Putting My Life Back Together; or, Starting Over on New Year’s Resolutions

Okay, don’t worry. I’m being over-dramatic with that title. My life is about as much in order as it can be in the current mess, and no one actually does their New Year’s resolutions, right? But you know what? I had a good thing going, and I want to get back to it.

So here’s the deal. In 2019, after several years of struggling to make reliable progress on my creative pursuits, I came up with a new plan of revising my New Year’s resolutions every three months. First off, I set daily and/or weekly goals for things like writing—always a good thing to have if you’re a creative type. But then, I evaluated how I was doing every three months and revised them to something that worked better. Three months seems to be about right to get a clear baseline of how well I can pull things off, while not allowing myself to get stuck for too long in something that doesn’t work.

That worked surprisingly well. It wasn’t perfect, but I did better that year than I ever had before with my New Year’s resolutions.

Then, everything changed when the Fire Nation Covid attacked.

With the stress of the pandemic and the loss of structure in my schedule that came with working from home, I just couldn’t keep on top of things in 2020. I initially thought I would write off the first few months, believing (as many people did at the time) that Covid would burn hot and fast, and things would be getting back to normal by summer’s end. Well now, we’re nearly two years in, and I’m still working from home, and I’m certainly not going to be writing off that much time. I needed a new strategy.

I last talked about “New Year’s” resolutions in October of 2020. I didn’t even try to post anything for 2021, but I was still working on the problem. Now, that’s not to say that nothing came out of the pandemic. I started my podcast in April of 2020 (thought I started planning it in late 2019), and it’s still going strong. But for my other pursuits, it just wasn’t working.

Well now, it’s 2022, and I think I’m finally getting a better handle on how my brain works under work-from-home conditions. I still believe that revising my resolutions every three months is the way to go, but I needed to get a different angle on some of them. So, here are my New Year’s resolutions for (Q1 of) 2022.


Writing:
Low-level goal: write for at least 30 minutes every day.
High-level goal: write at least 365,000 words in 2022.

This is different from what I was doing before on two fronts. First, and most obviously, I decided to drop my daily word count. This was partly in response to my interview with Daniel Bensen, who said that obsessing over word counts is not helpful. I…agree with that more than I did before, but I did it for a more specific reason: focusing too much on word counts discourages rewriting. If you’re trying to hit a word count every day, it’s that much harder to go back over what you’ve already written and work on cleaning it up for publication. It doesn’t really add to the word count, but it’s just as important. Going by time seems to be more balanced for me, but it also still encourages writing in quantity because for me, the hardest part of writing is getting a session started.

I also had tried to set a particular time of day before, but that doesn’t work for me under work-from-home. I do better if I have some degree of a schedule overall, but when I’m working from home, I’ve found I can’t commit to something like a specific writing time. The creative muse just doesn’t cooperate.

The other change is the addition of a high-level goal. I’m not giving up tracking by word count; in fact, I’m going for a more audacious goal of setting an annual word count—something not even NaNoWriMo does. Is 365,000 words achievable? I think so. My total last year was 258,000 words. The largest chunk of that was podcast scripts. Another big chunk is my personal journaling—stuff you’re not going to see, and much of which you probably wouldn’t care to. Some of it was fiction, but stuff I’m not going to post in the near future. But all of it counts. A high-level goal lets me keep track of my pace over the whole year, something that felt a bit lacking before. And averaging 1,000 words per day may be ambitious, but looking back on the past year, I think it’s doable.

Exercising:
Low-level goal: exercise at least 30 minutes per day, 4 days per week.
High-level goal: none.

After flailing around and trying figuring out what did and didn’t work for me, especially in an apartment, I finally just sprang for a stationary bike, and that seemed to make things a lot easier. I want to try to push to 6 or even 7 days a week, but 4 seems like a good start.

Reading/Entertainment:
Low-level goal: none.
High-level goal: clear my entire backlog of books, TV, and movies I want to see from the past 2 years in 2022.

My reading goals were always set very low. I already had a good thing going, and they were mainly there to keep me in the habit. The trouble is that I was mainly listening to audiobooks on my commute, and working from home the past two years, that obviously didn’t work very well. For the high-level stuff, I mainly want to clear out my backlog. (Perhaps I’ll incorporate it into my podcast somehow.) I don’t have a low-level goal because, well, it was already pretty low, and I found a simple solution: I just double it up with exercise.

Publishing: still undecided. I’m considering my options.

Social Media (blog, videos, etc.): I’m toying with a few ideas outside of my podcast. Stay tuned.

Conlanging:
New category! (Caveat: I may expand it to worldbuilding.) I’ve dabbled in building constructed languages before, but the past year is the first time I’ve gotten really serious about creating a complete one—one that can actually be used for real-life conversations (sort-of). But that sort of thing does take a lot of work. You pretty much have to write a whole dictionary (albeit a small one). I don’t have any resolutions for this yet. I have something I’m working on privately, but I’m not putting it on the list. My usual process is that I “stress-test” new resolutions before making them official in my quarterly revision. So stay tuned for this one in April.

I know that seems like a long list—(up to) six items in all. But it’s not too different from what I’ve been doing already. For the first three, I’m only budgeting an hour per day, and everything after that is flexible, so the time commitment is not as hard as it looks. And when I get in the zone, I can make pretty good progress on all of them, so as complex as my list is, I think it is definitely doable.

About Alex R. Howe

I'm a full-time astrophysicist and a part-time science fiction writer.
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4 Responses to Putting My Life Back Together; or, Starting Over on New Year’s Resolutions

  1. danielbensen says:

    What a great blog to read. I wish more people were talking about their process like this.
    You say “low-level” and “high-level” goals, but to me they look more like “process goals” and “product goals.” Every day you want exercise for 30 minutes – in other words you want to make exercising a habit. Then by the end of the year, what will be the result? How will you know you’ve succeded?

  2. danielbensen says:

    Oh, also, have you read Make Time and The Power of Habit? I highly recommend them.

  3. danielbensen says:

    I had a similar problem in the fall where my metric wasn’t word count, but it was a scene a day. Even then I ran into problems – I wrote a lot of pointless, fumbling scenes that I’m going to have to go back and cut. This semester I’m hoping to avoid that by focusing on process rather than product: just sit at the computer and go into a “writing state” for 90 minutes every day. To help myself along, I’ll try one of Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy techniques and set out at the beginning to write as crappy a rough draft as I can. That should relieve the pressure to produce. 🙂

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