Looking Back: Your Personal Year-End Review
It's 2015, and you have all these goals, these plans for the future—writerly goals centered around getting published, one way or another, finishing your first novel, diversifying your reading beyond your genre comfort zones, etc. (insert personal resolutions here...). But what about the past, and in a roundabout way, the present? What events, goals and accomplishments have gotten you to this point? What mistakes? How can the roads you've traveled better equip you for the roads ahead?
Sometimes, we have to go back before we can move forward, and what better time to review than at the onset of a new year? Examining the steps you took as a writer (and a human being) in 2014 will better define the steps you take over the course of the next 365 days. Let's explore a few means of looking back that aren't too time-consuming, as well as some of the best practices for keeping track of your accomplishments over the next year.
Write A Personal Top Ten List
They begin showing up as early as November: top ten books of the year, top ten movies, top ten shows, top ten memorable news moments, top ten live TV fails, top ten GIFs, top ten BuzzFeed top ten lists, etc. Why not you? 'Tis the season, after all. What were your ten best moments of 2014? Don't think too hard about these, just rattle them off as quickly as you can. These beacons of self-accomplishment don't even have to be writing-related—"getting engaged" tops my list—but if you do find that zero out of ten relate to your literary aspirations, then perhaps more time should be spent focusing on these goals in 2015.
Of course, if you have nothing to show from the previous year, don't bemoan this fact or get discouraged—what you have is not a setback, but an opportunity. Your number one resolution can be: top this top ten list. If you make your goals practical (and understand that your control over the success or failure of obtaining certain goals, like "getting published," is limited), then you'll notice changes quickly. And if you keep this up year after year, you'll see your career advancing like so many turned calendar pages.
Read Through Your Journal Entries
Assuming you keep a journal (and I recommend it highly), it's nice to page through all your entries from the previous year as a refresher on all the ups and downs, good times and bad. If you're like me and journal a TON, just flip back to the last entry you made in 2013. Where were you, physically and emotionally? What was the status of your writing? Maybe you wrote out all the things you wanted to change about yourself in the coming year, all the goals you wanted to accomplish. How'd that work out? Maybe you wrote a top ten list last year—how does it stack up to this year's? If you find many of your writerly aspirations didn't come to fruition, what can you do to make them happen in 2015?
"Looking back" doesn't get more literal than this, and it's a great way to map out just how much you've changed—for better or worse—over the course of twelve months, and how you can further develop yourself both as a writer and a person in the year to come.
Check Out Your Duotrope Stats
Assuming you have a Duotrope account (and you most definitely, DEFINITELY should), go to the "Your Submissions" section of the site and play around with the different filters, focusing primarily on the ratio of pieces sent out, acceptances, rejections and pending responses (I got this idea from Richard Thomas, by the way). Now, you might think seeing the actual number of times your work was rejected over the course of 2014 would be a bit depressing, and you'd be right—it CAN be, but it doesn't have to be. Instead, this number combined with the other statistics on display can work as an excellent motivator for the new year.
Take me for instance: I sent out 22 stories in 2014. 18 of those were rejected, two are still pending response, and 2 were accepted. Again, I could look at this 18/2 ratio and determine that I'm a hack who should just stop embarrassing himself by sending out terrible fiction that nobody wants, save for two magazines who were probably just taking pity on me. But I don't see it that way, primarily because we're not just talking about numbers here. I looked closer and considered each rejection—was the story in question really ready when I submitted it, was this the right market for the story, how many more times did I send the story to other publications before giving up on it and focusing on newer work? I already know I have a problem with leaving old stories behind when a new piece gets my attention, but seeing it spelled out in black and white was an eye-opener for me. I know that if I want to publish more in 2015 (and I most certainly do), then I need to keep up with those older stories too, and continue sending them out. Because obviously, those 22 submissions weren't 22 individual works. I have WAY more than that just languishing in my Dropbox. It's time to dust them off and get them out there.
See? The experience doesn't have to be a negative one. Again, don't view your rejections as setbacks, view them as opportunities.
Review Your Reading Habits
Do you use GoodReads? BookLikes? Some other means of tracking the books you read? Glance over your literary diet from 2014. How many books did you consume? Did you mainly stay within your preferred genres, or did you branch out? Are there any craft-related titles on the list, like Stephen King's On Writing or Jeff VanderMeer's Wonderbook?
If you didn't read very much throughout the year, if you stuck to your comfort zones, and if you didn't read any books about writing, perhaps 2015 is the year you change up your reading habits. As King writes in his aforementioned how-to guide, "If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot." Also consider William Faulkner's statement to the University of Mississippi in 1947 (re-quoted from Flavorwire):
Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it.
I think you see what I'm getting at here. Read all the time, and try to keep your genres as diverse as you can. Only good can come from this practice.
I've made this point a few times now, but I want to reiterate that any discoveries about your writerly habits shouldn't become a point of stress or self-loathing. I've been down that path before, and I think it goes without saying it's a bad one. You will have regrets about 2014 as surely as you will have regrets about every single year of your life. The point is to not let these regrets bum you out, but rather to use them as an impetus to change. Believe me, I know this is easier said than done sometimes, but if you can remain positive and celebrate your "failures" as much as your successes, then 2015 will be a good year indeed.
And of course, if you have successes to celebrate, celebrate them like there's no tomorrow.
Happy New Year everyone!
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