Keep Doing What You’re Doing

Often we create resolutions for the New Year because we are convinced that changes need to be made in our lives. Perhaps something is not right; something is out of kilter. We resolve to do whatever needs to be done to correct the error. However, many people are exactly where they need to be and doing exactly what they need to be doing and yet they still may be dissatisfied, frustrated, and sometimes overwhelmed. As example my first thought is of parents; they have embarked upon a long journey, a journey that in fact never ends. Their concern for their progeny lasts until their dying day; it does not cease even when the kids move out of the house. And yet though they have for the most part chosen this path, it is not always easy. It has its triumphs, yes, but it is also fraught with disappointment and danger. Parents accept the new lives they have brought into the world with no guarantees of success. If they are good parents, though, success or failure has no affect on the perseverance and wholeheartedness with which they plunge into the task of caring for their children.

A career that is life-work rather than mere job is another example. Not all people choose their occupations and devote themselves to them with fervor, but many people do. For instance, I am a writer. I have identified as a writer since I was seventeen or eighteen years old. I didn’t apply to become one. The fact that I am one burst upon me with the force of revelation. Now, as I approach seventy, I am still a writer and will always be one. Apart from my identity as a parent, it defines my existence. Being a writer or any other sort of creative person (and I use the word “creative” in the broad sense of a pursuit that wholly engages your mind and spirit) has nothing to do with success or failure. It is something that you are, and something that you do. It makes no sense, therefore, to resolve for the New Year that you will sell a certain number of stories to magazines and anthologies. Purchasing stories is not something you do; it is something that editors do. You can resolve to continue writing, and to produce the best words of which you are capable. But then, as a writer you probably already do that.

I am both a parent and a writer, and I am at a period of my life where I am doing the best I can in both areas. My five sons have all left the nest (although the youngest comes back from time to time during breaks from college) and I already do whatever I can to support them. I write every day, and I already compose the best words of which I am capable. I am far from perfect as a parent and as a writer, but I already try as hard as I can. My goal, then? To keep doing what I’m doing. To persevere. To be diligent. To not lose heart. To find glory and joy in the effort, even if the results fall far short of my expectations.

That said, let’s review a few of my writing accomplishments of the past year.

It was a good year for the writing. My ongoing goal is to compose five hundred original creative words a day, and in 2021 I managed to produce 176,939 words of novels, novelettes, short stories, flash fiction, essays, and memoirs. If I divide that into 365, it comes to 485 words a day, but of course I was unable to compose original words on all 365 days. On some days I needed to proofread already written words, and on some days (although only a few) I had finished one writing project and was casting about in my imagination as to what to write next. The months in which I produced the most words were May and October; in both of those months I was deeply immersed in creating works of considerable length. In May it was a linked collection of short fiction, and in October it was my latest memoir, The Relocation Blues: An Inquiry into Transitions, which should be coming out in early 2022.

I published three books in 2021: Adriana’s Family: A Novel; Visiting Hours and Other Stories; and Reviews and Reflections on Books, Literature, and Writing: Volume 2. I also self-published several original individual stories, and a story of mine, “Alchemy,” appeared in The Martian Wave magazine. Besides these accomplishments, the first three hardcover editions of my books appeared this year: the aforementioned Visiting Hours and Other Stories, as well as my memoir World Without Pain: The Story of a Search and the science fiction compilation Bedlam Battle: An Omnibus of the One Thousand Series.

All in all, despite the ongoing pandemic and having to move from one apartment to another, career-wise and for my sons it was a good year, and I expect great things to come.

*     *     *

As the year winds down (as I write this it is three days before New Year’s Day 2022) I would like to make one more observation. This is to assuage the uncertainty of people who are creative-minded. It is not always easy to keep doing what I’m doing. The most difficult periods are when I finish major projects and wonder what I am going to work on next. I might have been cruising along for months writing five hundred or more words a day seven days a week in a continuing outburst of creative fervor, and then all of a sudden the ground falls out from underneath me and I am in a void. I have finished the book. What do I do now? Sometimes I already have the subsequent project lined up and ready to start, but often I do not. I am used to achieving my word-count first thing in the morning no matter what else I am doing. I don’t even want to miss a single day. I flail about for anything I can get hold of, even a smidgen of an idea to keep me going, even if it doesn’t go anywhere, even if I eventually have to discard the effort. The activity of composing is a reward in itself, and I fervently desire that splendorous rush of composition.

When I recently finished The Relocation Blues, I first coped by writing a piece of flash fiction, a very short science fiction story, and then by writing several essays and a book review. After that, the void returned. I tried to write another longer story and got a thousand or so words in and it wasn’t working. I started the same story again, attacking it from a different angle, and still it didn’t catch hold of my interest and imagination as successful stories usually do, so I set it aside.

At that point, I decided to slow down, repress the urge to spit words into the wind, and spend some time in contemplation. Don’t get me wrong – I have often come up with great story ideas – even for some of my best stories – through trial and error – that is, attempting this and that until something works. This time, though, I felt the need to step back, appraise my state of mind, and reflect upon what direction I wanted my writing to take next. After all, I write novels, short stories, memoirs, essays, and book reviews; I work in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, and literary fiction. Which path should I take as I head into the new year? As you can see, I haven’t stopped writing completely; I am composing these thoughts for you even as I consider my next steps.

The point of this reflection is that if you are a writer or any other type of creative person, these impasses will come up, and when they do, you have to somehow deal with them. And direction-finding in creative endeavors is part of the ongoing process of keeping doing what you’re doing. Don’t let a temporary stall throw you off course. Maybe you need to refuel; maybe you need to consult a map. As long as you have the ultimate goal in mind, you are still on your way.

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1 Response to Keep Doing What You’re Doing

  1. Pingback: 2022: A Personal Overview | John Walters

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