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On New Year’s Resolutions, And Writing

Most years, I try to keep my New Year’s resolutions manageable. I’ve found that when you attempt a year-long uber-goal it becomes insurmountable after a few months (if not weeks [if not days]) and after one day falling off the wagon, you’re off for good. So usually, my resolution is super-small. In fact, I’ve had the same one for the past four to five years: no using my phone on January 1st.

That’s it. That’s the whole resolution, which, given the amount I use my phone is pretty hard, but is also very rewarding to make it all the way through (it helps to be around people who have phones, so you don’t get lost; and no, that’s not cheating).

This year is different: I’m going against my own instincts, and attempting an uber-goal:

Write for at least an hour, every day.

Due to the nature of my position at work (I’ve been moving more into managing vs. creating), general life obligations (two kids, one of whom is a three year old who needs a lot of attention), and the state of the world (I think you’re aware of this one), I’ve been finding less motivation to write.

Writing, though, makes me happy. It gives me motivation. When I’m writing, I feel sharper and more on top of everything else I’m doing in my life. But for the first time in my life, I’ve gotten so out of practice with writing that I’ve found the process of banging out words on a keyboard actually makes my brain feel like there are gears grinding. I’ve really never had a huge issue with “writer’s block” before, but I guess this is what it feels like? I’m not even joking when I say I’ve sat down to write at points last year where I get to the end of a sentence, and almost heard a click as the door to the “words” section of my brain shut.

I’ve tried a few other ways of keeping my brain fresh: crossword puzzles, Scrabble, reading as much as possible… But they don’t work the same way for me that writing does. (By the way, a quick note to clarify that I’m not saying I’m an amazing writer, or a wordsmith of any level… Just that I need writing to keep me sane).

I’ve certainly tweeted a lot, and that might be the issue: training my brain to think in 140 character bits (now 280 character) means that going longer isn’t an option.

Whatever it is, though, it’s not making me happier or a more productive person. Looking over my list of favorite pieces from the previous year (not just professionally published pieces, but ones written for my own pleasure), I had slimmer pickings than any other year in recent memory… I just didn’t create a whole lot.

So I started to think about what the best resolution was to break this funk. Initially I thought “publish something original, not for work, every day,” but that seemed like exactly the sort of resolution that was prime for breaking. Then I thought, “publish something every day,” and again, that was a recipe for just churning out crap. Finally, I settled on “write an hour, every day,” with a secret goal of publishing something new every weekday.

This is, I want to also clarify, not revelatory, or anything new for me, or even that insurmountable. There are people who write novels every November for goodness sake. But I’m having an issue, and getting back to my original point wanted to make this resolution something that didn’t just work for me, but also my family (I can’t say, “hey wife, take care of the kids from now on, I’m off writin’ like an American jerk”).

That’s why an hour a day works. And taking the publishing part off the table allows me to work on shorter pieces, as well as longer pieces… If I don’t have the pressure to output something new every day of the year, I can take a little more time to make everything good. Or at least serviceable.

The other thing I’m allowing myself to do is not worry about stats, or promotion, or anything like that. If something comes out of these pieces, great. I’ll plug the heck out of them. But it’s more about challenging myself to first get back in the rhythm of writing, and second try new formats, new voices, new ideas. I’ve been stuck in a mode for a while (and stuck in no mode for the past year). Let’s shake it up.

By the way, if you’re having any issues like this with writing, or tackling writer’s block, here’s some advice I put together to help you out (and frankly, I should really follow my own advice):

https://medium.com/@azalben/how-to-write-when-you-have-nothing-to-write-about-34a8619af807

PS: In case you’re wondering since I’m posting this on the 8th of January, yep, I’ve done an hour every day so far… It’s been rough getting going, but it feels good. And no, I haven’t published something new every day.

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