2017 is nearly finished. This has been a year of trials and errors, heartbreak and growth, change and curiosity. It has been full of good times and shitty ones. 2017 hasn't been the perfect year in the history of years–writing-wise, life-wise, or politically. But it was a year, and it deserves some attention and reflection so we can enter 2018 consciously, intentionally, and powerfully.
Inspired by Nicole Gulotta's Annual Writing Review (which you should totally print out and complete because she's amazing), I took an honest look at what I wrote, read, and did this past year. I reflected on what went right and what could've been better. And I'm starting to think about how I can adjust and realign for next year. Here's what's been happening in my world and what you can learn from it.
looking back on 2017
I got some good writing done.
Not the most prolific year in the history of writing years, but good nonetheless.
This year, I did NOT write as much as I wanted. But I did still do some writing and made a bit of progress on some larger, long-term writing goals. Here's what I wrote:
I wrote a Solid Draft of the Novel-I've-Been-Writing-for-a-Bajillion-Years. I've been working through iterations of the same story for years and years and years. The original story spark came from a high school draft, and it has drifted in and out of conscious writing drafts since then. In the past couple years, I've been more intentional in fleshing it out into a fully workable draft. I conquered one superbad, bare-boned, messy, and disorganized draft in 2016, and this year, I finally ended up with a complete beginning to end copy. So exciting! Unfortunately, as I reached this point, I got incredibly frustrated with it and determined it was time to step away for a bit again. But I can't abandon this thing. My brain seriously will not let it go. I'm curious what changes will come in 2018 because I know my muse will come up with something beautiful.
I wrote 15 blog posts, including this one! This actually surprised me a whole heck of a lot. I was extremely prolific on the blog for the first half of this year and wrote some AMAZING pieces I'm still quite proud of. Some of my favorites include the following:
- Why your voice matters (+6 steps to use your voice and be a literary citizen)
- What I learned from my DIY Writing Retreat
- How to create your Writer's Business Plan
I journaled to make sense of my thoughts. Looking back through my notebooks of this year, I found a lot of random thoughts, prayers to the universe, and attempts at working through troubling times. Sometimes I forget that taking the time to write to make sense of the world and myself can be the best healing practice, but it's true. I journaled through the fear of getting my wisdom teeth out and leaving a good-paying job to serve in a restaurant (equally troubling fears, of course). I journaled about my goals for writing and publication. I journaled about my uncertain thoughts on growing up, disenchantment, and finding the beauty in the everyday. These may not be publishable acts of writing, but they are still acts of writing that helped me be a better person in some way.
I drafted a couple scenes of a couple short stories and about 5,000 words of a new novel. There is less to discuss here than I'd like to admit, but I'm not a perfect human. I wrote in response to a few prompts and worked through a couple scenes that may end up in a short story some day. I did not finish many things this year. But, some writing is better than no writing. In the same vein–I wrote about 5,000 words on a new novel for NaNoWriMo this past November. That is nowhere close to the 50,000-word-goal, but 5,000 is better than no-thousand. I'll choose to be proud of that instead of angry and regretful. I hope you reflect back positively on your successes and failed attempts as well.
All in all, 2017 was not the most prolific year in the history of all writing years. Not even close. But I did write and I did make progress towards some of my writing goals. Given that much of my year had to be devoted to other aspects of my life (to be discussed in just a minute), I'd call this a win. Some is better than none.
I read a lot of really good books.
I technically did not reach my intended reading goal this year, but I actually read a lot more. While searching for texts to teach, I've read hundreds of short stories, essays, and poetry from various sources. This makes me super annoyed that our society only counts whole books for reading goals, but super glad that I did read deep and wide this year.
My reading goal this year was to read 20 books based on The Real+Good Reading Plan I created at the beginning of this.
According to my Goodreads's Year of Books, I read 4,204 pages across 18 books. Not quite my goal of 20, but I'm sure I made up for my reading goal because I read SO MANY short stories, essays, and poetry from various sources as I planned my teaching curriculum. It's not fair to only count whole completed books. But that's a rant for another day.
My shortest book was Fox 8 by George Saunders, a rereading of one of my FAVORITE stories ever. My longest book was Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer at 592 pages. The most popular book I read this year was Jane Eyre (finally finished it and so glad I did!) which 1.9 million other people read this year. The least popular book I read was The Future of Silence, an anthology of fiction by Korean women which only 22 people also read.
MY FAVORITE BOOKS THIS YEAR:
Jane Eyre – Such a classic. Bronte is dense and long, but she's worth it. I've tried for many years to read Jane Eyre without success because I couldn't get hooked in the dense prose. Finally, I tried listening via Audible and fell in love. The British accents and vocal inflection from Thandie Newton made this story come to life for me.
Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng writes a tightly interlocked plot with beautiful, easy prose about two very different families in Shaker Heights, Ohio. I easily fell in love with these characters who owned their stories.
Hillbilly Elegy – J.D. Vance's memoir of growing up in a working-class family sheds light on a necessary subculture of America. His prose is conversational, simply telling the story of his life without censors on the questionable actions of family members.
Our Town – I never read Thornton Wilder's timeless play when I was in high school, but I'm teaching it to my high schoolers now. I read this short play in one sitting and was immediately enraptured by his ability to capture life-defining moments we all share, big and small.
The Future of Silence – This obscure little book contains a collection of amazing short stories we aren't talking about, but should. Some of them are strange, all of them haunting. One of my new favorite short stories ever comes from this book.
The INFJ Writer – Lauren Sapala's nonfiction text is a MUST-READ for any INFJ writer. After rediscovering my INFJ identity earlier this year, I dove into this book and so many things clicked into place. Understanding yourself and how you work is crucial to understanding how to apply yourself to your writing work. Sapala illuminates that path.
In addition to reading a certain amount of books, I also made it a good to read widely and deeply. I did succeed with this goal laid out in The Real+Good Reading Plan in many ways. I read books by and about people of color, books with a central theme of religion other than my own, a memoir, books with immigrant narratives, and a book from a country I've never visited.
FOR SOME FUN FACTS:
12/18 were written by women
11/18 were written by people of color or other cultures different than my own
3/18 were nonfiction
2/18 were plays
It's important in our world to listen to and understand a variety of voices. We must read books written by and about people different than ourselves. By moving outside of my comfort zone and reading widely and deeply, I feel as though I have learned a bit more of the world specifically and found universal truths that unite all of us as humans.
According to The Real+Good Reading Plan, I did NOT succeed in reading a book in the backlist of a favorite author, a full collection of poetry (although I did read tons of poetry in prep for my curriculum), a book in a series, a book set in Central or South America, or a book that's becoming a movie. But hey, I'm only human.
I became a high school ELA teacher.
I never really planned to teach high school, but I've fallen in love with this job. I get to share my passion for words and literature with eager (or sometimes, not very eager) students, who will hopefully take this knowledge and necessary skills with them wherever they go.
This was my obligatory first-day-of-school picture.
Maybe writing will pay the bills one day, but right now it doesn't. I have a career and I think it's important to discuss your career as a writer. The money-business and writing are tricky because more often than not, they're not very close friends. I believe in transparency with it. So this section is a little less writer-ly and a little more writer-life-y. #SorryNotSorry. Life is important too and so we will now talk about it.
At the beginning of 2017, I was working at a community college coaching students on academic and personal success. This was a difficult and rewarding job that I quickly fell in love with. Unfortunately, it didn't last. Due to budget cuts and broken partnerships, my job was eliminated. This was a lonnngggg drawn-out process leading to stress and uncertainty and depression for months. I needed to pay the bills and I wasn't satisfied with just doing anything to pay them.
The college offered me a new position, but it was a role that didn't suit my creative needs nor my skills and goals. I made the tough decision to leave and begin serving in a restaurant again.
You can imagine the psychological turmoil this "step down" caused. Who leaves a salaried job with benefits to serve in a restaurant? I felt like a failure. I felt like I was chasing after false dreams of published books and a writer's life. I constantly worried about if I made the wrong decision.
But it was the best decision for me. Without the stress of wondering if I would have a job and if I would like it, I was free to be creative. I was free to write, to read, to create cool planners. And the bills were still getting paid.
A colleague of mine at the college who knew of my passions and skills connected me with an opportunity to teach high school English at a local private school. I went in with reservations, fearful of ending up in another position of stress and anxiety, but I immediately fell in love. I was provided with an opportunity to focus on what I loved in a way that I loved – literature and writing through the act of teaching.
This transition has been wonderful and I envision myself teaching for a long time. Teaching high school wasn't the career path I'd originally envisioned, but now I can't see myself out of it for the next few years. I love getting to share my passion with others, whether they want to hear it or not.
This transition has also meant the death of my writing for this season. This is a fact. It's not a fact I'm thrilled about, but it's a fact. I desperately miss the page. I desperately miss creating stories. I desperately miss having the time to explore my own worlds. I feel guilty for not writing. I feel guilty for not blogging. I feel guilty for seemingly abandoning this aspect of my life that I adore.
But it's not fair to put those harsh criticisms and negative self-talk onto myself. I've been busy. If you've ever been a teacher (or ever talked with anyone who is a teacher), you know what I mean. I've been consumed by the Teaching/Prepping/Curriculum-Planning/Grading Monster that apparently all first-year teachers get eaten by.
