Sunday, January 15, 2012

I’m penny pinching, and a better writer because of it

So, I have a list of 33 New Year’s resolutions. As an aspiring writer, you’d think one of them might be “write more often” or “finish a first draft of my novel”. Nope. There is not a single writing-specific resolution.

There are, however, about 10 financially-related goals. And by financially-related, I mean ones that include the following words and phrases: saving, cutting back, spending wisely, trim, budget, expenses, retirement, emergency, and down payment.

Ok, it’s only mid-January, so it is a little early to feel smug about this but…I have to say that my 2-week-old penny-pinching ways seem to be sticking. And have created quite an unexpected domino effect: I believe I am writing better because of them. 

One of my resolutions is “make maximum use of what I’ve already paid for before spending on something new.” For any of you who have read my previous postings, this means the end of having 12 unread books on standby on my bookshelf. That’s right – I am not allowed a new book until everything on my shelf is read (or, as someone very correctly pointed out to me the other day, until I actually use my library card).

I also already subscribe to the Globe and Mail, The New York Times, The New Yorker, and about 25 different writing-related blogs. And to a gym. And there are about 10 unwatched DVDs on my shelf, and at least 20 unread books.

What this resolution has meant to me so far is this: before I go and spend money on a book, magazine, or entertainment of any kind, I have to be able to say that I have exhausted all of these other options.

Already, my inner critic has been sparked by an article in the New Yorker about Sarajevo, Chicago, and feeling at home. The article is called Mapping Home by , and appeared in the December 5, 2011 issue (

Had it not been for my resolution, this issue would have found its way to my recycling bin (given that I was 4 issues behind with all the craziness of the holiday season). Reading the article, it dawned on me that I don't know my protagonist well enough: I can't tell you where she truly and honestly feels most at home. And, to be honest, the story just won't work, nor unfold believably, until I figure that out.

And, as my mind clears (well, overheats) on the treadmill, it is free to properly think this through.

I’m now reading, running, questioning and, as a result, writing more than I ever have before. I'm inspired by what I’m reading, consolidating thoughts while I’m running and – now that I’m no longer busy spending money – I have more time to put those consolidated thoughts down on paper.

Ok, let’s face it, most resolutions don’t last past February. The optimist in me, though, is hoping that two months may be all it takes to really crack the backbone of this novel. We shall see…

So, which of your resolutions are creating domino effects?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

I resolve to...resolve

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are two of my favorite days of the year. Probably for the same reason I love strategic planning meetings at work. It gives me the opportunity to look at the big picture, reflect on what’s happened – what’s worked, what hasn’t – and imagine how things could be… a year, 5 years, or 10 years from now. And put together a plan to make those things happen.

I have my best sleeps with a freshly completed plan on my bedside table. Or, a carefully thought through list of resolutions for the year. Last night I slept soundly.
I believe it was Dr. Suess who wrote, “You have brains in your head, and feet in your shoes. So you can guide yourself in any direction you choose.”

So, yes, the sometimes-control-freak side of my personality loves the discipline of sitting down and mapping out plans, setting budgets, and giving a sense of order to my (what often feels like a very chaotic, random, and out of control) life.
But, this year, as I sat there on Saturday night reflecting on 2011 and what really stood out for me – what I was most proud of – it was interesting what I listed. They were things I actually hadn’t planned. Instead, they were the things that either got in the way of the plans, or changed the plans, or had nothing to do with any plan whatsoever. The things that just jumped out and demanded attention.

And it wasn’t the actual thing that I was proud of – but more the way I handled the thing that threw the wrench in the plans, or came out of nowhere.

Now, I’ll admit – I didn’t always handle the situations with decorum and grace. I had my moments of reactivity, whining, complaining, procrastinating, getting angry, making excuses, and flailing in frustration.

But, there were occasions when I actually sat back and thought about these unexpected twists –  took the time to think about the options, the possibilities. I actually saw the opportunity these issues provided: a chance to reflect, innovate, change or make better.

So, I am now determined to spend more time resolving any and all unexpected twists that 2012 may throw my way, than I spend whining and complaining about them. In fact, I will welcome them. Resolution #2 of my 33 resolutions: I resolve to resolve.
So, how are your resolutions coming along?