A new year is upon us. Normally this is when I talk big about all the shit that I want to do going ahead and this will be a post partly about that, but the primary focus will be appreciating what I have done already for a change. The movement to developement isn’t meaningful without acknowledging what I have. This is part of my growth. As a result, this post might have a looser structure in comparison to previous New Year’s posts.
Despite my failures, 2018 was a year of successes. I got a lot done! Like a lot, a lot. But I didn’t feel particularly satisfied or adequate. I had bundled up all my self-worth into my achieving some financial security which is just a downwards spiral. Being in financial straits is no picnic, let me tell you, but at some point I had to make peace with the fact that it will a big part of my reality. Mostly it was a case of being worried about it was jeopardising my chances to get out of this situation. It is unclear when I will but I need to have the clearest mind possible going ahead. I am okay where I am. It’s not the best, neither does it mean that improving my situation would be unwelcome, but I am stable. I’ve been broke all my life and I’ve got by despite that fact. I’ll be okay.
But! Obssessing like this is making me ignore what I did well. Let’s have a look at the heckin’ chonker:
As I mentioned before, I started this book in 2015 but soon put it down, realising it was a larger task than what I was prepared for. Sequels are a tough deal because they do a lot: not only reintroduce characters and plot threads, but continue them as well. A duology is a little tougher to close out because you have to reintroduce characters and plots, continue the story, and move it to conclusion, all while satisfyingly closing the whole series. I think I subconsciously knew the difficulty in 2015 but didn’t understand properly until I started again in 2017. Like I enjoyed myself—it was an interesting challenge, I mean—but on top of the other draining aspects of 2018, it was really tricky. I am proud to say that I hacked away at it, bit by bit.
I’m gonna quote Brandon Sanderson to make myself feel better but this is good advice for creativity in general, not just writing:
“Once in a while writing isn’t fun. But having written is always worth it … What you don’t want to become is one of those people who always thinks about how fun it is to have written.”
I was definitely tempted to stop but I think it was better for me to have kept going. I am pretty moody but I am much worse if I haven’t written. Oftentimes, I feel better for having written. Even if I don’t feel better, it’s always worth writing in the long run. I do want to say it explicitly: this is for ME only; don’t break yourself thinking I’m saying this works as other people’s general rule to creativity. On the extreme ends of pushing through is exhaustion which is just no good for anyone.
An important aspect on the other sise of this is to remember to zoom out and appreciate what has come before. Having finished my nearly 200k book I was relieved that it was done but not particularly elated. I still had lots of work to do. I needed to get it ready for readers, I had redrafts to do, etc., etc.
The weird and annoying thing about being a creative person is that you are your own worst critic. It sort of works in your favour sometimes but mostly that annoying asshole that you despise who nitpicks everything in others becomes your reality about yourself. This leads to an inertia which prevents you from creating. Seeing how things could be better, or envisioning a new reality are aspects of creativity; creativity is an essential ingredient in making art, and yet when it is applied to one’s own craft, it’s arguably the single most stalling factor of the creative process. You can see it better therefore what you made is clearly not good. Like obviously that’s false but you try to convince any artist in the throes of their creative blues and you’ll see how deeply they internalise it. It’s so frustrating. Rationally you’re not always going to be inspired, or make your best art on the first go, but the doubt is still there.
A lot’s going on and I can narrow it down to the two ways in which comparison occurs: 1.) comparison to oneself 2.) comparison to others
1.) Comparison to oneself
Sometimes when you’re creating, you just do something you love, that you think is awesome. I’ve written poems that I’ve been proud of, hell even lines, most of which are still in the finished versions. So when I start a new poem, I see a dud or an unfinished line and get disheartened and don’t want to improve it because I got it good in an earlier poem. As an artist I’m supposed to grow not get worse. The thing is, though, your aim should be to look at it as plainly as possible: every act of creation will be different. Every poem, novel, every line or sentence will require something different from you so comparing it to past processes makes sense in a way—you learn as you make—but that cannot be your benchmark.
I’m mad because I forgot who said it but success is not a linear line but a spiral or a squiggle that goes in all such ways but generally errs upwards. The more you do, the more likely you’ll progress, but that does not mean that you will not experience setbacks or difficulties.
In 2019, I want to focus less on the words I’ve written and instead the regularity with which I’ve produced them. I want to focus on having written. Even when I’ve hated what I produced when I’ve pushed myself through a hard session I’ve never regretted having written. I encourage you to keep this mind for your various creative practices. It’s going to be a personal measurement of accountability but crucially forgiveness. Punishing yourself will lead to more creative deficits because you’re trying to push yourself to do things that you clearly are not ready to do yet.
There’s a quieter and potentially more insidious kind of comparison as well: comparison to some future self. Your future self will likely be better at the craft than your current self or you’re thinking about things you’d want to do in the future. This is again an example of your creativity but can be unfair to yourself because when imbalanced, it undervalues what you’re capable of in the present. The future self is aspirational and can be a good motivator but you will always fall short if you think of it as a thing you have to be right now. See, the future self can only be realised by actions today. You have to take it a day at a time. Be kind to yourself. Focus on what can be done today. The future self is helped by putting down foundations in the present, like a decent work ethic or an acceptance for the present success.
