unsticking from writer’s remorse in the new year

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It’s a new year, and I was still toting like old baggage writerly guilt from the last weeks of 2019, hindering any New Year resolution-making. But because I followed an underlying assumption—that resolutions will be broken—I never made promises to myself in the past and I wasn’t about to start of this year with making them. Guilt from breaking any promise is too overwhelming. My held-over writer’s remorse was enough for me to handle.

I thought about why we bother to make resolutions. After all, we’re human and the odds are that we will fail and so will our intentions.  An intention to always be kind, for example, snaps because we’ve had a bad, emotional day. Life gets in the way, too, and because of unforeseeable circumstances, vowing to get a new job just didn’t happen.

I likened a perspective, that sometimes an intention results in something that can’t be measured, to my intention for the remaining weeks of last year. I wanted to finish a first draft of a new book and rewrites of a short story. I wanted a result of produced pages and rewritten stories. It didn’t happen.

December 18. That was the last date I worked on my fiction manuscript; only half-way completed.

December 5. That was the date I posted my last blog of 2019 and reworked a couple of short stores.

My last submission to anywhere was . . . well . . . does a writers’ workshop count?

Two weeks and five days of a vacation . . . from any writing, and I had no words to show for it. I became so stuck on the idea of being in writer draught that I thought I should change “writer” from an avocation to a hobby along with cooking, knitting sweaters and collecting books about trees.

Draught and guilt can make a writer stuck.

When feeling stuck about anything you’re desperate to unglue your feet and to get moving again. To dig deep to see what my holdup was about, I needed to stop dwelling on the fact that I had many wordless days. Being hard on myself just because I hadn’t produced pages or even paragraphs of words in almost three weeks was neither productive nor motivating. My inner dialogue needed a shift in the conversation.

I thought about what else there was to those weeks. Well, I read three books — a memoir, a novel, and a lovely book of short stories. At first I believed it to be a quick read, but the memoir’s 160 pages of sexual abuse, addiction, mental health, and racial cruelty made me turn them slowly to understand the meaning behind each packed sentence. The memoirist’s voice was emotional, sad, and depressing. I acknowledged her courage and strength to write it, but it was a difficult read. It made me reflect on my own memoir writing.

I owed myself continued study of fiction for writing book number two, so I thought I couldn’t go wrong with a NY Times best seller which, I can honestly say, I couldn’t contribute to its best-seller status. Apparently, I was in the minority. But, alas, a tidy book of short stories, a NY Times 2018 notable book of the year, saved my day. How much I enjoyed reading good writing . . . and studying it too!

And from birches to willows and all trees in between, I also researched and recorded notes about trees, their symbolism and our connections to nature for my next book.

Though I had a good intention to keep writing, it didn’t happen that way. I dug a little deeper to see my desire to maintain a writer landscape, not necessarily made up of words, but of reading fiction, studying for writing my next book, and reflecting on my memoir writing. And that I did!

I’d like to sum up my reflections by sharing these words written by a college friend and writer. When I read this, I noted how when we are in sterile dirt of our own desert, if you dig deep, you can uncover something simple, which, in the long run, can be something meaningful.

“So I had a few hours this afternoon, just me and the dog, to work in the yard. It’s hard to believe that it’s the first week of January and I am itching to prepare the beds for a new season. As I’m cleaning out the old leaves beneath the apricot tree, I find a small earthworm digging for cover. It is amazing how I used to take this for granted. In the sterile dirt of the desert, God has given me an earthworm. It helps me refocus on the simple things for a moment to take away from what’s going on in the larger world. I pray that this week God shows you earthworms, too.” -Michael Brown

In 2020, I hope you will keep on digging and keep on writing.

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