This month, the Sweet Sixteens are blogging about our reading resolutions for 2015. This made me start think about my writing resolutions too, which spiraled into an internal dialogue about expectation. Not other people’s expectation of me, but my expectations for myself. And I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that the bar we set for ourselves is the hardest one to jump over.
As writers, words are our currency. We type hundreds, maybe thousands of them, at a time. We fill Word documents and notebooks and random scraps of paper and Post-Its and even napkins at restaurants with them. We add them. We delete them. We string them together, craft them into characters, emotions, relationships, scenes. We use them to make people laugh and cry. We turn them into entire books. And that’s a pretty amazing thing.
But I’d be lying if I said it was all about words. Because numbers squeeze their way into a writer’s world too. And once numbers become part of the equation, it’s hard to not notice them. On Twitter, where we can report how many words we have written on any given day and keep each other accountable. On the calendar in my office, where I reward myself with a sticker on days when I write at least a thousand words. On Goodreads, where we can keep track of how many books we have read throughout the year and see how many our peers have read. During NaNoWriMo, when the magic number everybody wants to hit is 50,000 words.
It’s easy to turn words into numbers and measure progress that way. I do it all the time.
So my resolution for 2015 is not to.
That’s not to say I’ll abandon my calendar or my shiny little heart stickers. That’s not to say I won’t feel a swell of pride when I hit the 5K mark after a productive afternoon. I’ll still do a happy dance and have a big glass of wine when I finish a new first draft. But my goal for 2015 is to measure progress in different ways. Progress doesn’t have to be a thousand brand new words. Progress might be editing a current manuscript, taking it to the next level. Progress might be a blog post or a short story or experimentation with something that might go nowhere. Progress might be taking a day off to read a book I’m excited about. Progress might be taking words away instead of adding them.
2014 was a busy writing year for me. I wrote three new WIPs. I edited FIRSTS, turning it into the book that sold to my amazing editor, Kat Brzozowski at Thomas Dunne Books. Then I edited some more. 2014 was a year of first drafts and revising. I also read a decent amount– somewhere in the ballpark of 65 books in a variety of genres. 2014 was a year of words and numbers. And it was incredible– I honestly wouldn’t change a thing. I successfully achieved the thing I wanted most to do, which was silence my inner editor, trust my instincts, and just write. I learned to love fast-drafting above all else.
Except the more I wrote, the harder I became on myself when I took a day off. The harder it became for me to measure progress by anything other than adding new words. I became a bit obsessive about word count. I was in a competition with myself, desperate to keep the flow going. And there’s nothing wrong with expecting a lot of yourself. Inner competition drives us, keeps us trying to make our writing better. But there has to be a balance.
My problem was, if I wasn’t adding new words, I felt like I wasn’t accomplishing anything. I felt like I was wasting time. If I fell short of a word goal, I was disheartened and felt like I had failed.
This year, I want to make those three first drafts shine. And that will mean a lot of things. Rewriting. Cutting scenes. Outlining. Making notes to myself in margins. A lot of this will be slow, tedious work. A big chunk of this will mean I have no new words to show for myself. And I’m okay with that. Because in 2015, I’m measuring progress not by how many words are on a page, but how I feel about what I’m doing. Just like I learned in 2014 to silence my inner editor, in 2015 I’m telling my inner critic, the one keeping score, to take a vacation.
So while my goals for 2015 aren’t all that tangible, they’re the goals that make the most sense to me. I want to make progress more about how I feel than what I do.
I’d love to know– do you have any reading or writing resolutions for 2015?