Reading, writing and New Year’s resolutions

Heya,

My mom gave me my 2014 wall calendar two weeks before Christmas. She didn’t feel like wrapping it, and I was cool with that. It’s a nice calendar. Like nearly every calendar I’ve received from the age of about nine, it has tigers on it. I’m starting to notice how many of these images are recycled.

What my mom couldn’t have foreseen when she gave me my calendar, but maybe should have, was that I would immediately open it. I did this, first, to write in birthdays, because I always forget them despite the alerts I’ve got set up on my phone, so I try to note them down in a couple dozen places so that I can’t help but notice one of the reminders. It’s not that I actually forget the birth date, it’s that I usually have no idea what the current date is. I spent most of today sure that it was January 2nd, but it’s actually the 3rd.

After writing in birthdays, I decided to start working out my goals for the year. My goals for this year started out pretty simple: I want to read more, write more, and build my communities.

Things quickly got out of hand.

Reading

I made a bunch of piles of the books I wanted to read in my bedroom sometime in the summer, then gotten so overwhelmed at school that I barely touched them. I decided that, since my ability to make decisions takes a nosedive when school is on, I would list out all the books in my reading piles (that sounds unappealing) and try to portion them out throughout the year. I tried to change it up (one sci-fi book a month, one fantasy, one play, one history, etc.) but I didn’t have enough of some categories for that to work. Anyway, I’m supposed to read about fifteen books a month, which will put a dent in my to-be-read piles but will still leave some left over. And I probably won’t get through all that, but I’ve mentioned before that I’m prone to extreme, and extremely unrealistic, goal-setting. But I’ve always sort of figured that if you got halfway to an impossible goal, you were in pretty good shape.

Writing

I never used to have trouble finding time to write. In high school I wrote a lot. I didn’t like school, and I didn’t like to bring schoolwork home with me, so I usually tried to get as much done in class as I could. So I didn’t usually have much homework when I got home, and I had a lot of time to write. I wrote more than 500,000 words over the course of my high school career.

University was, and is, different. I suddenly had to work at home. There was no real time to get school work done in class. Class was for discussing what you’d read. And I worked on one of the student literary magazines, and had a job at a bookstore besides. Suddenly there were things interfering with my writing time, so long an uncontested part of my day. But I didn’t really notice, because I was writing a lot. It just wasn’t stuff I particularly wanted to be writing. It was essays dissecting books based on different literary theories. Some of my classes gave the option of doing a creative response instead of an essay, and I grabbed those opportunities every chance I could, but they were few and far between.

I had never had set times to write before university because I had never needed set times to write before university. I’d just had time. And so I slowly fell out of the habit of writing something of my own every day. I wrote essays or read books for classes (some of which I am eternally grateful to my professors for exposing me to, some which I still don’t think should have been published at all), went out with friends or just tried to get some fucking sleep. Every university student I’ve ever met has been at least a little bit sleep deprived. I imagine it makes for interesting papers.

I had ideas for stories. Reading always makes me want to write, and discussing books with other interested and intelligent people only enhanced that tendency. I always had an extra notebook and I jot down ideas as they came to me. Then I’d get home, look over what I had written, and resolve to do it on the weekend. Or during the reading break. Or in the summer. Whenever I got a chance.

Only I didn’t get a chance, because work will fill whatever time you give it, and I wasn’t setting any aside to write.

This is something that only really became clear to me recently, the fact that life won’t make room for what I want, I have to make room for it. It’s the kind of thing that I always knew but didn’t know.

First I decided that I should make it a goal to write one thousand words a day. Then, being prone as I am to overextending myself, I decided that I would gradually increase the number of words I was supposed to write a day so that by the beginning of next year I would be writing two thousand words a day. And I could continue to increase the word count infinitesimally every day the following year until I got to three thousand a day, and so on and so forth.

Then I had my realization about how useless it would be to set goals about how much to write without setting aside time to write. So, after looking over my schedule, I’ve decided that, during the week when I have classes, I can set aside a block of time from 7-10 and probably not be completely overwhelmed.

I wrote the word count on my calendar and the block of time in my phone and in the agenda that my school gives out each year.

Building communities

There are a number of writing communities out there, both for critiquing and making your own story available to an audience. Some of them are scams, some of them are well-intentioned but not necessarily helpful (at least for me), and some of them seem pretty fucking cool but I don’t know whether they’re worth the effort. All three varieties have plenty of people on them, whether writers or readers or both.

I’m not going to break them down here. This post is long enough already. For all intents and purposes, all you need to know is that I’ve decided to take part in the latter two groups.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a lonely-garret writer, not a coffee-shop writer. I don’t really like to talk about my work in progress unless I have a specific problem. Though I don’t actively think about it this way, it almost feels like to talk about a work in progress while it’s doing well would be to jinx it. I don’t like to receive feedback on something until I’ve done a first pass, because I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing at that point, so I’m in no position to know whether or not someone else knows what the fuck I’m doing, which might lead me to lend their words too much weight or not enough. But I do like helping people untangle plot lines and offering constructive criticism. And I imagine that writing critique groups probably talk about books a lot, so that’s cool.

I like the idea of making a story directly available to the audience that reads it, of serialization and interactivity and all that jazz. I have difficult not wanting to change everything in the first draft after it’s done, though. I thought about the ideas that I already have, and they were either too plot-y or not really suited to the medium. So I think I’ll fly by the seat of my pants with the audience ones. Just start something. See what happens.

And I’ll let you know how it all goes.

Love,

B

P.S. In the interest of keeping you in the loop, I’ve written 3501 words in the last three days, read Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, four chapters of A Brief History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, and about half of Alice Munro’s Still Life. I am slightly behind on my reading but ahead on my writing so I think it balances out. I have started accounts with a couple of online writing communities and commented a bit. I haven’t posted anything of mine yet.

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4 thoughts on “Reading, writing and New Year’s resolutions

  1. I can relate to this post. Before last year, I was also hesitant about sharing my WIP or talking about it with other writers. However, because I always worked without support, I also had procrastination issues and had trouble finishing what I started — or getting started at all. Well, to be fair, I still have procrastination issues, but that’s besides the point. Last February, however, I got involved with a very small writers group (3-4 people max), and it has really been a turning point for me. If you can find a couple people you trust who can offer the objective criticism and encouragement you need, then the insight can be invaluable. Also, since my group members are ahead of me in the publishing/marketing game, their knowledge will help me when I’m ready to make that step. Anyway, best of luck meeting your reading and writing goals!

    • That definitely sounds like the kind of critique group that would be really helpful, it’s just a matter of finding them. Fingers crossed that I find one like that, and I’m glad you have 🙂 I think that procrastination is one of those problems common to writers – a lot of famous writers basically say that they don’t enjoy the act of writing so much as the feeling of having written.

  2. Pingback: The benefits of regularity | Just Finishing My Tea

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