Weekend Edition – A Writer’s New Year

silhouette sunrise sunset

A new day rising … or perhaps one ending. Endings and beginnings often turn out to be much the same thing.

The New Year is a time to reflect and plan. It’s a time to reevaluate our priorities and our progress toward our goals. Midnight on December 31st marks the seam between the old and the new; it is the boundary between the past and the future – the threshold over which we must step in order to enter the next phase of our lives.

Damn. That’s a lot of pressure.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the idea of a fresh start. I also relish poring over the old year’s journal entries looking for thematic patterns in my thoughts and dreams. I love the creative process of finding the perfect word to embody my intentions for the year ahead, and the more arduous work of drilling down to discover exactly what those intentions might be. I love the myth and magic of the many New Year’s traditions that help us whisk away the old and ring in the new.

But, we all know that New Year’s resolutions rarely stick; and while I’m a big believer in cycles (especially creative ones), I doubt they conform to the constraints of the calendar. Our lives and our creativity exist on a continuum. They are not parsed out into 365-day units with hard stops and clean slates inserted at regular intervals. That would be too neat and predictable; and life and art are anything but neat and predictable.

With this in mind, I’m experimenting with a different approach to how I enter the New Year.

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The trouble I have with the usual New Year’s schtick is our tendency to devalue the past in favor of a presumably better, and more perfect future. Though I’ve spent most of the last week happily unplugged from the Internet, a few visits to my usual digital haunts left me with an overwhelming sense that most people are relieved to see the backside of 2015 in a don’t-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-way-out/thank-the-gods-that’s-over kind of way.

I get it.  From global warming and international terrorism to cultural racism and political insanity, 2015 threw a lot at us. Add to that any personal and creative challenges you may have experienced, and it’s natural that you’d be more than ready to slam and bolt the door on the last 365 days. But before you walk away with nary a backward glance, perhaps it’s worth a few moments to consider what the year has taught you – for better or for worse.

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Reflecting on the year gone by is an exercise that can quickly bring you down if you don’t keep your perspective. As human beings, we tend to be tough on ourselves. As writers, we can be downright merciless. Reviewing what you have accomplished inevitably leads to acknowledging what you have not accomplished, and those realizations can leave you feeling deflated, guilty, ashamed, and generally disappointed in yourself. Or, maybe that’s just me.

Each year, I stride into January with Big Dreams and High Hopes. A small voice in my head cheers the mantra, “This is the year! This is the year!” I can’t help but be swept up in the exhilarating annual revel of redemption and expectation. After all, who doesn’t love a second chance? For as long as I can remember, I have spent the end of December contemplating the same two creative/professional New Year’s goals: writing (and eventually publishing) fiction and developing a new business around my love of writing/reading/story/creativity (vs. around the marketing/copywriting that is my current bread-and-butter).

And, for as long as I can remember, I have so far “failed” to accomplish either of these two goals.

I say “failed” instead of FAILED because while I haven’t yet brought my visions of success and fulfillment to life, I haven’t given up either.  Each year I take a few more baby steps in the direction of my goals, and – equally important – I endeavor to keep my perspective about my accomplishments. Even if I’m unable to check off any items in the Big Goals category, I try to remember the value of lesser achievements in the Learning From My Mistakes and Trials category.

··• )o( •··

2015 served me more than my usual share of personal upheaval. For the first time in the seven years since my divorce, I returned to court to negotiate long overdue agreement updates with my still-hostile ex. I took on the daunting responsibility of home ownership, watched my impossibly grown-up daughter enter middle school, and learned a bit about being a grown up myself when my beau’s twenty-year-old daughter moved back in with him after seventeen years away. I had a minor (and, happily, short-lived) health scare that nevertheless made me think, and survived (barely) one of the busiest fourth quarters in my eight-year freelance writing career.

While all of this contributed to a general sense of sustained stress and tension for the year, it was a comparatively minor development in my writing life that brought me up short as I was preparing for the holidays: for the first time in my life, I was fired.

