Navigating Life in a Literary Minefield
Warning: Explicit language and mature themes. If you’re offended by such things, you might want to venture elsewhere.
So, it’s that time again, the commencement of yet another cycle around the sun, marked by a semi-arbitrary date that doesn’t quite align with cosmological anchors. Like how hard would have been to just set New Years on the Winter Solstice? It’s the sort of thing that grinds Noggy’s OCD something fierce. And don’t get him started on why months have their fluctuating number of days.
It’s a happy time none-the-less. A chance to wash away the sickly stains of a cursed life with overpriced and underwhelming champagne. Maybe reminisce about the highlights you captured with your goddamn selfie stick. Eat loads of crap. Socialize with friends, enemies, frenemies, or in all probability, yourself, pantsless and eating pie in the backseat of your Pontiac Aztek or garbage filled K-car.
Call it what you want. Tradition. Ritual. Self-loathing and/or self-reflection. It’s a transition, that’s the important part. From one oozing nugget of time to the next. When you crawl out of your cocoon sometime early January, you know it’s a clean slate, you know that everything that came before is last year’s news. You made it. And this year will be different.
You heard right. Productive. Whatever writing or editing or design or marketing or publicity or publishing you did last year, you’ll surpass it this year. More. Faster. Better.
Because you made a fucking New Year’s Resolution, that’s why.
You’ve resolved one or possibly many things. It may be a vague decree like “I’m going to write every day”, or more explicit, like “I’m going to a thousand words every day.” Or it might be ambitious like “I’m going to write and publish three novels this year.” Or ethereal like “I’m going to procrastinate less this year.”
I’m not saying those aren’t worthy goals, because they totally are. They’re just soft. And squishy. Moist even. Soft resolutions are like ideas. Everyone has a billion of them, but at the end of the day, rather small and limp.
The concept of “I’m going to write more” is pretty vague, and the more vague and fuzzy the resolution, the harder it’ll be to stick with. What is “more”? What is “less”? If you can’t quantify progress, if you just jam your thumb or tentacle or mating appendage in the air and guess that you may be doing more of what you said you’d do, you’ll rapidly fall into the same old lull you’ve always fallen into.
Imagine meeting up with your writing partner at the end of January.
“How’s the novel going,” asks Lola, stuffing a grinning orifice with crisp Kale salad. “You talked big at NYE before I left you rotting in the dumpster.”
“Meh,” says Noggy. “My resolution was to write more than last year. I’m spitting out words.”
“How many more?”
“Well, more… Way more… I think. It feels like way more at least.”
“So, you’ll be done by summer?”
“I have absolutely no idea. How about you? I sort of recall you mentioning you had serious resolutions of your own this year.”
Lola slides her tongue under her lip to clear out a yard of astroturf, swishes her mouth with rosé. “Yeah, got some killer ones. Turning the hot tub into an alcoholic sex cauldron three times a week for six months and drowning anyone who doesn’t like it. Then, I’m going to ruin two marriages by seducing spouses in Japanese love hotels. Targeting one every three months, but I’ve built in a month overlap contingency.”
“Uh, I meant writing resolutions.”
“Exactly. I’m taking copious notes for my book, which will be done by year’s end. Next tub is Monday by the way, you should come.”
Noggy can do better. If he can stimulate his Bourbon soaked brain cells for two minutes, he’ll realize he just needs to be smart like Lola is. That’s smart as in SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. While maybe the concept has been around forever, George Doran, Arthur Miller, and James Cunningham first formalized it in the November 1981 issue of Management Review. The exact definition of each element has shifted over time, but SMART goals tend to have these elements:
Specific – Pick an unambiguous writing/editing/publishing objective.
Measurable – Make it something you can quantify with a number and keep track of progress. Spreadsheets baby!
Achievable – Make sure you can actually do it. We can go into BHAG’s, Big Hairy Audacious Goal’s, in another time and space, but don’t set yourself up to fail. And don’t include qualifiers that are out of your control – specifying that you want to sell X number of stories or novels is grand, but perilous since that’s in the hands of someone else.
Relevant – It should be an actual writing/editing/publishing goal. Sometimes I wonder about Lola…
Time-based – Choose an end date, and/or dates to measure progress by.
It’s not rocket science. It’s not even literary science (which, if that isn’t already thing, it is now). Now repeat after me:
“I’m going to write at least three hundred words a day for the next month.”
“I’m going to write six short stories this year and submit them to markets until they are sold.”
“I’m going to complete my novel by the end of May, have it edited by August, and query a dozen agents by year end.”
Rinse and repeat.
So, call them what you want. Resolutions. Goals. Objectives. Just remember to be SMART and don’t be caught with your pants down in the back seat with only pie for company. We won’t judge unless it’s Saskatoon Berry.