Every year I like to do a writer’s resolution. Something that’s more for me than for you, but maybe also for you, should it apply. Resolutions are tricky, of course: I don’t ever want to make them a necessity, and certainly there’s something arbitrary about picking a calendar date to be like, OKAY TIME TO BE BETTER. But, at the same time, if you’re going to choose improvement and change, you have to decide to do it, and if not now, then when? So, now is fine, too, and with the gears-clicking, turning this strange machine to a new year, it feels like a time of circumstance and consequence to do something, anything, to seize on any desired changes.
So, hahaha, I thought, what resolution did I write last year? What did I think was the way forward at the start of 2020, this heinous chaos diarrhea year? WHAT FOOLISH NAIF WAS I, THEN? So, I checked and, uhhh, last year I wrote a 2020 Writer Resolution that said the following:
“You know the thing you do where you try to figure out, ‘If I had six months to live, what would I do in that time?’ Learn basejumping? Fight a bear? Fuck a robot? I dunno. There is of course the authorial version of this, which is, what book would I write? What book would I write if i didn’t know if anyone would read it, if I’d even get to finish it before The End gets me, if it would even matter at all? What weird-ass, particular-as-hell, little-or-big book lives in the deep of my heart and would emerge ululating its mad goat song upon hearing a potential death sentence? What curious narrative creature would crawl out and hiss, giddily:
‘It’s my time, now, penmonkey!’ — ?
Well, you’re dying.
Here it is: your terminal diagnosis.
You’re gonna die.
Whole world, too. Gonna die.”
So, weirdly I was both really on point, and also way off base.
On point because, hey, this year is a pretty good reminder of, WE ALL GONNA DIE.
Off base because, with that kind of knife to your back, it’s not easy to be creative. My point was meant to be generic, of course, and I think a realistic sense of our mortal scope is useful in that it reminds us we do not have an infinite panoply of days in which to accomplish our goals, and if we want to be a writer, then we must at some point write. And more to the point of that post, it’s useful to realize that in this limited temporal allotment we get, you might as well use it to write the kinds of things you want to write. Not what you think someone else wants or needs, not in someone else’s universe if possible, but your story, for you, by you, owned by you, you, you, you. Not for narcissistic solipsism, but to SEIZE THE CREATIVE CARP and to leave behind a work that came from your heart and your head.
The problem is, a real pandemic is a bonafide existential threat, not just the theoretical one we all live under constantly. (What a boner killer, amirite.) It was that, plus Trump, and electoral chaos, and general chaos all around. All that adds up and makes it difficult to write. It did for me, at least — others may have gone the other way, disappearing into their stories as an escape. But for me it was definitely the feeling of being knocked down, winded, even a little broken by it.
So, the resolution for me, and maybe for you, is this year looking toward healing and growing — a rise and return. Not some PHOENIX burn where we go from PILE OF ASH to ANGRY FIRE EAGLE, but something slower, more measured, more deliberate.
To digress for a moment, there are these two polar notions in the generic class of writing advice — the first being YOU MUST WRITE EVERY DAY, the second being GO AT YOUR OWN PLACE AND PRACTICE FORGIVENESS. Both can be true, and both can be false, and a rigorous adherence to either of these is, I think, where you find trouble. I’m increasingly aware that, and I’ve talked about this before, how writers first codify our writing advice for others, but then soon also begin to mythologize our own processes, too. Like, we grow to accept that this is our process, that this is how we write, and further, this is how we must write. For me, I’d created a folklore about how I wrote books, and it was even true some of the time: write every day, 2,000 words, ass-in-chair, have an outline, one book after the next, and so on. It wasn’t wrong. It also wasn’t right. It was just a thing I did for a bunch of books, mostly early on in my career, and it worked when it worked and failed me when it failed me. Because, of course, every book is its own different monster, and each monster must be met in its own way: one monster wants village children to eat and huts to mash, another monster wants an ear to crawl into and a brain to make a nest for its babbies. They’re different beasts. And that’s fine.
But trying to apply a single approach to each monster is tough — you can’t feed every monster the villager children you’ve collected, because one monster might be allergic to village children, and it prefers farm-raised kidbeef to eat. Wanderers reminded me that each book wants what it wants, needs what it needs, and we are a different writer when we begin every book, and a different writer when we end every book. Like the coronavirus, we mutate in every host.
To remove the monster from the metaphor–
Sometimes you need to slow down, take it easy, re-evaluate.
Similarly, you can also go too far on the self-forgiveness train, giving yourself so much room to breathe that you’re only breathing, and not writing. We are constantly in this battle between holding ourselves accountable and allowing ourselves a day off. A war waged between reason and excuse, between work and peace, between running and rest, between rebound and recuperation. And you only really get there, I think, by knowing yourself, and you really only know yourself as a writer by just doing it, by writing when a lot when you can and by seeing what happens when you do different things. We can de-mythologize our personal processes by simply fucking with them.
We tweak the formula. We juke left when we always jumped right.
Know thyself: a vital writer commandment. And you only know yourself as a writer not when succeeding, but when failing — or when your process, your own authorial folklore, fails around you. That failure state is deeply, deeply informative.
Anyway, this digression leads me to this peculiar point in time for me — and again, maybe for you. I am at that pivot point between recuperation and rebound. It has been a hard year, a broken-wing year, and I want to fly again. But I also know that’s not automagic: I can’t just climb to the roof and jump off and zip up to the fucking sky. It’s not 0 to 60. It’s neither rest, nor running. It’s the in-between, the interstitial, the liminal.
My goal is to regain momentum.
And this, for me, will be like running. Running for me was always about starting slow and small and building on that without burning out, without busting my shit, without tearing anything or, I dunno, what are marathoner problems? Don’t their nipples bleed? There’s a commandment for running and writing: IF IT’S MAKING YOUR NIPPLES BLEED, MAYBE COOL IT A LITTLE, BECAUSE HOLY SHIT, NOBODY WANTS THAT
It’s about practicing forgiveness — which means taking it slow. But it’s also about getting the work done, which means doing something, even if it’s only a little bit, every day. It’s about creating a schedule, but also about padding that schedule with sympathy, and knowing that it can’t just be day after day of GO GO GO. It’s knowing I maybe can’t run every day, but I can damn sure walk. In this sense it’s almost like physical therapy: I need to exercise my creative muscles in a way that is regenerative, even if it’s slow. When I began running, I took it slow, week after week, building ability and then slowly adding time and distance. And some weeks I lost those gains and went back to baseline — but there was at least a baseline to go back to, and subsequent weeks saw momentum, over time, building. That’s what I need now. I need to rebuild momentum, however slow that’ll be. It’s about healing and growing, but also recognizing that healing can first be about rest, but then must eventually be about getting up, and getting going once more.
So, that’s it for me.
It’s about being smart and self-protective while also knowing that art must be made, it will not make itself. I have stories to tell and you do too, I suspect. So let’s tell them, in the way that only we can, at a level just beyond comfort — pushing when we can, pushing a little, and then going back to baseline when we must. Being gentle, but forcefully so. The world deserves to hear your tales, and so the world waits for you to tell them. At your time. At your speed. Progress is progress. A game of inches, not a game of miles. We crawl, we walk, and soon, we run.
Go with love into the New Year, writer friends.
Write, make, create, spin stories. Build on what you lost. And on what you find.