The details are immaterial. That the severing of relations was related to misunderstandings about scope and process rather than to the quality of my work didn’t soften the blow to my ego or lessen the negative effect on my income. One minute I was facing a Herculean writing task that would have forced me to work nights and weekends from mid-December right up until the holiday ( and would have resulted in a nice deposit in my bank account), and the next I was facing an empty calendar and an unexpected revenue deficit. The 180-degree about face gave me emotional whiplash and unleashed a flood of self doubt and anxiety.

But, as the hours passed, I found my spirits not only reviving, but rejoicing. I hadn’t realized how much the project had been coloring my outlook and mood. Even before I’d been fired, I’d been feeling like a failure. The impossible expectations were like a dark cloud hovering over me, siphoning off my confidence, self esteem, and energy. Once I was able to get past the initial sting of rejection, my heart and mind felt immeasurably lighter. Sure, I was out some cash, but the more I played the possible outcomes through in my head, the more I realized I’d dodged a bullet that would have ruined my holidays.

Ultimately, this unpleasant experience proved to me – in real-world, platitude-free terms – that time, happiness, and health are more valuable than money. The payment I would have earned could never have offset the price I would have paid working long hours that kept me from my loved ones and jeopardized my health.

Talk about a wake-up call.

In an interesting twist to the story, a few hours after I learned I’d been fired, I received an email from an editor at WordPress notifying me that my post Writing is My Real Job had been selected as a feature on Discover (formerly Freshly Pressed). I admit that it took me a little while to connect the dots, but once I stepped back to see the Big Picture – being fired off a lucrative job I wasn’t loving and then getting news that work I did for love was being recognized – I felt like the Universe had slapped me upside the head.

I couldn’t have wished for a more appropriate New Year’s gift.

··• )o( •··

This is why instead of slamming the door on 2015, this New Year’s season finds me taking my leisurely leave of the past twelve months. I’m still looking forward to the year ahead. I’m still full of my usual Pollyanna-ish ambition, optimism, and hope. But I’m also more aware than ever before that I will be better off in 2016 if I can build on what I learned in 2015 rather than throwing the year’s experiences – good and especially bad – into the trash like a half-baked first draft.

As I look back over last year in the context of planning the year ahead, I am paying particular attention to how I interpret “good” and “bad.” Going back to court was hard, but I discovered an unexpected reserve of confidence and calm. Having our housing in jeopardy and then committing to the financial responsibility of owning property were both terrifying, but we now have a home to call our own. Being fired was a bummer, but it was probably the only way I was going to see – really see – what is most important to me, both personally and professionally.

Processing my New Year this way – looking both backward and forward, layering my hopes and plans for the New Year on top of the successes and missteps of the old one – forces me to take a longer view of things – to look at the “old” year and the new one not as distinct entities that must be judged against each other, but as interwoven pieces of an unbroken continuum.

Likewise, I no longer feel the need to reinvent myself on January first. Like my life and my creative journey, I am not a series of annual iterations. There is no 2015 Jamie vs. a 2016 Jamie. There’s just me. I will still strive to learn and grow. I will still work to improve my craft, increase my success, and explore my potential; but I will also try to remember that I’m not broken or half-baked. What I’ve done in years past is not less valuable than what I will do in the years to come, and vice versa. It’s all part of one life.

I’ve heard it said that we should live only in the present because focusing too much on the past tends to stirs regrets while focusing too much on the future feeds our worries. But, I believe that the present moment exists fully only in the context of both our past and our future. We are who we are right now because of what we’ve experienced in the past and what we hope for the future. Our lives do not exist in a vacuum. They are shaped, guided, and inspired by everything that has come before and everything that is yet to come.

And, as writers, it’s this Big Picture way of looking at things that gives us the ability to bring past, present, future, and all the possibilities contained therein to life in an almost magical way. It’s this willingness to embrace the bad with the good, the triumphant with the tragic that allows us to harness the beautiful imperfection of all our experiences so we can tell the stories that matter most to us.

