The New Year is upon us, and as most people are growling in frustration as they still end the date in 18 instead of 19, writers are setting up resolutions and goals for their annual projects. Great amounts of time, thought, and energy will be spent as optimism flows as freely as booze at a party. While writers aren’t alone in making resolutions that they hope will govern them over the coming year, they’re also not alone in the fact that most of them will not keep those resolutions. For those of you, like me, who have any form of anxiety, this is where the problem of resolutions truly arises.
We all know that most resolutions of any kind aren’t kept for a lengthy amount of time. You know this is true if you’ve ever resolved to lose weight and started going to the gym. The first few weeks of January, the building is packed. You can’t find a free piece of equipment. There’s so much sweat in the building it doubles as a sauna. And then, just two to three magical weeks later, BOOM! Instant ghost town. You have the place to yourself. You can luxuriate in the amount of space and free equipment. The lack of humidity is painfully noticeable. Is it because everyone dropped the pounds they wanted to in that short amount of time?
The answer, in a word, is NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPE! (Bonus points if you read that in the voice of Lana Kane. Double bonus points if you know who Lana Kane is. Triple bonus points if you don’t know who Lana Kane is but do some research to find out. Quadruple—Ok. Sorry. I resolve to stop there.) People fall back into old habits, or they don’t see the results as quickly as they want to, or they get frustrated, or any and all of a myriad of different reasons why people don’t keep their resolutions.
If you’re the type of person who sticks with resolutions and goals, you are sincerely to be commended and applauded. I have no idea how you do it, but good for you! For some people—and we’re going to focus on writers now—not keeping those resolutions is no big deal. They shrug it off and carry on as they would have anyway. But if you have anxiety, every part of the resolution process can be painful. Sometimes it can even be destructive for your creative flow and writing process.
You step into the New Year knowing that you have to be just like all the other authors you know, admire, and adore. They’re posting about it on Facebook, and Twitter, and Instagram, and their personal websites, and EVERYWHERE ELSE YOU LOOK. You’re inundated with how they’re going to write 15 million words by the end of the quarter. They’re going to finish 30 novels by lunch on the second Tuesday of the third full moon following the spring equinox. They’re going to be so much better than you ever hope to be, and they’re proving just how much you suck as a writer, and, oh my God! Why do you even bother trying to write when you’ll never be as amazing as these people?!
You miraculously manage not to see any kind of social media posts from any author about their amazing writing resolutions and goals, and you set your own without comparing yourself to anyone else. Your list is numbered or bullet-pointed. You’ve taken the time to truly consider each one. You’ve moved the list around until it’s in descending order of most to least important. You’ve not only set goals, you’ve color-coded those suckers. And you’ve also taken the extra step of promising yourself a specific reward for crossing each item off of your list. You’re going to do it! This is the year you’re finally going to have every item crossed off of that list. You’re starting now! You make the first day’s goal of writing X amount of words. You feel great!
And then comes the first stumble. Your child gets sick and stays home from school. You have to deal with the co-worker or customer from hell. The dog threw up on the brand-new pair of shoes your partner bought you for Christmas, and you really wanted those shoes, you longed for them, yearned for them, promised Santa you would do anything for them, and now they’re covered in Fido’s barf, and you just can’t deal with it right now! But you’ll relax. You’ll make today’s word count. You’re Super-Author. You’re energized. You can do anything. …Anything except force yourself to sit in front of the computer and write.
But you’ll do it tomorrow. You swear. You promise. It’s just one day. You’ve got this.
Oh my God! You didn’t write yesterday. Now if you want to make your end of the day/week/month/quarter goal, you’ve got to write at least double what you should be. You can’t do that. You don’t do that. You miss the target by 500 words. You’re a terrible person. You’re a terrible writer. Why did you start doing this in the first place? You’ll never be as good an author as (insert person’s name here). Why do you even bother? How could you be so arrogant to think you could do this? Why do you even bother? You knew you couldn’t do this!
No… No. You’ve got this. Tomorrow will be different. Or better. Or…
Anxiety is a legitimate thing. It is a debilitating and crippling thing. No matter how much you know it lies to you, you cannot shake it. It’s not your fault, but another insidious aspect of anxiety is that you can’t believe that it’s not your fault. You feel like you should be in control. You should be doing these things no matter what your brain is telling you. But you just can’t do it. It’s okay, but you can’t let yourself believe it’s okay. And you spiral ever downward because you took the time at the beginning of the year to say you were going to do a thing, and then something—even your own brain—prevented you from doing that thing.
If this isn’t you, I’m sincerely, truly happy for you. The truth is—as I said above—I have anxiety, and this is what it’s like for me and others who have anxiety. For some, the experience varies. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you shouldn’t set goals or make resolutions. What I am saying is that you have to know yourself as both a person and a writer, and you have to determine if resolutions are right for you.
For me, resolutions don’t work. I know that if I say I’m going to do a specific thing it’s going to cause me anxiety. If I don’t do what I said I would, it’s going to cause me anxiety. Eventually, I’m not going to do anything that even closely resembles writing. So, I don’t make resolutions or goals for writing. I try to be relaxed and just know that I want to do a thing, and I’ll work on it when I work on it. That’ll be okay. I’ll still experience anxiety about it until it’s finished, but the pressure won’t be as bad. I’ll do what I do best, which is to set a deadline—and I know that’s a goal, of sorts, but calling it a deadline works for me—and I’ll have it finished by that deadline. Hell, I’ll have it finished well before that deadline because if I’m on time then I’m late.
I’ll still be the best writer that I can be. I’ll still get it done. I’ll just do it the way I know works best for me.
I’m a firm believer that we do not compete with each other as authors. We support, applaud, and admire other authors, but we get to determine what is successful for us. Your idea of success as a writer might be publishing your first novel, or winning first place in a competition, or just sitting down once a week to write as many words as you can before you have to go clean dog barf off of something. (Seriously, though, if Fido is vomiting that much, see a vet.) Do what is right and best for you. If you don’t have anxiety and can set goals or make resolutions, do it. If you have to trick yourself with semantics and call them deadlines instead of goals, do it. If you need to message me on Facebook and rant about what an idiot I am… Well, don’t do that, but you get the general idea.
Know that you are not alone. Know that it is okay to not do what everyone else is doing. Know that it does not say or mean anything about you as a person or an author. Just have a happy 2019 being the best author, the best you, you can be. However you accomplish that is okay. Tell your anxiety I said so.
Shannon Iwanski is the former president of the Tulsa-based writing group Nevermore Edits, a member of Oklahoma Writers' Federation, Inc., and Editor-in-Chief of Inkubus Publishing, LLC. To learn more about him and his plans to turn the world into a dystopian society, check out shannoniwanski.com.