I’ve always thought building resolutions each year to be a great practice in the past.
But the thought of doing so now, for 2022—for my writing life, my work life, my personal life—strikes me as unsustainable.
Maybe it’s because we’re collectively in this “wait and see” mode, which makes planning a nightmare of vagaries.
Maybe I’m trying to fend off the disappointment that seems to rise just when I begin to hope the pandemic is over, shooting down all my “best-laid plans” when it becomes clear that normal life isn’t right around the bend.
I’ve often channeled my creative life through the portal of a keyword to start the year off. Doing so offers me a chance to clarify the “pole position” I want for the year ahead.
Here’s a peephole into my writing life for 2022—the Sustainability edition.
May my musings here inspire you to do something different with your own writing life, moving forward.
Sustainability isn’t a new word in my vocabulary.
My first appreciation of this concept happened when I published an editorial on January 1, 1990 in the Chicago Tribune. I served as an intern at Hill & Knowlton at the time, one of a few jobs where I’ve brown-bagged it. In the editorial, I described peeling away all the plastic packaging of my typical sack lunch, with thoughts about what that means for our landfills.
As I wrote that piece, I realized we have so much to learn if we’re going to survive ourselves, that “saving the planet” isn’t the true task at hand. Let’s face it, the planet will always exist in some form. (Have you seen Don’t Look Up? yet? It even survived a comet!) Instead, we need to prepare to save ourselves from ourselves.
Thirty years later, I feel the same.
For this reason, I’m choosing sustainability as my guiding keyword and concept to frame my writing life moving forward.
Seeking a sustainable writing life
Today, as the new year cracks open under a snowy sky, my body limps with lingering pain and fatigue from flareups induced by both holiday tensions and surprise cold weather.
My brain remains fuzzed over for the same reason. Meanwhile, I take account of the usual physical concerns—high blood pressure, undertreated arthritis, new headaches, and the devil in the corner (depression). But let’s face it: these gremlins visit me on the daily. What I can’t—won’t—ignore in 2022 are the 500-pound gorilla triplets in the room IN THIS MOMENT:
- the anniversary of the unresolved January 6 coup this week
- life-altering weather here and beyond (did you hear about the Doomsday Glacier?)
- omicron cases reported among the most careful of my innermost circles
I don’t come from stock that ignores problems, believing they’ll just go away. I also don’t believe that constant worry changes anything. But these bigger-than-me issues have crashed the party of my normal life, threatening a lengthy overstay—all of it completely out of my hands.
What am I left with?
A writing life that might very well sustain itself even in the presence of these terrible triplets… if I make that my intention.
Peephole into my 2022 writing life
To look forward, one may benefit from a look back.
In 2021, I took some exploratory detours to seek other ways to simplify life in general—but also, my writing life, specifically.
Several things didn’t work. For instance, I discovered it’s just too hard to commit to weekly or evening reading events online. Two different plans to teach online didn’t surface after I put in a lot of work. I also attempted my fourth NaNoWriMo and it was the first time I didn’t complete it. I’m also way behind getting my second collection ready for publication this year.
Meanwhile, other attempts at reclamation succeeded. For instance, I:
- sampled two nonacademic writing programs (Breakthrough Writers and The Narrative Project)
- joined a new writing group
- reinstituted my silent writing retreats, traveling to Port Townsend, Tokeland, and Greenbank (all in Washington state)
- participated in the Clarion West Write-A-Thon online
- attended the AWP conference virtually
- read at online open mics (either as a featured reader or in the open mic)
2022 wants more of this from me. I can feel it.
So I’m making plans, updating schedules, building timelines, and setting deadlines. It’s my default mode as a journalist and publishing professional.
What I still need to do—review the question of what I have to spend.
You, too, might also consider what you have to spend as you chart your course for 2022.
The answer is fivefold.
One thing I’ve done since the pandemic—quite by accident—is reconsider the year as a workable unit of time for forecasting projects.
