I feel weird this time of year because it’s never been a new year to me. I’ve been attending or working at schools for all but four of my twenty-eight years. My year starts in August and ends in May or June. I’m also too-obsessed with self improvement. So when people ask me about my New Year’s Resolutions, I wonder why would I contain my self-improvement goals to one month? What’s everyone else doing in April? June? November?
For me, the calendar’s end comes with frustration. Disappointment. The year started well. I only taught two classes at one school last spring, and I did some of my best teaching ever. I was in therapy, and my counselor thought that I was ready to stop our sessions. My reviews for Wicked Horror were really clicking, a creative breakthrough I’m still proud of. Then the summer came: I stopped therapy and had my first summer off teaching. I wrote a 46,000 word / 157 page first draft of an intense horror novel (Stephen King’s Misery meets the strip mining of my own mental illness) but it felt like the training wheels had been taken off my bike and I’d slammed face first onto the concrete.
Summer put me in the trying position of living in a new city a thousand miles from my family. I’ve made some friends, but with my wife’s work schedule I was alone for between ten and sixteen hours a day. The dog didn’t cut it. I’m an extrovert. Every morning, I woke up, walked the dog, read for an hour, and then wrote for two. I reached my word counts easily, and I’ve always been cautious about emptying the tank, so the rest of the day was filled with empty hours. I didn’t realize until then how much my relationships with my students had meant to me.
But it wasn’t worse than the fall. I took on as many classes I taught all of the 2017-2018 school year in this last semester. I crashed again. Harder this time. I couldn’t keep up with the planning. Don’t get me wrong, I did my job at a high level, but not at the highest level I could. It was my writing and my mental health that suffered. I wrote four or five reviews, maybe two or three blog posts, but no fiction. I submitted less than ten short stories. My reading stopped outright. So did my exercise. And I felt it all. I hated myself for the work that I wasn’t doing.
This year my main goal is to break away from the “grind til you die” mentality. I’m refusing to teach more than four classes (a full-time roster at most colleges). I still want to write as many words as I can, but not at the expense of my physical or mental health. That means valuing cooking over writing so I don’t eat fast food. It means valuing exercise over time at my desk to keep my body in shape. It means trying to get back into therapy to keep my mind in tune. And it means setting realistic goals, reachable goals, which I’ll list below.
1.) Remembering that Writing is a Business
I submitted my twenty-five or so ready to publish short stories and longer works a total of thirteen times. While I’m proud that two of them got accepted, I need to submit more. Writing and revising are only two-thirds of the process, and without the last step of submitting, the work would only be for me. I don’t even like cooking for one.
2.) Write 12 Blog Posts
I originally had planned to make my goal getting five-hundred people to visit my blog, but I’ve actually got very little control over how many people click on it. So I’m focusing on what I have power over: I’m committing to writing 12 blog posts on my own site this year to try to generate more traffic.
3.) Valuing My Writing
The other trap I fall into at times is choosing to do someone else’s work over my own. I prioritize blog posts and reviews with deadlines over my fiction. I don’t intend to start missing deadlines, but to remember that I do the nonfiction to build a platform for the fiction. If I’m throwing out the fiction to work on the nonfiction, I’m defeating the purpose.
What are your goals for next year? Let us know in the comments!