So, I really want to have a knock-down, drag-out with 2016 to figure out what happened, what went wrong, and how to make 2017 amazing. I know a lot of people who have had similarly adversarial relationships with this past year.
That said, when I get honest I sometimes depress people by talking about the highs and lows in vivid detail (I think I permanently scarred my sister when she read an unpublished piece about my relationship woes; I thought it was funny stuff).
So, since this is mostly about me and the challenges of this year, feel free to skip it and we’ll pick back up with something more positive next time. BUT I do feel like the lessons of 2016 have propelled me into the most important new phase in ten years (more on ‘Phase Two’ in my next post).
For those who choose to remain: Beware, for here be monsters.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times
This year I completed my best novel ever, the first draft of which I finished on a beautiful spring day while sitting on a hilltop and feeling as one with nature and the universe, and marveling at my own abilities.
I also cried like three times on my birthday in November — and none of those times were from joy.
So that about sums up 2016.
What went wrong?
Well, this year just had some challenges (though I’m very lucky and blessed overall). In January someone going 40 miles per hour rear-ended me at a stop light and totaled our car. I was fine and his insurance paid, but it was a lot of stress at the time. We had a rat in our house for the first time, which lead to a month-long odyssey to get rid of him (my respect for rats has increased multi-fold).
Then our grandmother died. Her health had been failing for a while but it was my and my sister’s first big loss since our mother died twelve years ago.
I also picked some goals that were not perfect in retrospect. My goal to enter a 60 mile cycling ‘fun ride’ in May was both ambitious and not super-fun to achieve, and it didn’t help me from slipping from fit to fat as the year wore on.
I also planned to submit 500 queries to agents, or resumes to businesses and websites— all in an effort to make something happen this year. I probably submitted about 150, mostly to no effect.
So that’s the bad. Oh yeah, and I was waaayy excited about driving a European musician from north Alabama to New Orleans (dreams and romantic fantasies included) only to have the trip be canceled last minute (amazing, heartfelt, 7,500 word piece about that is in the works). 😉
Oh, and the election was a heartbreaker for me.
It’s not that so many bad things happened, it’s just that I really wanted big, good things to happen. I wanted to get an agent and sell my novel. I wanted to get in my best shape ever. I wanted to get a boyfriend. And get out of my retail job.
None of those things happened, and as they say, expectation is the root of misery. On the other hand, a lot of very good things happened in 2016. Sarah and I always have a best of the year list, and mine included —
Highlights of 2016
- Finishing ‘Society & Civility’. My best book yet, and the one I had to rewrite the most. I’m very proud.
- Finishing one television pilot, one screenplay, and ‘Triad’ first draft. My young adult, superhero novel ‘Triad’ had been brewing more a while, as had my renewed interest in writing for the screen.
- The whole stupid canceled trip to New Orleans. I got to hang out with my sister instead, and felt more than I had in a long time (it was bad feelings but those too are valuable for writers).
- Hearing Frank Turner live again. The closest thing I’ve found to a shot of pure inspiration.
- Eating at The National (the best restaurant in Athens, GA) for the first time.
- Some other good stuff.
But as a whole, the challenges seemed to overshadow the triumphs. So what did go wrong? And how can I right the ship in 2017 and ensure that I don’t end up crying on my 38th birthday?
— 2017 Plans —
- Set goals you can achieve. 500 query letters just wasn’t very realistic for someone who can only write about one every thirty minutes (and it might not even be the best way to get an agent).
- Align your goals with your dreams. In the same way, being out of my retail job by the holidays pretty much meant I would just have had to go find a different retail job — not really my goal. And cycling 60 miles in one day proved something, but it didn’t mean I’m healthier now than last year.
- Get back on track quickly. The best times of last year were the weeks and months that my sister and I were on track, getting rid of clutter, eating right, and working on our writing and art goals. But the aforementioned hardships (car totaled, Grammy passing, trip falling through) led to extended periods of eating badly and not doing much toward our dreams. In hindsight, I wish I’d pushed harder to get back on course sooner.
- Figure out what you really want. Part of my unhappiness was born of really wanting to move into a new phase of my life (another longtime retail worker just mentioned to me that, between the two of us, we have been there almost 25 years — woof). I keep saying that I’ll have time for a boyfriend — when I’m living the life of my dreams. I’ll have a nice house when… I’ll be fit when… I’ll travel when… And these things have became tied to me being a professional writer who lives off what I earn. Oh, and I’ve decided it’s cool not to have children as long as I can have a great career. So, as you can imagine, each year that hasn’t found me becoming a ‘professional writer’ has added my confusion. Hence the crying on my birthday. When will this ‘pay off’? Of course, I have a great, enjoyable life as is, but I do have desires unfulfilled. I think I need to date and travel and make the house nicer now — not just plan for someday when I have my dream job.
