Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Another successful year? Depends on how you track it

I’m writing from the end of a marginally disappointing year and the start of a new one filled with promise. 

The fact is, all years are filled with promise at the start, and many disappoint at the end, or else feel kind of neutral. Very seldom do we look back with satisfaction at how much butt we kicked in the previous twelve months. Even when we kick butt, those butts left unkicked come more readily to view in all of their roseate kickability.

A lot of my writer friends are in the habit of reporting year-end stats: how many submissions they made, what percentage of submitted works were accepted, that kind of thing. I am a huge fan of goal setting and tracking, so I am all for this, even if I can’t participate very easily this year—my records are in chaos and I didn’t submit a whole lot anyway. I did publish my favorite flash fiction piece I’ve written, and an interview with it to boot, and that was very satisfying. But publishing activity is quite time consuming, and lack of time was the major theme of my 2017. I have to work very hard as an adjunct instructor to cobble together a living, and my spare time is mostly accounted for elsewhere.

When I see my friends posting outstanding stats, I feel excited for their progress. Good things are built from publishing individual works—book contracts, opportunities to read, careers, advancement. A lot of people I know work extremely hard on making their magic happen, and I am fully here for that.

Unfortunately, other friends report some despondency when they look back at the year just passed. Some submitted a lot but had poor results. Many, like me, didn’t submit much, and a few of these feel the weight of missed opportunities.

I do wonder if there’s not more value to tracking other factors than our submission flow-through. What if we were to quantify the words we wrote, for instance? (I do most of my poetry drafting longhand, often on handy scraps that I employ and promptly lose, so this is darn near unquantifiable for me, but the idea of counting words feels like a move in a good direction.)

What if, too, we were to count the finished works we created, whether good or bad—a count of the stuff that’s done? Then the end of the year would be spent not in a flurry of final submissions, but in nailing that final couplet on a sonnet or finally solving the problem of how to conclude that essay without resorting to bookending. I think I’d feel very satisfied closing out some drafts as I closed out the year.

And wouldn’t it be lovely if we had the discernment and self-love to assess the beauty we made in a given year? Or the truth we told? Or, embracing the Keatsean understanding, both?

I’ve had many poems that were non-starters that nevertheless had wisdom in them—an image or a line or a phrase that was just right, and that sang straight to the moon. But maybe the poem was a goner, and the snippet wouldn’t fit in another poem or story or essay. Maybe I gave up and posted it on social media. It was still true, right? Still beautiful? Where’s our count of that?

It’s my belief that for writers, a measure is more apt than a count. Rather than tapping each accomplishment on its head to account for it, it’s OK to look back on a year (or a life) and to see that there’s a lot there—the spirit had substance, and it’s impossible to throw our arms wide enough to take it all in.

When we’re writing, we’re allowing our very best selves a chance to be present. In my own private way of construing it, we’re tapping in to a higher intelligence that is allowed to express through us, and every moment spent at the page or in our imaginings is time that we allow wisdom and compassion to flow through us. Even if we have a different notion of the source of intelligence, wherever it comes from, we ought to give it opportunity to express, and that’s the very special thing that writers do.

Think of all the lesser things that took up our time in 2017—television reruns, “presidential” tweets, shaving, bagging leaves, sorting mail. So much of life happens without lyricism. If we made any room at all for beauty last year, we should give ourselves credit for contributing to the net good, and perhaps resolve to do it again in 2018.



  1. I love how you write about being a potter when you write about being a writer.

  2. What about THINKING about raking leaves, but not doing it? Does that count?