Self-reflection and inculcation are paramount to the writing process (though, admittedly, they’re less sexy than “inspiration” and “writing retreats”). May I suggest that Sunday is the perfect day to take stock of where you are in meeting your writing goals this year, or more generally, in checking in on what psychic space your writing life currently occupies.
Many of you joined Poetry Today after January, so I thought I would dedicate this post to resharing some of the advice I offered for writing literary resolutions. For those of you who are familiar with the below, I hope you will take a moment to glance at it again and see if any of these categories speak to you differently now, or if there’s something you’re still eager to put into practice that you haven’t had a chance to address. Perhaps this is your sign…
Writing Literary Resolutions:
According to recent surveys, about 38.5% of Americans make resolutions and only 9% feel that they were successful by the end of the year. Fortunately, there are clear and actionable neuroscientific reasons why these resolutions fail, mostly relating to the science behind habit formation. If you’re interested in reading more about this, I highly recommend the book Atomic Habits by James Clear.
But I’m here today to help you articulate your writing resolutions for 2023.
Why should you write your own writing resolutions? Well, you “shouldn’t,” but if the idea appeals to you now, tomorrow evening, or at any point throughout the year, come back to this page.
While it’s lovely to meander down a highway without a clear destination, having a roadmap with stops and attractions you’d like to visit along the way can be lovely too. Writing is likely one part of your layered and multifaceted life, so setting aside time to actively reflect on how it co-exists with the other parts—and how you’d like to nurture and grow this practice this coming year—is wise. If you agree, read on…
I resolve to:
Get clear on what you want
What are your goals for your writing life in 2023? Do you have clear language for these goals, or is it a collection of vague statements such as “write more” and “submit to more magazines,” which is the Regular Resolution equivalent of “workout more” and “eat healthier.” Reader: I haven’t been to the gym since 2019. Why? Because I continually resolve to “workout more” without including any actionable steps.
Working in creative disciplines with colleagues named Calliope, Clio, Erato (the nine muses), it can be easy to forget that we report to a boss, and that boss isn’t inspiration but ourselves. Now would be a good time to practice following your own instructions, but you first need to decide on those instructions. Take inventory. Be specific. Let “write more” become “wake up early one morning a week to write.” Don’t fall into the trap of not setting goals because you worry you won’t meet them and feel discouraged. Failing ahead of time isn’t going to help. Write three goals, and report for writerly duty.
Find, build, and nurture connections and community
Have you made a writer acquaintance over Twitter, on a forum, or in real life? Reach out and ask if they might like to swap work with you this year. Set a date. Has a writer’s work meant a great deal to you? Let them know. Why? Not only because those messages make a writer’s day, but because you will remind yourself of your relationship to what Jean Rhys called “the huge lake”: “All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. And then there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don't matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake.” You are part of a community that has fed the lake over centuries. Honor your role and experience as a reader this year.
I have been amazed by the community I’ve been fortunate to build through my Zoom workshops. Many of my “students” (peers) are now friends, some with their own forthcoming books (I see you, L.J. Sysko). They have trusted me, and each other, with their time and work, and I, in turn, have been able to keep offering classes. It’s a reminder of how valuable these digital bonds can be. How much we all need each other, and how winding the paths that lead us to unexpected joys.
Enjoy - actually enjoy - writing
For some of you, it may be a while since you sat down and felt a state of ease and flow as you typed away. And, if so, I suggest you figure out why that is.
Do you have first draft syndrome, where the clumsiness of the first draft sends you into a state of despair? (Rx: read Bishop’s 18 drafts of “One Art” to be reminded that early drafts are often plodding things.) Are you anticipating rejection? Is this not the right project for the moment? Are you insisting too much on work that needs time to sit? Make it a priority to find a way back into the pleasure of writing.
I resolve not to:
Make needless comparisons and judgements
Here’s the truth about envy, judgement, and comparisons: the other person feels none of the bitterness, defeat, and ire you feel. You—exclusively you—feel the discomfort, and it’s a slow poison you mix with your own particular brand of injustice and insecurity, then self-administer.
At various misguided moments, we can come to believe that envy is a motivator. If that were true, feeling it just once would do the trick to skyrocket us into productivity and success. More often what happens is this: we feel discouraged, then immediately seek to buffer the feeling. Judgement, Netflix, potato chips: all effective buffers. None of these, however, is a catalyst for growth, development, or change. None is half as powerful as reading a book, sitting with a draft, or going for a walk.
You alone can make a conscious effort to ease yourself of these unnecessary feelings in 2023. How? By noticing them and calling them what they are. Then, by diffusing them by focusing on yourself. What is my envy/comparison/jealousy telling me about what I want? And how can I take the step towards what I want, instead of sitting here paralyzed by indignation, elbow deep in a bag of Fiesta Doritos?
Make sweeping negative generalizations
A bit like the above, speaking critically of contemporary writers, writing, writing conferences, MFAs, styles and trends in writing isn’t likely to effectuate the kind of change you want, nor is it likely to provide the best inner fuel for you to meet your own goals (do you even know what those goals are?). Do write a thoughtful op-ed on the state of something that matters to you. Do research, speak to others, and seek out ways to bring about systemic change where it is needed. But don’t fall into the trap of seeing everything through the lens of what is lacked. There is a way of leveraging what is good, what does work, to change what doesn’t.
Take rejections personally
Here’s the thing: in the last month, I have twice been rejected by journals that previously accepted my work. I could easily think: these new poems aren’t as good as my old poems, and clearly my past acceptances were a fluke. I could interpret those rejections as being a measure of my merit as a writer. Or, I could remember the statistics behind these submissions. I could remember how I, in serving as a reader or judge, have felt constricted by only being able to choose a handful of works from a much larger pool. I can remember my teachers, who are much further along in their publishing journeys than I am, sharing their own rejection stories with me.
You are responsible for the movie reel in your head. You can pair a rejection scene with upbeat, energetic music that shows the protagonist as unflappable, hard at work at what they love, or you can pair it with interludes from a grim historical drama. It’s up to you, but it is up to you. You won’t always reframe disappointment quickly or easily, but the only way to get better at is to change your factory settings from I am a reject to this writing wasn’t right for this issue.
I’d like to end this post with a huge thank you to everyone who reads this newsletter. It is a joy sharing my thoughts with you here. For those who are paid subscribers, I see you, and my gratitude is profound. You make it easier for me to set aside the hours needed to read, think, plan, and edit these pieces. Thank you for your generosity.
Wishing you all a productive and happy 2023.
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A great set of rules and reminders. Thank you, Maya. I write down a list of Mindsets every morning. These change over time – I add and replace them as the weeks go by. But the first one is always the same, and that is – The work is the win. Nothing comes without it, and everything comes from it. I also follow that with a writing session. One stanza a day. It all adds up – to a continued practice and eventually a collection of poems. Best of luck to you and everyone in the Poetry Today community!
Thank you for making yourself vulnerable and sharing!