Happy New Year everyone. Though for me it’s been a day already, since I live in NZ, but I figure if I pander to the norms of the largest demographic possible I’ll get more readers. That’s how this works, right? Pandering?
Making new year’s resolutions is a very lazy habit of mine. I’m pretty sure it’s a very lazy habit of many people. The new year rolls around, you make resolutions for it, rinse and repeat. It’s not even about getting them done; it’s about participating in the ritual, having something to complain to your friends and family about, a shared experience that keeps your identity socially relevant through your opting into it.
Brand new year, same old cynicism. What do I need resolutions for?
Resolutions should be reserved for shit you actually intend to get done, in my opinion. Though there is certainly something to be said for the catharsis of saying your wishes out loud, and being around other people when they do the same. I’m not against the idea of new year’s resolutions as a form of social bonding. It’s just that I can’t take it seriously as anything but that. New year’s resolutions don’t work because they’re not meant. They may be felt, but that’s not the same thing. Anyone can feel a thing, and we should certainly express our feelings. It’s a way to check in, see what’s changed in our and other people’s priorities. Not everything has to or should be a plan. Sometimes you just need to say something to let it go.
But I take this probably a little too seriously. When I make a new year’s resolution, I make it in order to try and trick my brain into committing to things that I think are too difficult or unpleasant in the short-term for me to trust myself with committing to, even though the long-term effects are things that I really want. I make new year’s resolutions because there are specific things that I want to accomplish; it’s all or nothing for me with new year’s resolutions. They mean something to me.
Or they did. Because this new year, I came to the strange and liberating realisation that, actually, I am already resolved, and resolved to do something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. There’s no point in me making new year’s resolutions, because I’ve already got old ones that I’m invested in. And I figure that’s a good place to be.
The resolution is also pretty exciting for me, because it kind of took me by surprise. This year, I am going to write a book.
Because every year that I don’t write a book, a book that I really care about writing, is a year that I’m holding myself back for no discernable reason. And the madness has to end. I am a fortunate, privileged individual who actually has the time to write novels, and by and large I do not do this. I guess it’s a matter of not appreciating what you have until it’s gone – I’ve been through that with university, so I’ve already been through this song and dance. But what’s different now is that I did actually write a book while I was studying full-time, and doing my masters no less, which involves writing a book. I in fact wrote two books simultaneously in 2016. I have proof that I can get this thing done, and a lot more besides.
And I’ve also found that I want to write one of my books. My shitty YA werewolf novel – I’m glad I wrote it, but it doesn’t feel like it’s mine. And honestly, that’s part of what was so great about it. It read like somebody else’s work, and it was empowering to know that I could slot myself into the greater machine of Writing, that something I produced could so easily fit into an existing ecosystem that I am not a part of: published books. It reads like other books I’ve read, and knowing that I have the ability to produce a book that reads like other books that exist in the world has been transformative.
And it’s time to move the fuck on from that, because holy shit I do not want that to be the rest of my writing career.
It may still be a part of it, but this pre-made new year’s resolution of mine is driving me towards something that feels more like me, my style, my values, my prose. Something a bit more idiosyncratic. I’m not satisfied with the idea of producing more things for practice – and that’s what my shitty YA werewolf novel was: practice. Valuable practice. I am considering, once again, revising it (continuity touch-ups, not trying to make it good, because that would sort of be beside the point), and I am certainly not against future similar exercises.
But what has struck me about this newest burst of motivation to write is that, while every burst of motivation feels new, for the first time this one feels like the latest in a long chain of repeating events – part of a pattern. Which is why this isn’t a new year’s resolution, and has killed my desire to make any: because when you have something already going on that you’re invested in, you don’t need anything else. Making new year’s resolutions has always been a way for me to try and fill a void, but right now I’m feeling … full. Filled.
I have discovered the meaning of a word today through direct experience. That’s always interesting.
What’s even better is that I’ve actually been using this motivation to, like, write. I can already feel that the book I’ve been working on for the past few days is one that, ultimately, is not important enough to me to actually invest in very heavily; there are stories that I think would be cool to work on, and there are stories that I need to tell. This is one of the former. I am in search of one of the latter, though if I keep reading Mark and Jessie’s Christmas I hope I will find it there. I hope I can find it in one of my existing projects. Though by the same token, in saying that, I am already excited at the prospect that it might have to be something entirely new.
But it will be a book, and it will feel like it comes from me, and it will be written this year. Fully revised and ready to submit to publishers? No idea. Not important. Just written, in full, ready to move on to the next stage, whether that is revision or a whole new project. It’s quite startling to discover that I am, in fact, resolved to do this. It’s refreshing. It’s … heartening.
