By Joycelyn Moody - JMoody's Musings, Writing
Looking at a list of writing goals held over from last semester? Feeling miserable that it’s your umpteenth year of resolving to finish that article, to write that paper before you’re sitting on a plane to the conference, to wind up that book proposal to share with colleagues?
Go ahead, it’s a new year: give yourself a break and any necessary permission to reset with a clean slate. And as you ease into self-forgiveness, consider implementing these steps I recommend after my long career of sputtering to jumpstart not just one writing project but a veritable swarm of them.
Draft an exhaustive list of all your pie in the sky writing goals.
Set a timer for 30 minutes. Grab a soothing drink. Turn on your Zen music. Sit down with your favorite tools for recording essential ideas. Mine are paper and pen; I feel more creative when I write by hand.
Draft a thorough list of unfinished writing goals. Don’t hold back. Large and small. Academic, professional, personal: a blog about a research find, the tedious bibliography keeping you from submitting an overdue article manuscript, the book review you’ll write once you finish reading that book. Try to breathe through the inevitable worry that making an exhaustive list will leave you too exhausted for forward movement. Throw up those writing projects like a cat tossing up hairballs—get it all out of your gut, head, heart, wherever it lies, and onto paper.
Take a break.
Organize your list by due date.
Gather up your Chihuahua, spaniel, pound mutt, formerly feral friend, your stuffed animal, your meditation pillow cuz this step is gonna hurt.
Strike out everything that doesn’t have an external due date attached to it. Then—deep breath--pledge not to add a single writing project to your list this year.
I speak from shameful experience when it comes to setting goals making commitments I simply should not have made. Umm, as I drafted my list to share with you (below), I cringed seeing how my unfinished list reveals my idiocy. (How not to break the “No More!” pledge should be my next blog.)
Like me, long list, short list, I’m betting you’ve got zero space for another goal. Oh, yes, those shiny new opportunities will pop up in the coming term. As I’ve done way too many times, you’ll swear this project is exactly what you’ve always wanted to do. You ignore the voices warning of a similar list of incompletes this time next year.
Maybe you’re approaching your list with zeal, sure you are just gonna settle down and write, and soon be ticking off one fulfilled goal after another. Uh-huh. Even if you are a fantastic organizer, you are probably reading this blog because you’re painfully overcommitted.
After you’ve separated out your time-specific goals, create categories for any remaining tasks. Put every single item on your list into one specific category. My top two tend to be writing for publication and writing for presentation.
Stop here for the day. Dangle the fishing pole for your kitty. Meditate a while. Schedule an appointment. Walk outside. Call a friend. Leave your list for now.
Delete, delete, delegate, and barter.
To write this blog, I sat down with my own exhaustive list of writing projects. Note my list doesn’t include my personal plans to move house before spring break. Not the annual faculty report. Not my classroom teaching or the three graduate degree theses committees I’m on. Nor my work for the annual African American Studies Spring Symposium, or for the summer pipeline program I direct. And on and…
Here’s what my list looked like in the last week of 2016:
Now that I’ve recovered from a panic attack, I’ll continue. Here’s my revised list:
Hell or high water
Last and least, with survival strategies
Maybe One Day
I got real with myself by considering what my list could cost my body and my mental health. Since I want to work joyfully, I brainstormed ways to minimize my obligations while also stretching my intellect and preserving my health. I reconceptualized each project for value added to my edition introduction. A bonus: African American autobiography is also the topic of my spring undergraduate seminar.
I crazily overcommitted myself last term—and I’m still overcommitted. I ought not to have agreed to write so many letters (for all my desire to support colleagues) or to give as many presentations (though I’m eager to support local libraries). I should have declined a couple of other projects, too, that I haven’t even shared here. I could be using that time on my latest civilian pastime: testing dairy-free, gluten-free recipes for my squeeze.
So, with you as my witness, going forward, I pledge three new behaviors: I’ll glue my new writing commitments list to my forehead (okay…maybe next to my computer or on my cell phone’s homepage). I’ll mindfully consult it on the regular. And I’ll resist any impulse not to consult it before adding to it.
Then in turn, I’ll allow myself some guilt-free celebrations for accomplishing my writing commitments, first up the manicure I’ve long delayed, and then whenever I want: ditching school for a date with a novel, a weeknight movie party for one, and the best, a Sunday drive to the Texas coast with a home-cooked picnic for two.
Until next time,