Happy New Year!

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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62 thoughts on “Weekend Edition – A Writer’s New Year

    • Thank you, Jess – for being here and for commenting. Nice to “meet” you. 🙂
      Have a very happy New Year!

  1. Thank you for this motivational reflection. A New Year means improvement. We’re still the same selves, and our problems don’t have a restart button. The only resolution is to decipher what didn’t work for us last year, and try a different approach this year. Easier said than done, right?

    Here’s to a better year!

    • Easier said than done, but still worth the effort. 😉

      Cheers to the New Year and all the adventures it holds!

  2. Hi Jamie
    First of all, I’d like to really thank you for always (from my observations) taking the time out to respond to our comments. It really is heart-warming to receive and read your thoughtful responses and the time taken to do so is appreciated.
    Secondly, thank you for this thought-provoking post – excellent as always. I really do enjoy your writing style. Whenever I read one of your posts I make a mental note to print one of them and use as an example for writing practice/development. I just love the way you express what’s on your heart. Congratulations by the way on being selected for “Discover” – you are a worthy candidate.
    My best wishes to you and your daughter for 2016

    • Thank you so much for such a thoughtful note. I am always so grateful that people like you take the time to share your thoughts here on the blog. So much of what’s published on the Internet lives in isolation. Responding to the comments so generously given is the least I can do to say, “thank you.” 🙂

      And, of course, I’m so glad that you enjoyed the post and found it thought provoking. Most of the time I feel like I’m serving up more questions than answers, but I’m actually okay with that. I love to read other people’s takes on the ideas I’ve thrown on the table. Their contributions always help me gain additional clarity about the topic … so it’s a win-win.

      Thank you for the happy New Year wishes. I send the same to you for a great 2016!

    • Thanks, Claudia. 🙂
      I hope you enjoy exploring the past year for clues that will make 2016 even better.

      Good luck!

  3. Many times we’re disappointed in ourselves if we look at what we didn’t achieve in the past year. It’s hard to just change things, and sometimes it takes longer than a year, but if we look at where we were versus where we are now, sometimes we can be pleasantly surprised. A wonderfully inspirational post!

    • Exactly. I don’t ski much anymore, but when I did I was – shall we say – a seriously tentative skier. If the incline was anything remotely related to steep, it took me forever to zig-zag my way down to the bottom. The whole time I was inching my way towards level ground, I felt like a complete failure. Little kids would zip by me without poles, and there I’d be – stopping and starting and stopping and starting. BUT, when I reached the bottom and looked back up at the hill I’d just descended, I was always amazed at what I’d done. It might not have been pretty, but I’d done it. I’d “come a long way.” Sometimes, perspective can be SO helpful. 😉

      Tks for being here!

  4. Duuuuuude how amazing was this post! Hitting on every topic coming to mind for sure. But first off let me high-five you for getting Freshly Pressed/Discovered as that was long overdue. You are definitely Freshly-Pressed worthy. Second I agree with the fact that people tend to slam the door on 2015 or a rough year and hit the reinvention wheel without taking the Kurt Warner approach on things. (Although when breaking bad habits like smoking, or bad relationships I agree with this is approach). Ever since I knew Kurt Warner’s story, duuuuuude I was like yes! He changes his definition of what’s ‘good and bad’ and that helps with perspective and Big Picture territory. As a writer I often thought certain things were FAILS! when all they really were were disappointments or speed bumps that led to good writing material further down the line, or it was just a suck ass moment that happened for learning purposes. But you know, you’re right, as long as you don’t give up and keep working toward goals you can’t fail. Kurt Warner definitely taught me to celebrate small victories, just because The BIG ONE hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean the little ones aren’t worthy of celebrating. Awesome and inspiring post!! Happy New Year 🙂

    • Awww … thanks so much. This wasn’t my first time being featured by WordPress, but it was certainly the best-timed. 😉

      I love what you’ve said about how our perceived failures often turn out to be great fuel or fodder for our writing. Sometimes, I find it’s helpful to think of myself as the protagonist of my own story. Sometimes, you’re going to have those down moments and tragedies, but what makes a good story is how you use those circumstances to dig deep and do the best you can – day to day and year to year.