However, I know it’s not enough by now. Motivation to write is part of a pattern; and the pattern is that it comes and goes. I am trying to make something of it now while it lasts, but it occurred to me the other day that I tend to use motivation – as I’m sure most people do – as a set of instructions. “Do this now.” They’re not complex instructions, but we follow them with desperate hope, perhaps especially as writers. What we do is so difficult, the sheer amount of mental and temporal labour that goes into writing so tremendous for the results we get, that motivation is too good to pass up when it comes – and so despairing when it inevitably goes away again. And if we’re like most people, which in recent years I am coming to realise that I am, we get comfortable with this stupid, unproductive pattern of waiting for motivation to write when we don’t have it, and not using it effectively when we do. We await instructions, because making ourselves do the thing is too hard, too heartbreaking. We give ourselves over to an external agency, divest ourselves of responsibility, and end up feeling guilty and frustrated when we look back at ourselves and see how little we’ve managed to accomplish compared to what we set out to do.
Kind of like a new year’s resolution.
What I have come to think about motivation – and I wish I’d thought about this quite a few years ago – is that treating it like a divine edict is not helpful. But motivation itself can be helpful. It’s just that, rather than following it, we are best served by applying it. Motivation should not be seen as instructions.
It should be seen as a tool.
It should be seen like rain to a farmer, clear skies to a sailor, some other third thing that follows the same theme of a transitory yet predictable and necessary resource: motivation comes and goes, but it will always come and go. It will leave, and it also will come back. It is predictable. It is even reliable.
But it can’t do the job for us. And that’s what I’ve needed to understand for a long time: motivation has been the panacea for all of my productivity issues, my troubles in achieving my goals, no matter how noble and good-in-and-of-themselves those goals might be. I have always thought that having motivation would make me do it when I could not bring myself to do it without it.
The thing is, it never really has. I’ve felt motivation so many times, and so often I just end up sitting on it, not using it after longing for it for so long, not being swept up in it and unable to resist its great and terrible power to get shit done, using me as a vessel through which it may enact its grand design. It has happened a few times, though that’s less motivation than inspiration. I think those of us who feel inspiration are spoiled by the experience; we won’t settle for anything less than complete and total rapture. But I realise that those times, when I was so caught up in what I was doing that it didn’t even occur to me how hard it was or to take a break from it – I wasn’t waiting for inspiration. I stumbled upon it. I found it.
I found it after I started doing something I wanted to do.
And then, it was a tool. I didn’t think about it that way; I don’t think it’s really helpful to think about it that way – not necessary, because it just works when it happens. But the point is that I’ve never found it by waiting for it. Every now and then I will be seized by a seemingly random burst of inspiration or motivation, as I seem to be now. I’m grateful for it, and plan to keep using it. But no longer to follow it, because I need to be the one to take the lead in my projects, if I ever hope to get them done. I have come to the conclusion, long overdue, that motivation and inspiration are fabulous tools to be used while they are available for use. But they are not guides. They are not permission. They are not agents. We, the writers, are the only agents at work here; we give ourselves permission – or withhold it, for whatever harebrained, sensitive reasons we have for doing so. Mostly it’s for the reason that we don’t have inspiration, but that very despair is a trap. We find inspiration not by seeking it, but by applying ourselves to our craft – and then, like moths to light, it instead comes to seek us. We enter the dungeon, and a friendly NPC manifests at the entrance to give us a quest. We use the force, and lightsabers fly into our waiting hands.
We start writing, and inspiration comes to help us continue.
I’m not feeling the inspiration for this book. I feel motivation to write a book, and one of my own design, my quirks and limits and biases. But it’s not this one. That’s fine, though. I have plenty. And I can make plenty more. In fact I hope to do that. For a long time now, I’ve wanted to know what else I can come up with, what kinds of stories I will create that are not the same few projects I keep coming back to in half-hearted attempts to find meaning for myself in them. Perhaps it’s time to find out.
But it’s definitely time to write, because it’s always been time to write. So my new year’s resolution is to hold fast to my resolve, the same resolve I’ve had since I was 13 years old and didn’t really understand what it meant, the same resolve that has evolved and crystalised over the years as I have come to know it more intimately and openly. It is just one thing that I want to do with my life, no longer the only thing.
But I do want to do it. And so I shall.
Happy New Year everyone. May you bring yourself into it with everything you want, and may you find therein everything you need.