My husband has long said that January is the worst time to start a New Year, especially if you live in the Northern Hemisphere. January means short days, cold air, and an abundance of chores. It’s hard to feel hopeful about anything at this time of year. Instead, I’m inclined to hibernate and focus on soothing activities: reading books, cooking soup and baking cookies.
But write? Send out query letters? Revise my novel? Yikes. I need a nap.
I’m not alone. Psychologist Cliff Arnall dubbed yesterday, the third Monday in January, “Blue Monday.” He said, “Motivational levels also tend to be quite low at this time of year.” A survey in the UK revealed that most people expected to fail on their resolutions by Friday, January 24. All over the web, you’ll find doom and gloom predictions about your New Year’s Resolutions:
So here’s the thing: stuff happens. Whether we’re talking about keeping New Year’s resolutions or sticking to a writing schedule: not everything works out perfectly. As Sarah Jessica Parker said:
After all, computers crash, people die, and relationships fall apart. The best we can do is breathe and reboot.
Ahhh. That’s the ticket: reboot.
Anyone who’s owned a computer, smart phone or MP3 player knows the value of rebooting. It’s often a quick and easy fix for a malfunctioning program or a stuck system. Writers, what we need right now is a life reboot!
Reflect. When my computer crashed last September, it was because I’d given it an enormous task. The small amount of available working memory couldn’t handle the amount of data I’d thrown at it. Of course, I paid someone $95 an hour to figure that out!
Just like computer crashes, most resolutions fail for a reason. We might be tempted to blame ourselves, but that doesn’t help anyone. Instead we need to put on our scientist hat and examine the data: what’s getting in the way of our success?
When I examined my slow start to the year, I realized that I wasn’t writing because I was trying to work on too many new projects at once. I couldn’t focus because I was juggling three writing projects, laundry, and kids. No wonder I left the wet laundry in the washing machine for three days last week. When I restart, I’ll lower my expectations. Before you reboot, reflect. Don’t beat up yourself. Just note what worked and what didn’t. The information will help you start better.
Start small and move slowly. When it comes to new stuff, turtle time works best. Choose one small action to work on. Instead of “work on novel every day” try “work on writing a scene from 3-3:30 PM every M-W-F.”
Stop comparing your progress to others. It happens every day. I finish my work, check Facebook, and discover that everyone in my timeline is skinny, tan, and in Aruba. They’ve just published their tenth novel to raving reviews. On top of that, they’ve been recognized for having the best blog in the Universe. I can’t get to the chocolate fast enough. Can you relate? If so, you might have a tiny little problem with comparing yourself to others as well. Stop it. You can only do what you can do. And if you can’t stop it, don’t look at what others are doing. Just focus on your own project.
Stuff Happens. Forgive Yourself. Okay writers, it took me many years to realize this, and I’m still working on it: I’m not in charge of the world and neither are you. (Dang! If only!) Stuff happens every day. We can plan everything, and it can still fall apart. Stuff happens. Love and forgive yourself. And start again.
1. Restart your New Year. (Party, hats, and champagne optional). A 2013 study on The Fresh Start Effect showed that people do better with new goals immediately following a new start in the calendar—a birthday or the beginning of a week, month, or year.
If you need to restart your resolutions, choose your date. Plan an evening of reflection (or a party), chuck the old stuff, set a new resolution and begin again the next day.
2. Restart your writing. Rebooting works for writing, too. When your writing isn’t working, stop. Save and close everything. Walk away for a while. Restart in one of these ways:
+Consider what kind of fresh energy your project needs. Do you need to write it in a different format? Do you need to write it in a different place? At a different time? Do you need an outside eye to look at it?
+Do you need to do something totally different? What project would you work on if you could start fresh? Do that.
+Open a new document and ask: How would I write this if I lost everything? If I had to start from scratch?
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