      And 100% yes to celebrating the small victories. That’s an idea that deserves a post of its own!

      TKS for being here and always being so enthusiastic. Happy New Year!

  5. Wow, that is one hell of a year! It’s so nice to read about someone facing that kind of a year with a good attitude and brighter outlook, finding the good in the bad and making the best of it 🙂 Very inspirational, and glad to hear the health problems are on the improve! Happy new year!

    • Thank you. We all have our burdens to bear, and some years are easier than others. Up or down, I do try my best to find the silver linings (or at least the practical benefits) of even the “bad” experiences.

      Thanks for the happy health wishes. Sending the same and more your way for the New Year. Cheers!

  6. What an amazing year. My life experience has now taught me that the past is important……the past does influence the present and the future. We must learn to let the mistakes of the past teach us and inform us. Even health issues can push us forward to finish or restart something we may have begun – in the past. Such is my story. I would value your encouragement and help actually. http://www.Marranga-Limga is a website you can freely view. A project I completed in 2015 (hastened on by a severe health issue I must add). is now ‘out there’ as a book. Amazon has even given me my own site on their pages. I know you are busy but I would value advice. I finished one story and now in 2016 something has occurred which is inspiring me to bring – this story of the past – into the present as a whole new story………letting the past be the catalyst to events in the present. You are an amazing blogging sharer. This project will be massive – huge generational story now. I have begun. Can I finish? Will it be valued? (not financially successful…that is not my goal). appreciated and loved my aim. Any comment appreciated. Happy New Year!.

    • Hello, Faye.
      I love your chutzpah and your clarity about your goals for the work you are doing. The things we do for the love of the work are the things that ultimately matter most.

      I cannot promise I’ll be able to offer any advice, but I’ll do my best to take a look at your site. (At the moment, I’m playing Florence Nightingale to my daughter who has been home sick on the couch for the last seven days. Needless to say, I’m a little behind on everything else!)

      Thanks for being here & good luck with your project!

    • I’m glad you found the piece motivating & wish you good winds and smooth sailing as well.

      Happy New Year!

  7. “We are who we are right now because of what we’ve experienced in the past and what we hope for the future.”
    How true this is Jamie! I love your posts. They are always full of common sense – wisdom, that is.
    Here’s to a 2016 that is based on the lessons we learned in 2015! All the best to you.

    • Hi, Linda!
      Thanks so much for such kind words. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel grown up enough to lay claim to “wisdom,” but I’m always happy to share the thoughts that pop into my head. 😉

      Always so nice to see you here. Happy New Year and happy writing!

  8. Jamie

    You spoke my mind – of course, with more eloquence, expressiveness and empathy!

    On December 28, I believe, I made the following update on Facebook (paraphrasing): Treat January 1 like you would any other day!

    New Year resolutions fail because we attach too much importance to ONE day or one month. Most Januaries don’t go as expected and hence, dejected and depressed, we give up trying. Why bother, right?!!

    WRONG.

    Start afresh tomorrow and get things done. Just keep moving, doing, loving, sharing, caring, writing, dreaming….

    LOVE Ya
    Kitto

    PS: Happy New Year 😉 #HUGSSSSS

    • I think I may have seen that update, Kitto. And if I didn’t “like” it, I meant to. I totally agree. I’m all for reevaluating and planning, but those things are a process more than a task. They aren’t “one and done” or “set it and forget it.” They are an ongoing, ever-evolving process that is both reactive and proactive to SO many influences in our lives and our hearts.