Even though I haven't been writing or blogging, I've been creative and literary-focused with my teaching and lesson plans. I've been sharing vast and beautiful worlds of literature with bright high schoolers. I've been teaching them little grammar rules (like what the heck is an appositive and why would you use it?) and big life lessons literature gives us (like why it's important to notice the tiny details around us on a daily basis). I've been finding creative ways to make them interested in tough but beautiful texts like Jane Eyre. And I succeeded in making them like poetry (even just a little bit).
I still have more to learn, more to plan, and more to teach. The year is not yet halfway over for me. But I'm excited to get to it. Teaching exhausts me and energizes me. It's frustrating and it's magical. It's a challenge, but it's a challenge I'm eager to tackle.
What I have to remember is this: There are seasons of life when writing will flourish and blossom, and there are seasons when writing will have to take a pause. I keep trying to remind myself that this season of not being the most prolific writer is okay. I am also reminding myself that balancing my teaching/work life with my writing life is necessary for a happy and balanced me.
My career has had a dramatic year, but it provided me (and you!) with some wonderful and necessary lessons for the writing life:
WRITERLY CAREER LESSONS FROM 2017:
1 | Writing doesn't have to pay the bills.
For a long time, I believed that in order to be a "real" writer, I had to make an income on my words. Ideally a living. But this pressures the writing to be instantaneously perfect, and that's not how writing works. My job transitions asked me to consider this very intensely this year, and right now, I'm living in the camp that believes money should fund the writing instead of writing bringing the money. Instead of forcing my writing to make an income, I allowed myself the freedom to not worry about the bills by engaging in other opportunities, which actually opened up creativity. I now have the time and freedom to create and write what I want without the pressure of it being perfect or being instantly published or solving all of life's issues in a few thousand words. Taking that pressure off the writing allowed my muse to come back to me.
2 | Doing something you love (or even something you like) is worth much more to your sanity and ability to write than sticking with a job that isn't right.
The decision to leave my high-paying, salaried job for serving in a restaurant was one of the toughest decisions I ever made. However, as soon as I did it, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders. My muse came back and started giving me story ideas. My creativity skyrocketed. I couldn't write (or even think) when I was anxious and depressed. Money isn't everything, but it is important. It doesn't matter what you do as long as it accomplishes two things: you like it and it pays the bills. By serving in a restaurant and teaching, I'm not living what appears to be a "glamorous" life. But my bills are paid, I'm able to be creative, and I'm happy. That's perfect for me.
3 | Balancing writing with your job is necessary, but it's okay to be in a season of not-so-much writing sometimes.
When you start a new job, you're bound to have a season where writing isn't your priority, and that's okay. When you're a first-year teacher, that season is going to be a bit longer. Beating yourself up over it isn't going to do or your writing any good. Just because your attention is focused elsewhere for a period of time doesn't mean you're not a writer or you'll never write again. Practicing forgiveness of yourself and reframing your mindset to believe you are a writer no matter what is key to working through a period of time when you won't be writing as prolifically as you want.
To help myself (and you) I designed a 3-month planner for balancing writing with the rest of life this past June. The WriteLife Planner is your three-month guide to infusing writer, and human, and you all together into one lovely writing life. And, you'll accomplish one big writing goal while you do it. Through guided planning, daily writing tasks, weekend challenges, and consistent check-ins, you'll conquer your writing goal, strengthen your writing practice, and live a writing life you love.
I LOVED creating this planner and I LOVED the results! I have way too much fun designing amazing resources that help other writers and this was no exception (this is probably also why I adore teaching so much). This was my first print product for this brand which created a fun and necessary challenge of slowing down and perfecting each piece before it finally went live. I loved working through drafts and working with my amazing and talented sister on color and design aesthetic pieces. I enjoyed finally getting the completed project in the mail and working through it to attempt to balance writing with the rest of my life.
I'll definitely be working through a copy as we start the new year and I attempt to balance my writing life with my "me"-life and my never-ending teaching life.
The Real+Good Writer's DNA digs into the core of your writer self to help you figure it out. Over 12 lessons, we dig into the stuff that makes you who you are, so you can be free to write what you want with confidence and purpose. You:
- Figure out who you are
- Pay attention to what you read
- Consider what you write
- Turn to what inspires you
- Learn how you write
- Know why you're writing at all
- And put it all together to discover your unique Writer's DNA!
This is a project I'm EXTREMELY proud of. It's the exact process that saved my writing life and sanity when I needed it the most, and it's what I turn to and work through again when I need to realign with my true self. It has evolved into a beautiful course that helps you do the same thing.
And I ADORE seeing the results!
