Confession: I obsess over goals.
Well, maybe obsess is too strong a word, but I’m definitely in the habit of using the turning of one year to the next as a prompt to look back over what I’ve accomplished and jot a few notes about the projects I hope to pursue in the year to come. I make these notes in the back of my daily to-do notebook so I can reference them now and again, especially when I’m facing a decision about where to focus my energies. It’s a New Year’s ritual.
I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to forget a ritual, but this year I did. Maybe it happened because everything changed in November. Priorities shifted. Things that had been taken for granted couldn’t be anymore. If felt a lot more like a reset than the turning of the calendar from 2016 to 2017.
A week into the New Year, I re-seized the moment. I pondered the year behind and the year ahead, and my part in them, as a writer and as a person—a citizen of the world and of America, yes, but also wife, sister, daughter, mom, grandma.
Not that these roles are mutually exclusive by any means. But a writer’s life is a balancing act. Writing consumes a tremendous among of time and energy, yet for those of us driven to do it, there’s really no choice.
Looking back on 2016, I was struck first by the things I didn’t do. These weren’t failures (though I always have plenty of those). They were conscious decisions to quit peripheral activities I didn’t enjoy. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who has to learn this lesson over and over.
When we were in the throes of birthing a lovely organization now known as 49 Writers, Andromeda reminded me that the instructions about donning your own oxygen mask before assisting others make for good advice on the ground too. If we don’t stay healthy—psychically, emotionally—we’re of little use to ourselves or others.
Health begins at home. As Jonathan Reiber points out, “Our best defense against a dark world lies in wrapping ourselves around our loved ones and friends and committing to love them, and ourselves, unconditionally.”
Health also involves setting boundaries. Sometimes we have to say no, even when our first inclination is yes. Social media is a good place to start. In a recent opinion piece in The Guardian, writer Lindy West talks about quitting Twitter after deciding it was fit only for “trolls, robots, and dictators.”
You’ll still find me on Twitter, but I limit how (and how much) I engage. Wading through the larger deluge of information that assaults us via all forms of media, I set toxicity boundaries—only unhyped sourcing of news, filtering based on whether there’s action I can take.
These are my survive-and-thrive tactics. You’ll have your own.
On to the juggling act that is a writer’s life. For me, there are the usual peripheral activities—teaching, freelancing, editing. These I enjoy, but the new year is a time to remind myself to set limits on these, too, reserving time and energy for the creative work that sustains me. I like to clear the table of all preconceptions and re-evaluate my work-in-progress as well as others in queue. This year, I weighed the potential of these projects against three watchwords for my year of writing and living: meaningful, engaged, inspired.
“Writers are the most powerful people on the planet,” says Lisa Cron, “because story is the most power communication tool in the world.”
Let’s make the most of it.
And there’s this: If you agree with PEN America that our democracy is at risk, sign on with Writers Resist #WriteOurDemocracy. There are events all over the country on January 15, and a similar event in Homer on January 16.
Co-founder of 49 Writers and founder of the independent authors cooperative Running Fox Books, Deb Vanasse has authored seventeen books. Among the most recent are Write Your Best Book, a practical guide to writing books that rise above the rest; Cold Spell, a novel that “captures the harsh beauty of the terrain as well as the strain of self-doubt and complicated family bonds; and the “deeply researched and richly imagined” biography Wealth Woman. After thirty-six years in Alaska, she now lives on the north coast of Oregon, where she’ll be teaching Jumpstart Your Writing on Jan. 14 at the Seaside Library. She’s looking forward to reconnecting with Alaska writers in May at the North Words Writers Symposium in Skagway.