Taking Stock

January is technically more than halfway over as of today, but since I haven't sent out the Christmas letter yet, I'm still going on the assumption that we can still call 2013 "the New Year."

Seriously, late December and early January are traditional times to take stock, though of course I feel the urge in September as well, when school starts. In any case, I've done that. I've updated my creative writing plan and set new goals for 2013 -- the first quarter, anyway.

And because it's a stock-taking time of year, others are considering the same topics. For example, here is an excellent essay by Jane Friedman, with the intriguing title, "How Long Should You Keep Trying to Get Published?"

So many excellent ideas, worth pondering. Here are a few:
* The value of reading: it gives you a good sense of what is (a) being published and (b) appealing to you.
* The value of questioning: questions can help you decide if it's time to change course.
* The value of interior goals: knowing what you want helps you get there.

My current favorite, though, is one of the questions to help you decide if it's time to change course: Are you getting bitter?

I'm not bitter now, but I have been -- yes, about creative writing, largely because finding success wasn't as easy as I had imagined, with all my blah blah blah years of experience in the writing world, working with editors, blah blah. The view from the edge of the trench is one thing; only when you get down into the trench do you see how deep the mud really is.

Bitterness is destructive, and not only to the person feeling it. It's like a disease or a burr -- the kind of sticker that gets in your socks, irritates your ankles like ants biting, and is just impossible to remove. You've probably been there: someone shares wonderful news, and a bitter person pokes a hole in it. It's impossible not to deflate a little in the presence of bitter.

One of the best antidotes to bitter: writing (something Friedman also suggests earlier in the article, when she asks if you're focusing on publishing instead of writing). On the days when I feel most like a fraud, I write. (I try to write every day, but that's another discussion.) No one can argue with the fact that I'm a writer when I write.

Another antidote to bitter: reviewing successes. So you didn't get that piece into that publication -- you finished a draft. You have four new ideas in the pipeline. You got one nice note with your most recent rejection. Your writing group really liked part of your most recent submission. Look for successes; they're there -- if you're working at your craft. And if you're not seriously working at it, well, you now know what your next step can be.

So consider Friedman's suggestions -- and go forth into the new year with new goals and habits!