Is it just me, or was 2016 a terrible horrible no good very bad year? We had Brexit and the US election; ’nuff said. Then there were the deaths of icons: David Bowie, Prince, Keith Emerson, Leonard Cohen, Gene Wilder. Things felt strange on the good days, bleak on the not-so-good-days. On the personal front, I fought through the day job from hell and dealt with a minor but weird medical issue that culminated in surgery.
But in good times or in bad – perhaps especially in bad – writers need to write. We do it to save our sanity and maybe even to save the world. As Donald Maass told the group gathered at the UnConference I attended in early November, the world needs our stories now more than ever. So if 2016 is our inciting incident and writing is our call to action, where are you in your story quest?
Looking back at January 2016 (was it really just a year ago? really???), I was facing months of a crazy day job with impossible deadlines and terrible hours. I anticipated that would mean less time for writing, and unfortunately I was so, so right. But this year I set different goals than in previous years, goals that were not about word counts and finishing multiple stories, but about joie d’ecriture. Now almost 12 months later, it’s time to analyze the results and fess up to how well I did or didn’t fare.
Learn something new every day. I’m not sure I can claim I learned a new thing every single day, but for the first half of the year, I was involved in a new kind of business project that taught me a lot. Some of it was even useful :-). The second half of the year, I carved out time to learn more about the writing business, particularly the techno-elements of self-publishing. There’s still a lot to learn, but as I plan my first self-pub launch for 2017, I’m finally starting to feel comfortable with a lot of the aspects of it. And learning never ends, so the new year will afford plenty of opportunities to continue expanding my mind.
Make mental connections. Speaking of expanding my mind, the plan for this goal was to use my new knowledge for writing fodder. As a writer, I’m not sure I have much choice. Information that my writer brain sorts and stores and synthesizes today becomes story detail tomorrow or next month or next year. As an additional exercise, I did occasionally make notes about some of the people I met and what seemed to make them tick, and lessons (some of them painful) I learned, and impressions of places I visited. As I’ve started new stories during the last quarter of 2016, I’ve tapped those notes for details to include in my characters and settings. And just recently, I finally did something I’d been intending to do for for years, something that I hope will help calm and focus me and clarify mental connections: I started meditating. More on that in January.
Make social connections. When I made the original joie d’ecriture list, I said the five goals were in no particular order. As the year progressed and then nosedived, this one rose to the top of the list. In person IRL, I was fortunate enough to spend time with all four of my besties and oldest writing pals over a long weekend in August, and have seen them individually throughout the year. Online, I realize how lucky I am to have the Eight Ladies as friends and fellow writers. Unexpectedly, I joined a whole new writing tribe in November when I went to the Writer Unboxed UnConference. I’ve written about the singular experience that was the conference and the brilliant writing workshops, but I haven’t talked about the most amazing aspect of that entire week – the deep and abiding camaraderie. While I met most of the 100 attendees and regularly interacted with about 25 of them, I’ve gathered a circle of 10 close new friends from states across the US. We still keep in touch on a private FB page and through group texts that are by turns supportive, outrageous, and hilarious. (Oh, and I think I did a few social things with some people who weren’t writers, but you know…mostly writers.)
Drink more wine. Really, really good wine. While I might not have had more wine in regard to quantity in 2016, I certainly did go out of my way to have some tried and true favorites like Belle Glos Pinot Noir and Silver Oak Cabernet on a more regular basis. And in September, I took a detour into the wider world of spirits to try dozens of new-to-me bourbons at multiple tasting events to celebrate National Bourbon Heritage Month. My husband, who shares my interest in bourbon if not my fervor to collect it, was very supportive of me bringing home several bottles of newfound favorites. He even had one engraved for me.
Enjoy story. I knew this one would be easy, but shouldn’t we have an easily-attainable goal every now and then? Some of the new stories I’ve enjoyed this past year included binge watching the first two season’s of Showtime’s The Affair, the just-concluded first season of HBO’s Westworld, and USA’s Falling Water (season 1 still in progress). As for books, I’ve read oodles. Among my favorites were The Trespasser by Tana French, A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny, The Girl With a Clock for a Heart by Peter Swanson, and a reread of Tell Me Lies by Jennifer Crusie. Next on my list is Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (first the book, then the HBO series in 2017). Yes, yes, I know, we’re primarily romance writers/readers here. I read dozens of those as well. While I love lots of romance subgenres, this year I was on an historical kick. If it was by Tessa Dare, Courtney Milan, or Sarah MacLean, I probably read it in 2016.
So how did you and your writing fare in 2016? As we say farewell to this strange and interesting year (as in the Chinese curse ‘may you live in interesting times), here’s a little pick-me-up for you, especially if you’re a fan of ’80’s music: Steven Colbert and some friends singing an ode to the end of the ‘year’ as we know it. And next week, in my last post of 2016, I’ll share a j’oie d’ecriture-inspired Christmas vignette.