- Make a perfect life here and now. A lot of my plans for 2017 involve living my dream life in the present moment. I want to write a lot and on projects that I love and that excite me. Basically, I want to act like I’m already being paid to write what I love most, like millions of people are clamoring for my next creation. I want to live in a minimal, clean home full of beauty. And I want to eat and exercise like I’m already achieving everything else I desire. And maybe I’ll even add in the happy chaos of dating someone.
- Realize that ‘Madness isn’t for everyone’ — but it might be right for me. That’s a new tattoo I’m thinking about getting (and an E.M. Forster quote). Basically, to me it means that the hard work, nay insanity, of living your dream life isn’t for everyone. A dream is a pretty thing that doesn’t take up much space but a goal — a dream UNLEASHED — is a wild, vibrant, and life-changing force. I think that 2016 really saw me bringing my dreams out into the open and I think that caused a lot of chaos in my heart and in my life. My fantasies about the trip revealed my romantic side that had been neglected, while submitting queries and resumes showed how much I want to join the ‘professional’ writing world. These aren’t bad things, but they are hard. Saying our lives, and ourselves, are not perfect is never easy. I understand now that it’s part of the process of changing up my life and I’m prepared to suffer a little on the road to living my dreams.
- Do less. One thing about these big, new, exciting dreams is that they take a lot of effort. I think I want next year to be about doing a few things really well, instead of a lot of things okay. I’ve always loved the idea of boarding schools, or retreats — going somewhere and just living for one purpose. I’d love to really focus in 2017, and say I could end up with several great writing projects done, and the nicer house than ever, and feeling in shape. I want to back off on other things — bigger travel or even a new job — and really work on getting some amazing writing done.
- Let go. This year I pulled back from my role in the Athens Writers Association a little and told my writer friends of my plans to travel more and eventually live in other places. It was hard. It felt like I was abandoning them and destroying what we’ve built together. But it’s not my future. I created the group I wanted, and love all the wonderful experiences I’ve had and people I’ve met. But now I feel drawn in new directions and would feel resentful if I felt like I had to stay and oversee the AWA forever. If it is meant to be in the long-term, the AWA will belong to others. In the same way, my sister and I had some amazing trips up to visit our grandparents on the lake and those times are changing too. I think the more wholeheartedly we can release the rhythms of the past that no longer serve us, the quicker we can change our lives for the better and embrace our destinies.
- Read the writing on the wall. Honestly, some of the pain of 2016 came really from not seeing reality very clearly. Now, I’m a huge fan of dreams and possibility but I probably should have been more aware — that the dream trip might not happen, the Republican candidate could win, and that a Jane Austin-inspired novel might be a challenging sell. Big goals are still good, but it helps to be open to things not always working out as expected.
- Just ride it out. Stuff happens. That’s just life. There’ll always be little issues and annoyances. And one of the more important things that happened last year, losing our grandmother, had been on the horizon for a while. Life is always going to have its share of challenges. Even a ‘perfect life’ with the dream job and house, would still have colds and oil changes and accidents. Some part of life is just handling what’s thrown at you with grace. And 2016 threw a few things at me. I’m still working on the grace part.
- Spend more time on what you love. Some of the best times in 2016 were doing fun things with my sister, and cycling through the beautiful countryside, and writing. Especially the writing. Even now, when I’m tired, a little bummed out, and just about done with 2016 (I wrote the first draft of this mid-December), I’m still happy to be writing. To have gotten up early to write, and to be planning all the great fiction I’ll create in the new year.
- Grow better instead of just growing old. In 2016 I learned that I’m now in the ‘middle-aged’ group. I still feel young but I do know that time is passing. And I’m thankful because I feel like I’m so much more improved now as a person than I was 10 or 15 years ago. I’m a better person, a better writer. And I think the important thing is to take even bigger steps next year to become the person I want to be and live a life I love — now and for years to come.
NOTE: Since I wrote this in late December, I’ve had a very exciting Christmas when my beloved sister Sarah gave me a replica of Thanduril’s sword.
That character has always been special to me and this sword is a huge symbol to me. I’m ready to be worthy of wielding such a weapon, and it’s a reminder to be daring and ‘all-in’ in my writing and my life.
Sarah and I have made some awesome new habits in our life and when you do that, to quote Sarah’s 2017 mantra — ‘Everything changes.’ Next post I’ll get into what we are doing and how you too can make 2017 the best year yet.