Growing up I always felt that New Year’s resolutions were a bit silly, and for the most part I still do. This view may be in part to the fact that I first learned about them from TV. People would set goals like losing weight or quitting smoking, and invariably they never fellow through. Then as the year drew to a close, they would panic and wacky hi-jinks would ensue.
Yet for the last few years I’ve been making resolutions of my own. Last year it was to submit poetry to two different places a month. And for several years before that, it was to submit poetry to one place a month.
Submitting my work is one of my least favorite parts of writing. You have to research different literary magazines—all of which suggest that you buy an issue. I don’t blame them; they publish work so people will read it, and you shouldn’t publish your work in magazine that your unwilling to read. However, poets are not known for their large incomes—so it is impossible to buy issues of all the magazines you are going to submit your work to. Yet I still feel guilty about not being able to support these publications.
You must also carefully read the guidelines, proof your work, and construct a cover letter. During this whole process you are aware that the most likely result is rejection. And sometimes you don’t even get that courtesy.
I realized that I just needed a random goal to force myself to submit. Submitting wasn’t something impossible or even painful, just an activity I would avoid when I could. I know that a lot of other writers like arbitrary goals as well. That is the whole point of NaNoWriMo after all.
There is the myth of the inspired writer who only takes up the pen when they feel the spirit of the muse enter them. In my experience there are only really two types writer who use this process. The first is the writer who is always complaining how they work never matches the ideas in their head (one is rarely inspired to do thorough revisions). The second is someone who plans to write, one day, when they are inspired and have the time to so (which is the to say someone who isn’t writer at all). There may be those geniuses who only write when inspired and each sentence is constructed to perfection—but I have yet to met them.
The problem with writing is it isn’t always fun. Regardless your genre, a writer will have to write a first draft, revise (who knows how many times), do research (yes, poets do research too), proof and submit. These steps can come in different order and are often repeated, and each writer will prefer different aspects. Some love to do research while others hate it. Some would rather throw out a bad first draft than revise, while I find revision the most fulfilling part of writing. Writers need goals and deadlines, even arbitrary ones, to get through the boring bits.
New Years resolutions work perfectly. It gives you a whole year and you can create whichever resolution you wish. Whether you write a novel through the year or a short story every month is up to you. You have to create the time to write it and put in the effort. Also be ready to change your process if it does not work. If you planned to write everyday but find that you can only do it every other day, change your resolution. This should be about getting a process that works for you.
However, do not select something that you don’t have any control over. My first resolution back in 2003 or 2004 was to publish a poem by the end of the year—and if I didn’t I would give up writing. While I religiously submitted my work, I was rejected every time. Looking back, I realize that I was still learning and was writing some awful poems—which maybe had a little potential. I would like to think that it was a good thing that I didn’t followed through on my promise.
Looking forward to next year, I probably will have the same resolution as I did this year. There were a couple of months where I slacked off. Repeating this resolution is all right, because the point isn’t to meet to the resolution itself, but to make sure I keep sending my poems into the world.