2.) Comparison to others
This is again where the rational and non-rational mind diverge and you lean into observing other people’s successes. Here’s the thing you need to fix in your mind: people will broadcast success more readily than failure. It might be how we are wired, I don’t know, but it is most certainly how social media wants us to interact with it. This means the effort that goes into generating that success is missed. We see results and not processes. The process is MOST of creating and yet it is the aspect that is most missed. It’s probably because it’s not glamorous or sexy. It’s why creators like V.E. Schwab are so popular because they’re so open with the struggles of creativity. Even a NYT bestelling multi-book author has doubts and fears. But guess what? She still writes. Even when it hurts like hell she still writes.
This is not to mention that comparing yourself to someone who is published is not good for you. Someone who is published is on the other end of the writing process: not just successive drafts, but queries and/or edits, and proofs which then concludes in publication. Because often you see the end product, you forget about the process. This sounds trivially true but every time you compare your draft to someone else’s finished book, you are doing yourself a great disservice. (I am saying this mostly to myself.)
Everyone has their own creative process and comparing yours to another’s is just fuel for slowing yourself down further. Repeat the mantra: having created is always worthwhile. Even if it’s 10 words in an hour or the shittiest words in an hour: it’s way better than spending that hour frustrated at having not created. Every finished draft is a success, time spent writing should be looked favourably upon. These are things we know but don’t pay attention to enough.
More than anything, though, I am really interested in things other than my creative growth. That is a constant. But I have been ignoring my own needs on a personal level. If I am not balanced, that will effect everything else. Some of my friends are doing the same and taking that really inward look for the year ahead instead of just setting themselves big goals.
I’ve boiled down the three core ones: get better sleep, stay more active, and stop selling myself short.
Sleep, I think, is the most crucial of the three. Getting better sleep will help enable better habits going forward. I am scaling back the lateness of my getting up bit by bit. It will help me stay motivated going ahead. It’s frustrating because I know that I am able to do it but have become a little demotivated. But ah well. A work in progress.
Being more active is surprisingly the one I’ve taken most up to. Don’t get me wrong: I won’t be a gym rat any time soon. I hate exercising but I do enjoy having exercised. Doesn’t that sound familiar? I can feel the strength developing in my body, my posture is improving, and my mood is in general a lot more balanced. Healthier body, healthier mind, more creativity.
The third one is harder to catch because it’s more unconscious but there are aspects that I am consciously working on. One strand of this will be accepting my own achievements. I know I can write more than about 100,000 words a year but then undermine the 100,000 I end up producing. But also, I am able to write a 200k novel while writing poetry, alongside doing charity work, and writing other miscellany for this blog, too. I am a varied person and I shouldn’t undervalue myself because of a lack of monetary gain.
There has been a theme with everyone’s conception of 2019 that I’ve been picking up, from friends to known creators: 2019 is less about resolutions in terms of projects to do and more about intention and personal growth. Hannah Witton was talking about the “why?” of the year, for example. Basically, a year of more intentional actions over naked ambition. I think people are taking a break from the “I’m going to do absolutely everything” kind of resolutions to more specific and curated, legitimately achievable goals. This means, of course, smaller things. It’s a fine balance, I think. You can shoot high if you want but achieving anything at all should be focused on and built on, like building something brick by brick. Bigger isn’t intrinsically better. Sometimes it just is bigger.
This is part of my problem with success: that it must be a big and beautiful thing, when really it could be small. There are two questions you should ask yourself before you get to the “how” of your goals: what and why? Why do you want to do this thing you set yourself to do and what does it mean to you? If you can’t answer at least one of those then you should really reassess them.
I have been swept up in the throes of rejection but now I want to invert its role in my life. I’m trying to develop my grit which is part of why I’m going to put myself forward to aim for rejections this year instead of successes. The aim of this is simple: instead of focusing on succeeding outright and getting defeated by rejection emails, I am focusing in on the rejections themselves. The reasoning is manifold, but centres around developing grit and determination: you have to be proactive to get a number of rejections in your inbox or in other words, it pushes you to be more productive! (This post relates to pitching one’s writing specifically but can easily translate into job applications.)
So that’s what I’m aiming for. I’ll set an average of about 2 per month, so 24 this year. I’ll round it up to 30 to make it more ambitious. As of writing this I’ve got two rejections already: whoop! By focusing on achieving my goal I actually feel better for it. Because despite rejection, you are achieving something which is why it doesn’t hurt so much. It also means that because you’re so productive, you are developing certain skills much faster.
So here I am again, at the start of a new year, full of hope and possibly naïveté. But come what may, I’m ready for you 2019. Come at me.
Links and further reading:
Here is the post that started off the aim for x amount of rejections (this one is 100 and for writing but again, this is easily translated).
This article is about productivity and how you can help combat self-sabotaging activities (or procrastination).
Here is a bonus one on work, specifically “hustle culture”.