Create challenges, not resolutions #52essays2017

There’s something so exciting and inspiring about a new year. Even though, technically, time is just an illusion that we’ve all agreed to participate in, these arbitrary designations do hold meaning. And after a crazy year like 2016, where it seemed one of my childhood (or young adult) idols died every other week, it’s nice to finally have that fresh start.

I mean, seriously, can everybody please stop dying?!

Wishful thinking. We’ve all gotta go sometime. That doesn’t make it hurt any less when our heroes move into the Great Beyond. Some of those wounds are still fresh.

But back to thinking about the passage of time, and the start of a new year…

Everybody loves a clean slate, right? I’m the messiest person you’ll meet, with books and papers strewn absolutely everywhere, and even *I* can appreciate a nice, clean desk (or table, or office…). Sometimes you just have to sweep the clutter aside and start with the blank page.

So, the obvious first topic for my first #52essays2017 is New Year’s Resolutions. Now, I don’t set resolutions for myself, but I do look back on the previous year to see what I accomplished, what I missed, and figure out what I want to accomplish in the next year.

In other words, I chart my goals.

In 2016, I even got a professional to come speak to my writing group on the subject of goal-setting, in order to learn more about why we all find this practice necessary but confusing. How do we set goals for ourselves? And how do we make sure we stick to them, even when the first flush of excitement has faded?

I’ve already written a bit about my 2016 as a whole, and even charted some of my goals for the New Year… but how, exactly, do I create goals for myself?

I wrote a post in 2014 that I titled “5 life-altering New Year’s Resolutions for authors,” which goes over some of the basics. One of the five ideas was “challenge yourself,” which I take quite seriously. Every year I have certain writing challenges that I look forward to participating in: the A to Z Challenge in April, NaNoWriMo in November, and the 365 Club throughout the year.

This year I’ve decided to write a personal essay every week.

It’s a new challenge, because although I’m used to writing blog posts on an approximately weekly schedule, I haven’t written many personal posts lately.

Why?

The simple answer is: FEAR.

I used to be fearless when it came to writing things online. Back in the olden days, when the Internet and I were both young and stupid, I actually kept an online diary. Not a journal, which serious authors might consider more of a log, but a spill-it-all-out-as-it-comes Diaryland diary.

I wrote under a pseudonym, suggested by an ex-lover, so that I could be brutally honest on the page. I wrote about heartbreak, struggles with school, not knowing what I really wanted to do with my life, and 20-something angst. (I was a philosophy student, so I had a lot of angst.)

I didn’t care what anyone else thought of what I wrote. I wrote for myself. To please myself, to share my feelings with whomever might be reading.

I was brave mainly because I didn’t know any better. I poured myself out online because I didn’t have anyone else I could talk to about the thoughts swirling around in my brain.

It wasn’t so much bravery as nakedness. Exposing myself to the world, and hoping someone would reach back with a comforting word, a virtual hug.

Now, though, I am guarded. I don’t feel the same need to expose myself, my life, my words. There is a time and a place for sharing. I do not believe that everything I write should be for public consumption.

Sometimes, a little mystery is sexy.

Of course, I still have plenty to say. I still have plenty of words I’d like to share. But my motivations are different. I’m not seeking love or adoration. I am seeking connection, intellectual conversation, the ability to share thoughts and feelings without the now-customary avalanche of hate that the Internet has become known for.

So I joined a group of writers who are looking for the same thing. Community. Connection. Their voices, heard. Their truths, told.

I don’t need to hide behind a pseudonym. I don’t need to be afraid to share personal stories. That, indeed, is the point of this exercise.

One of my favorite essay writers is David Sedaris. He writes humorous stories about common, everyday occurrences. But he also shares some of his embarrassing moments and failures, and describes his family’s quirks and foibles. I laugh because I see myself in these stories. They are funny because they are true, real, honest.

I would love to write as honestly as David does. And so, I begin.

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For more information on the #52essays2017 Challenge, join us in the Facebook group or read Vanessa’s post explaining the challenge here.

2 Responses
  1. Diane Lee says:

    I’ve joined this challenge too! I *do* write essays regularly and post them to my blog—or at least, I used to. In a year of upheaval, including endings and beginnings and general craziness, my essay writing has dropped off. Time to reclaim my voice! And I’m very much looking forward to reading your essays, Laura! 😊

  2. Sandra says:

    I’ve also decided I need a clean slate and clearly stated goals.

    To clean my slate, I took the drastic step of unfollowing a number of blogs I discovered last year because I found I rarely read the posts anyway. Have no fear–Buttontapper Press remains on my list of always read blog posts.

    To clarify my goals, I rewatched this Ted Talk–http://www.ted.com/talks/laura_vanderkam_how_to_gain_control_of_your_free_time–and have taken Laura Vanderkam’s suggestions to identify my personal and career priorities up front so that I can make decisions about how I spend my time in line with them. If you haven’t already watched her Ted Talk, I highly recommend it.

    On into 2017, fearlessly but cautiously,