When I was in grade school, I wrote a 60 page, single-spaced “story.” Motivated by nothing other than an interest in crafting together the torrid romance of two high schoolers, I spent entire afternoons at the computer, clacking out the words to a teenage drama that was older than I was while my peers played outside. To date, it is the longest piece of fiction that I’ve ever written.
From a young age, writing has been my love and my bane. I have a way with words, but I don’t make the time to incorporate writing into my life anymore. Feeling burnt out, I gave up creative writing after graduate school. While in Peace Corps, I felt simultaneously too removed from the United States to write about home and too unfamiliar with my new life in Ecuador to capture it in words. Since moving to Chicago and truly beginning my career, I’ve attempted to write in the off hours between work days and adult responsibilities, but the results have been inconsistent at best. Even when I do manage to put a piece together, I feel like I spend most of my time writing about how difficult it is for me to write. It’s no secret that I gave up on NaNoWriMo this past year. As my daily word count lagged, I consoled myself by reasoning that I was simply behind, that I’d just hole myself up in a coffee shop one Saturday and crank out all the words that I was missing. The image was romantic: me huddled over my laptop in a bustling cafe, stopping periodically to look up from my caffeine-fueled writing binge to stare out at the passersby before diving back into a world that only my mind could create. But that Saturday didn’t produce enough words to even meet my word count for that day, much less multiple days.
As I struggled to write every night after that, I began to dread my writing time. Instead of crafting my words together to truly create something, NaNoWriMo became an exercise in cobbling together as many shitty words as possible to arrive at my 834-word limit and be done for the evening. In some ways, it was almost liberating. From the drivel, a single sentence of pure, beautiful inspiration would arise like a miracle. But there’s no time for editing when you have a word count to hit, and without the time to craft the drivel up to the standards of the inspiration, I was bound to a cycle of mediocrity and stagnation. After a couple weeks, I dreaded writing.
Shortly after giving up on NaNoWriMo, I finally admitted to myself that although I love writing (mostly when it’s going well), it doesn’t always make me happy. In fact, the times when I’m most stressed and most anxious are when I try to fit writing into my already jam-packed life. I’ve told myself for at least three years now that I’m going to calm down my crazy schedule and make writing my focus. A few times I got close—for a few months—before I finally fell off the wagon again. But I’ve never succeeded. It occurred to me that I’m no longer sure if it’s my inability to commit to a regular writing schedule, and therefore my disappointment in myself, or writing itself that is making me unhappy.
Part of the problem is that I have too many interests, and I’m never content with being mediocre at something. This is a problem for multiple reasons. First, writing requires that you live in the land of mediocrity; in order to become a better writer, you must work through the mediocrity to hone your skills, and generally, no matter the skill of the writer, the first draft of anything will always be mediocre at best. Second, all of my other interests—learning how to make logos in Illustrator, or learning how to make cross stitch designs, or improving my hand lettering—take time away from my main goal: to write. Yet, all of these things currently bring me more joy than writing has in a long time, because they are easy, they require no brain power, and they are inherently less frustrating. Writing requires unraveling your thoughts and then transferring them into the written word. Cross stitching requires nothing but the movement of my hand and the minimal attention it takes to read a pattern. Typically, I can cross stitch and watch TV at the same time. You can see how that would be more appealing.
Peace Corps taught me that knowing when to quit is a strength. It takes self-understanding and the ability to confront reality to give up on something. After all of my failures in writing, I’m left wondering why I still do it. Why do I keep guilting myself for not making time to write if I just don’t love it anymore? Maybe it’s time for me to quit on writing. The only problem with this is that I’ve never tested out my writing chops in the first place. At best, I’ve made a series of half-hearted attempts.
Thus, my sole focus and my top priority for 2017 is to write and read like never before, to truly give it an honest try.
The parameters for a year of writing:
As I prepared for a year of writing, I asked myself, “What’s my plan? What do I want? And what do I need to do before 2017 to make this year successful?”
I have no illusions that the year ahead will be easy, so I came up with a mission statement as well as a series of rules and goals to keep me focused for the next 365 days.
My mission this year is to write about complex topics with compassion and clarity, to dedicate myself to the practice of writing, and to commit myself to doing the work needed to become a better writer. I am committed to making things complicated for the betterment of all of us. (No politician has ever run on that stump speech!) In other words, I want to use my writing to fight the concept that life is black and white, because in almost all cases, life is made up of shades of gray. We don’t deal well in shades of gray, but the betterment of this world depends on understanding the subtle complexities of life and the people in it.
- For one year, writing and reading will be my priority. I will carve out time daily to write. That time is non-negotiable and social commitments will be canceled if I haven’t fulfilled my writing time. (Heads up, friends! I’m about to become so flaky.) Along the same lines, I will make time in my daily life to read. It’s my goal to finally read 52 books (1 book/week) this coming year.
- I will keep track of my word count for the year. There is no word goal, but I want to see how many words I’ve generated by the end of 2017.
- I will create an editorial calendar for both my blog and fiction/non-fiction writing.
- To the best of my ability, I will write for at least an hour every day, knowing that there will be some days that I will miss that goal and that that is no excuse not to sit down the next day and get right back on track.
- My main aim is to write. Any publications, official or not, will be a welcome bonus. That means that if I write nothing but diary posts for the next year, I’m fulfilling my goals.
- I will have multiple backup plans. For example, if I can’t maintain a morning schedule for writing, as was the case for all of 2016, I’ll write over my lunch break or for an hour before going to bed. I’ll continually search for the cadence that works.
- I will never ask myself if this is my most important work.
- I will never ask if people will read it.
- I will be honest with myself.
If at the end of this year, I still don’t feel some form of gratification in a daily writing life, it’s time to move on to those other passions. But I’m truly hoping that maybe, just maybe, I’ll finally rediscover that love for writing that I had when I was in grade school, when I spent my free time writing cliched stories because they made me happy.
To the year of words! May they be many!