Don’t should yourself,” one mentor used to tell me. She meant that dwelling on the things I wished I’d done better or the things I wished I’d said wouldn’t help me undo the past—but would certainly make me feel worse. While the core of that message is true, sometimes it’s healthy to get out a little heartache so it doesn’t niggle at the back of your mind. So indulge for a few minutes by recording all of your “shoulds.” I should’ve read more books. I should’ve gotten up at six a.m. to write every day. I should’ve been published by now.

3. Now shake it off. Take a breath. Set your timer for 45 minutes and fill in this list:

  • Write down every writing project you started, even if you didn’t finish. Revisions count too. Take some time to fill out these bullets by describing what you enjoyed about these projects, what you learned, and what you think you did really well.
  • Write down every trip you took, and how it enriched your life. Maybe you had a fantastic vacation and learned about Italian history. Maybe you visited family, and they reminded you of little moments that truly matter. Or maybe you didn’t travel much this year, but you did have a fantastic summer day on the beach of your local lake. These are the moments that help make up our memories and that contribute to our writing.
  • Write down every book you read, and follow it with a note for any podcast, article, movie, or poem that has stuck with you, too. For me, reading is one of the first things to go when my schedule fills up, and then I beat myself up for reading so little—but an exercise like this helps me realize that I’ve actually consumed many perspectives over the year (and, often, that I’ve read more than I realized).
  • Write down anything else that contributed to your writing life. Note the queries you submitted, the research you completed, the conferences you attended, the contests you applied for. No matter the outcome, it takes courage to put yourself out there, and you deserve to recognize yourself for it.
  • Write down the communities you participated in and how. Writing can feel very isolating, but we often have more support systems than we realize. Take some time to remember your brunches with writing friends (shout out to the ChiYA community!), any manuscripts or query letters you helped a friend hone, and any online communities you’ve contributed to or felt supported by this year.
  • Write down any other accomplishments that come to mind. Once you get started, your writing mind often takes over: indulge it. If there’s anything else you feel proud of doing this year, take some time to note it. Maybe a project went well at work or you made the best pie of your life. If you’re remembering it now, it’s meaningful enough to make the list.

Your timer may have gone off by now. If you’re on a roll and have the time, turn it off and keep going. Just don’t let yourself stop before it rings.

4. Take some time to reflect.

Revel in the knowledge that you did a lot this year—probably far more than you realized before you started this session. Be kind to yourself as you consider all of the things you managed to fit into 365 days, in addition to feeding yourself and occasionally doing dishes. This is also a good time for a ritualistic trashing of your “should” list. After all, look at everything you actually did do! That means far more than your eccentric inner perfectionist.

5. Jot down 1-3 goals for 2018.

Make them achievable but ambitious. And make them while knowing that this time next year, they might be on your “should” list, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. And that certainly doesn’t mean you won’t achieve a hundred other amazing things.

6. Take some time for yourself.

Finish your beverage. Take a walk to clear your head, or do some gentle stretches, or write a letter to your future self if you’re into that sort of thing. Just don’t plunge right back into daily life: let your mind wander and let all the words on all those pages be enough.

The truth is, the writing road is long and filled with pitfalls. Every journey is different, and it’s so easy to gloss over the things we do every day to reach our goals when we only get the highlights from other people. I hope that regardless of how many goals you think you’ve accomplished or missed in 2017, this exercise will help you be kind to yourself as you reflect and set goals for the year ahead.

From all of us at ChiYA, may the rest of your December be restful, and may 2018 overflow with good news and grand adventures.

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This post is brought to you by Anna Waggener at ChiYAwriters.com.

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