Tuesday, January 4, 2011

January GLVWG newsletter column

There's no way to write a column in January and avoid the clichés of the new year. Yes, I said, "new year," lowercase. I'm not talking about a holiday or festivities because let's face facts. Does anyone keep resolutions? Does anyone put more than a day's thought into what's possible, what's practical and what's not? 
I stumbled about some superstitions that amused me briefly. Apparently it's good luck to wear red underwear in Turkey, Spain and some other countries during New Year's celebrations. The reason we like to make noise and stay up late is traced to the belief that a hearty ruckus will chase evil spirits from our lives and give us a clean start.
And those resolutions... I won't be losing weight or heading to the gym or eating vegan any time soon. I won't be writing every day, nor will I set word count goals like 1,000 words a sitting. Chances are I won't even manage to set my pen to my journal once a day. 
Let me propose a new kind of goal setting for writers that doesn't revolve around time limits or statistics. You know what you are capable of already, and you already know if you'll make or break your resolution. So, let's try something a little less clear-cut, something harder to define in terms of success or failure.
This group provides tremendous opportunities for networking and support, but with that comes the unavoidable comparisons. Some people can write everyday, for hours (I used to, and my average writing session would go 5,000 words). Some can't. We all should. I don't deny that. Someone else might be published, and you're not. Well, an unpublished author doesn't have to worry about marketing like the author with a new book. This are some of the reasons why even at GLVWG, we're not equal peers.
My proposal is to avoid comparing yourself to the successes and to the goals of others in this group. Instead, aim to work more like your favorite author. Do you know the work habits of that person? Can you find out? Do they write longhand or on a computer? Do they have a day job? They once did, I'm sure. How do they balance the demands of life and literary art? What inspires them?
Maybe, just maybe, by researching the habits of someone who's work we admire, whose work we'd love to emulate, we could approach our work with a new freshness and sense of purpose. The motivation would come from our own attraction to words, and those individual tastes that appeal to each of us.
I adore Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. There's a diversity in his writing that I hope one day to achieve. He wrote letters, detailed accounts of what was happening in France not just his personal comings and goings. He wrote accounts of his flights across the world in the early days of aviation. He wrote the classic children's story, "the Little Prince." 
I don't know when or how he wrote, but I know the themes that emerge again and again: responsibility, country, what's right, and how we view the world (especially as we grow older). I know many of the details in his life that made these themes important to him, or at least, I think I know. 
Now that I reflect, I realize that coming from a family of nobility gave him this sense of responsibility toward his wife and his country. This responsibility would restrict his behavior, but in the end he did what he felt was right, what needed to be done, not what would please him. Or so I think. 
As creative people with families and jobs, don't we make the same sacrifice to our responsibilities? Perhaps Saint-Ex can help me balance the responsibilities I have created for myself.
I'll also heed the warnings of Saint-Ex and let my six-and-a-half year old guide me more. Her instructions for today were quite clear. She told me to do no more than five chores. Then, she listed them: tap dance, edit the manuscript I have from a client, write a column for the GLVWG newsletter and cook dinner. Don't count them. It's only four. That's the brilliance of her plan. 
Yes, Saint-Ex may inspire me to a very good year. Maybe I should learn to fly a plane...

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