After a good midday hike, I decided to go to Trader Joe’s and pick up a few items for dinner. It was only three in the afternoon, but the parking lot was already packed. While I waited for a woman to back out of her space, my blinker blinking, several horns honked and one guy actually yelled out his car window, “Jesus Christ, come on!” As far as I could tell Jesus Christ wasn’t in the vicinity and the building was not on fire. Somebody yelled back, “Calm the F down!”
This suddenly seemed like a lot of trouble to go to for a couple of chicken breasts and some green beans. Why the hell was everybody freaking out? That’s when I remembered it was almost Thanksgiving.
Tis the season when things (and by things I mean, of course, people, not just writers) go insane. What is it about the holidays that make us crazy? We have unrealistic expectations, childhood memories, odd family members, Hollywood Christmas movies, plus a list of unaccomplished New Year’s resolutions.
Ah, that list of unaccomplished New Year’s resolutions. Did you meet all of your literary goals in 2015? How can you have a more fulfilling writer’s life in 2016?
May I recommend my Writer’s Holiday Diet?
Hold on. Don’t freak out. Nobody said anything about giving up the stuffing. That’s completely insane. I’m talking about replacing some bad habits with a few healthy actions you can take into the New Year.
I know, I know. Everyone gives gratitude lip service around the holidays, but that usually only lasts until January 2nd. I’m talking about developing a daily practice of gratitude as an action.
At the year’s end, many writers walk a well-worn path of emotional cutting (“I didn’t do this,” “I should have done that”). This practice of complaint becomes an unbearable weight that leads to unhappiness. As an exercise, try being grateful.
Make a list of everything you did for your writing in 2015. For example, took a screenwriting class, wrote in a journal, wrote a paragraph, created a blog, sent my work out and got rejected by thirty-five people, got an agent, finished the rough draft of my novel, purchased Final Draft.
If the list is empty, set it aside.
Make a list of everyone who helped you in 2015. Developing a sense of appreciation requires courage and humility.
When we understand everything and everyone that had to come together to make this year possible, we will find gratitude. Gratitude lightens the day, opens windows in the mind and brings the fresh air back into our writing. It is our powerful weapon against the darkness of inhumanity.
It may take your whole life to develop, so start right away.
Writers sabotage themselves in many ways for many reasons.
We make huge goals. Make The New York Times Bestseller List, Earn A Six-Figure a Year Living, Win A Booker Prize, A Pulitzer or An Academy Award.
We stay in fantasy. Do you talk about your writing more than you actually write? Are you waiting to write until your circumstances change? Did you purchase Final Draft but never install it on your computer?
We procrastinate. Did you binge-watch “Master of None” because it’s totally awesome, or sleep an extra hour, fixate on Facebook or Twitter, go to the gym, clean house, make an elaborate dinner, talk with a friend on the phone today?
The end of the year is symbolically a time for self-reflection. Not self-flagellation. It’s the perfect time to enlighten.
Make a list of everything you do for seven days. Account for every hour. Add it up. What writer’s actions did you take? How effective were they? If you find some self-defeating habits, write about them. They might be worth exploring.
Refer to your gratitude list.
I once had an instructor ask for a buzzword to use if the course went off track. I said, using my best GPS English accent, “Recalculating.”
Once you discover what you’re actually doing, or not, for your writing life: don’t criticize just recalculate the course.
For example, if every afternoon you stand for thirty minutes in front of the TV and watch Real Housewives while stuffing Pirate Booty in your face, recalculate. Take a stab at writing that difficult scene in your script instead while eating Pirate Booty.
If you’re a morning person, get up thirty minutes earlier. Make coffee (or tea), set an alarm, and write straight for thirty minutes. Then go shower and head off to work.
If you were discouraged by bad producer notes and can’t find your way back into the script, sign up for a supportive writing class.
There is always one action you can take today that will change the direction of your writer’s life in 2016. If you can't do it alone - that's what I'm here for.
GRATITUDE - SELF-REFLECT - RECALCULATE
Now, enjoy a second helping of garlic mashed potatoes and spoon on the gravy. Hell, steal the turkey leg from Grandma’s to make a soup later. Just don't forget to say "Thank you!"