Thursday, January 28, 2010

On Writer's Guilt

Usually when we refer to writer’s guilt, we are talking about how we feel when we are avoiding writing. But I suffer from a different malady—guilt when I am writing.

When I think of all that needs doing in the world at this moment, I am reluctant to tap out my insignificant little stories or even this blog. That world encompasses the unfathomable numbers of people in Haiti who need food, shelter, and medical attention as well as my friend whose grown daughter stopped breathing and consequently lost most of her vision. It includes the daily pleas I receive to phone my congressman and let my views be known on important pending pieces of legislation to improve our general welfare.

I gave money in aid of Haiti; I made a vegetable lasagna for my friend because she said she wasn’t eating properly; I’ve signed a few petitions. These acts aren’t dues so that I can write with a clear conscience. They don’t feel like enough especially when I hear or read about individuals who sacrifice their time in service of others. I can remind myself that my paid work targets programs intended to meet the needs of underserved populations, either directly or indirectly, and that this work takes up a great deal of my time. Then I feel like I am rationalizing. Is it all those years in Quaker schools?

I know that the arts of all kinds enrich people’s lives, whether they themselves are participating in the creation of that art of whether they are enjoying the fruits of someone else’s creativity. But who, other than my loyal writing friends and family members, even sees what I produce? I can convince myself that I will have more to give if I meet some of my own needs first (kind of like putting on your own face mask in the airplane before you put on your child’s)—to eat properly (unlike my friend), to exercise, and yes, to write.

And maybe there is some truth to that. I often fantasize about what I’d do if money were no object, if I was the next J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, or John Grisham. I’d like to think that I would use my wealth to make others’ lives better. The paradox is that if I wrote with the goal of making large sums of money, I probably shouldn’t be writing. Unlike the protagonist in the very funny novel How I Became a Famous Novelist (Steve Hely, 2009), I don’t believe there is any obvious formula.

So I am back to my dilemma. Maybe the everyday acts of kindness should be enough, and maybe, just maybe if I work at it hard enough, one day….

Sunday, January 3, 2010

On Resolutions, Goals, and Reso-Goals

I have never been big on New Year’s resolutions. They smack of being too lofty and often not very achievable. Some people consider the shift in the calendar a rather arbitrary time to make changes (especially those who may live on an academic calendar), but Uncle Sam asks us to report on our income and expenses for the calendar year, so for me, in cleaning out my records (a tale for another blog), it’s always a good reckoning point. However, if the old-fashioned resolution isn’t satisfactory, what’s the best approach?

According to the New Oxford American Dictionary a resolution is a “firm decision to do or not do something.” We all know how that goes. Exercise more, eat healthier, be nicer to my family, get organized, live a greener life, do my part to promote world peace. How do you know if you’ve arrived?

Some people prefer goals instead. Goal. “The object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim with desired results.”

The resolution is more of a change in behavior without a purpose attached, while the goal focuses on the end point. Do the ends justify any means? In this day and age of terrorists and greed, we’ve seen a little too much focus on the ends. Shouldn’t there be a meeting point where sensible means produce the desired results?

Years ago, as mentioned in an earlier blog entry, I taught time management. There I introduced the concept of the SMART goal, which I notice has not gone out of vogue, probably because it still makes a lot of sense. (I’m not claiming I invented it, but I was rather fond of it.) Specific (see the remaining four characteristics), measurable (how do you know when you’ve arrived?), achievable, realistic (these last two seem similar--not too grandiose given your circumstances), and set within a timeframe.

But even the SMART goal doesn’t talk about the means. So I am going to create a new concept—the reso-goal, which considers both means and ends.

Reso-goal—a firm decision to change behavior in a way that is considered desirable and ongoing that leads to a desired result. Both the behavior and the result should be measurable, achievable, realistic, and set within a timeframe.

I’ll throw in another characteristic—accountability. We all know that by announcing our intentions, we tend to be more honest.

In that spirit, I commit myself to the following reso-goals related to writing for 2010.

1. Complete revisions of my novel on the travails of two women in their middle years (by March 1), obtain further critique from three trusted reviewers (by April 15), make final revisions, prepare manuscript to send out to agents by June 1.
2. Write short synopsis and query letter to be reviewed by six people each.
3. Research appropriate agents and send to 5 a month once manuscript is ready, for a total of 30, if needed by end of year.
4. Write on average two blog entries a month (can cheat and make at least four of these primarily photographic in nature).
5. Write six new short stories for Maine collection (average length-4000 words), or approximately one every two months.
6. Read on average one good novel a month (slow reader…)—already in my possession, used, or borrowed. Only buy new if attending a book signing.
7. Spend at least 20 days in Maine to get inspired for #5.
8. Skim through all magazines, reading only what really interests me (vague, I know—sometimes you have to go with your gut), and complete by end of month in which they arrive, in order to make time for 1-7.

You’ve heard it here. I’ll report about it in January 2011. What are your reso-goals?

Oh, I promise to focus on world peace once the novel gets published or when I no longer have to earn a living, whichever comes first.