Check out these amazing writers #MyWriteDNA Results:
Dictionary def of me: a person who enjoys visualizing + contextualizing objects, people, and places in foreign contexts. #mywritedna— Maggie Schoepke (@maggieschoepke) March 25, 2017
He is found in sunny places as well as dark. With others and alone. He is outspoken but silent, prone to self reflection... #MyWriteDNA— Derek S. Spalla (@derekspalla) April 6, 2017
VÍTOR DUARTE. noun. An uncertainty of things; too changeable, doubtful; a walking metamorphosis; dreamer. #mywritedna— A Guy (@witorduarte) May 15, 2017
Taking a deep dive through old notebooks and ideas for #mywritedna today. Here it is, you guys. A picture of the inside of my brain. A disorganized, crazy, mess. In most aspects of my life, I'm pretty organized, I keep things together in one spot. Not so much when it comes to writing. As you can see, I am more the "write it on whatever scrap paper I have around, and try to remember to come back to this later" kind of person. There are some notebooks, but I have had this awful habit of thinking of notebooks as sacred. Like they have to contain only the most perfect words I can manage to write. But look at this disaster!!! Look at all the ideas I'm setting myself up to forget because of my messy, scrappy jumble. I'm working on breaking this habit, and in the meantime, thanking myself for also being a complete pack rat. 😉
And The Writer's DNA is totally free. If you want to discover yourself and realign your writing life with your values, you should definitely check it out. I believe in this project and I believe in you. You can get started with your Writer's DNA right here.
I embraced my word of the year – "love".
I had a lot of good times in 2017 and a lot of shitty times. Throughout them all, I've tried to embrace an attitude of love: for the situation, for the writing, for others, and for myself.
My word for 2017 was love. This word asked me to love the good times and the bad, to love my writing, to love my situation, to love myself.
2017 had a lot of good times. Like the time I put together a whole draft of my novel. Like the time I started teaching high school. Like getting to create really cool lesson plans that share my love of literature with others. Like the times I spent with my significant other following our first Alternate Reality Game story and adventuring in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
And 2017 had a lot of shitty times. Like the time I got rejected from a writing residency I really really really wanted. Like the feelings of guilt for not writing that keep creeping up. Like having to leave a full-time salaried position because it just wasn't right for me at that point in time. Like all the political shit that happens on a daily basis.
But I embraced "love" through all of it. I learned to love myself, love my circumstances, and make the best of each situation. 2017 and the word "love" taught me the power of staying positive even when the future feels anxious and uncertain. Love carried me through, and it will continue to do so.
If you've read any part of this blog, you know I'm a planner and a goal-setter. I do this monthly, weekly, and daily. And I also do this for the new year. But at the beginning of each year, I also like to set overarching intentions to guide me in every goal, whether big or small. These overarching guide posts come in the form of a word.
I've already decided my word for 2018 will be BALANCE. Balance between work and life, between writing and teaching, between reading and creating.
Balance (n): an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady
As I continue to embark on this life adventure of writing and teaching and living, I need to ensure that I balance the multiple aspects of myself. I need to devote time to teaching because I believe these students deserve to be equipped with the skills they need to conquer the world. I need to devote time to myself because I believe I happy and productive person is a person who pays attention to her needs and fulfills them. I need to devote time to writing because, at my core, that's who I am, and I can't neglect that very important aspect of myself for very long.
Balance (n): a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions
Balance asks you to create the time and the space to write, to cook, to workout, to teach, to take care of yourself, to do nothing. Balance asks you to pay attention to all the various aspects of yourself and nurture them. Balance asks you to be the best version of you. Balance asks you to harmonize all the parts of yourself instead of allowing only one piece to steal the show.
In 2018, I plan to read, write, and teach. I plan to be the best version of myself I can in every aspect of my life. I do NOT plan to be Wonder Woman conquering "all the things," but myself.
Up first: I'll be designing lesson plans that ask my students to examine fairy tales from around the world using literary criticism lenses. I'll be working on integrating (balancing) writing with my teaching life while still being a functioning human being. And I'll be figuring out how to balance this blog with the rest of everything I do.
What is your 2018 word?
I'm grateful for 2017. It was not a perfect year (for writing or life) but it held some important lessons on growth. I do wish I would've written more, read more, embraced life more, but what's done is done and all that remains are the lessons learned. 2017 taught me to love myself, my writing, and my situation. 2017 taught me that having a career that pays the bills (and your sanity) is necessary for creative thought. 2017 taught me that reading widely and deeply reveals more universal truths than differences. And 2017 taught me (or more so, reminded me) that there's a whole world of beautiful, diverse, crazy voices out there to be heard, written, and respected, including mine.
Thank you, 2017, for being a year of challenges, growth, and changes. Now it's on to the next one.