      Fresh starts can be had whenever we care to make them. We don’t have to wait for January 1st. 😉

      Nice to see you. All the very best for a great 2016!

  9. Jamie – I really look forward to your posts because you write from the heart. I can’t wait until you begin publishing fiction. I’ll pre-order your first book! Thanks for reaching out to readers like me.

    • Not sure one writer could say a nicer thing to another writer. Thank you. 🙂
      Very happy to have you here & so glad that I have this place to share a bit of my heart. It’s a great gift.

      Happy New Year!

    • Thanks. It WAS cool to be featured – kind of like a mini 15 minutes of fame, right? 😉

      Thanks for that & all the best for the New Year!

  10. Congratulations on your post being selected and for not allowing adversity to keep you down. What a wake up call for me. Thanks! All the best and Happy New Year!!

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  12. Hello Jamie ❤️ it is with a happy sigh that i sit here with you and your waiting again, after too long away, I think. I too have noticed that people are plenty ready to farewell 2015 – I didn’t feel that at all. In fact, when I did my own 2015 closing ceremony, I realised what an overall fantastic and amazing year it was, and how I was a teeny bit scared that 2016 was not going to be as good. I know there are lots of changes for me and my family this year, and although they are good and timely, the unknown is making me nervous. Still, I am an optimist, and a writer, thus determined to milk the good stuff out of every experience. Happy New Year!

    • Hello, Sara! 🙂
      I’ve missed you.

      I can relate to your feelings. Although 2015 challenged me in many ways, it also had plenty of high points. I think it’s only human to wonder, “Can I pull it off again, or was that all I’ve got?” A fellow writer posted an update on Facebook the other day describing how each time she starts a new project she goes into a crazy spiral of oh-my-god-I-don’t-know-if-I-can-do-this. Been there. Done that. A lot. Years can feel kind of like that, too.

      I’m anticipating lots of changes in 2016 as well, more than in past years. Part of it’s driven by external factors, but a bigger part is driven by my own desires. I feel, more than ever, that It’s Time. 😉 (For what, I’m never entirely sure, but … you gotta start somewhere, right?)

      Anyway – here’s to a rollicking 2016 for you and for me. Here’s to adventure and unexpected plot twists. Here’s to being scared and doing it anyway so that when we get to the next New Year’s Eve, we’re all, “Damn. That was a GOOD year.”

      xo

      • Yes! I love that feeling of looking back and thinking, “yes!” I did everything that I could and I had a great time doing it. My word of the year was embrace, and I really did embrace life. Here’s to a good year for us ❤

  13. Wow, so many good thoughts in here. First, I think you have a bright future in writing, and I admire your work as a freelance writer. I am trying to figure out how to get to that point.

    Your self-awareness over getting fired and your success in receiving WP exposure (didn’t know it was changed to Discover – thanks) speak highly of your ability to believe in life.

    At the end, I love when you say the present fully exists on the context of the past and future. I find myself confronting my past lately in order to face my future. It’s such a fine line.

    Happy New Year to you and good luck with wherever 2016 leads you. Here’s to telling our stories!

    • Thanks so much, Robin, for both your kind words about my writing and for sharing some of your own experience. I agree that there’s a fine line when it comes to the futility vs. value of looking backwards or ahead. Spending too much time in either our past or our future can turn into a trap, but if we can find the balance – in this moment – that allows us to use our past experience while we harness our future dreams … well, that’s some kind of magic. 🙂

      All the best to you for the New Year. Happy writing!

  14. I notice a parallel here with my own perspective on work, and I agree about our not living or working in a vacuum. I don’t think you’re overly Polyanna-ish at all! You make a lot of sense. Happy New Year.

  15. What a great way to look at the 2016. I think 2015 was a particularly hard year for many people, but it’s been pretty eye-opening for me so I am certainly looking forward to more enlightenment and more eye-opening experiences as time goes on. It’s all about living in the moment and acknowledging that the past has brought you here but that the future can lie mostly in your own power.

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