When I stretch out large, multilayered projects over an entire year, something always falls through the cracks. That’s a problem that needs fixing.
Quarters (and months, sometimes) have become my new focus… I find I’m more productive, and feel more accomplished, one quarter (or month) at a time. Three months (or one) of efforts, then a pause to reassess.
This is sustainable. I found myself less anxious about the future and more able to live and work inside the moment.
How much time I spend doing different things makes for another big question, as well.
Working from home for more than 30 years, I’m grateful that I’ve carved out a career path that allows me some control over how much work I do (and when), especially since my MS diagnosis.
With this in mind, I’ve gradually whittled down my work schedule since 2019. This has freed up more time for writing and self-care, two things I’m looking forward to in 2022 which support my goal of sustainability.
One more thing I need to do, however—remind myself that doing nothing is an equally important use of my time. I’ve added the mantra, more being, less doing to my daily reminders.
My working life pays for writing retreats, classes, supplies, tools, etc.—all the things necessary to a writing life. I’m fortunate to say I’m in a stable and sustainable position here.
I just reserved three of my four writing retreats for 2022. Cabins in Greenbank, South Bend, and Port Hadlock. I’ll schedule my final late fall retreat this summer.
I’ve also invested in a nine-month program from The Narrative Project with Cami Ostman that should keep me on task regarding my current novel and short story collection. It’s starting with a virtual conference this week and a six-week “Ready, Start, Write” weekly challenge that precedes the longer project.
I’m also participating in the Author Development Tier of the Breakthrough Writers Boot Camp with Kate Brauning, which gives me twice-monthly webinars that keep me motivated and moving forward. They offer a huge resource library that I hope to take more advantage of this year.
I’ve decided to take a rest from the Port Townsend Writers Conference this year, which goes live again in July. I may still drop in for the evening readings and to say hello to so many beloved members of my extended writing family. I’m thrilled Gary Copeland Lilley is their new creative director and just wanna show up to give the big ol’ lug a hug!
I hope to spend my 2022 doing something I’ve often suggested to my coaching clients: “Shop in my own pantry.”
I have so many resources already at my fingertips, yet I forget they’re there. What a waste! And hardly sustainable.
This will be the year I account for assets already in my possession. I’m calling it a writing life resource audit, and imagine it as a deep clean, in which I see what I’ve already got, then decide if I should:
- keep it and actively use it
- replace it with something better
- give it away (or sell it) to someone else who needs it more
- get rid of it (because it’s no longer useful, or I’ve already used it)
What is “it” in these cases? Virtual and “real life” resources like these.
- journals and pens
- references (virtual, media, and print)
- cameras and recorders
- software for productivity
- readings and open mics
- podcasts and blogs
- writers’ meetups and groups
Time & Space
- conference workshops
- home-based writing practice
- lifestyle changes
- the arts
- the crafts
- cultural inquiry
- time in nature
- community (local, regional)
- poets and writers
- visual artists
- performance artists
- media artists (podcasts, film, social, blogs)
- cultural curators
When I have good energy (physical, emotional, intellectual), I can get a lot done. And I do.
Having a chronic, incurable illness means my only option is to make the best of every moment. Do what I can, when I can.
(You don’t need to be sick to heed this advice, though.)
I cannot predict when an energy-sucking, braindead day lingers right around the corner. I just experienced a string of these at Christmas and it was no bueno.
In 2022, I’ll continue to maximize my good energy and forgive myself for the days when I can barely get out of bed.
The worst part? The “catching up” part. I’m giving myself permission to forgive myself for falling behind. After all, my schedules are of my design. I need to remember this year that I possess the power to reassess and adjust, an important practice I can’t skip if I’m to enjoy a sustainable writing life in 2022.
People with healthy brains running at full capacity don’t realize they have almost limitless brainspace. (I sure didn’t before I was diagnosed with MS).
Now, every time I sit down at the computer, I’m conscious of how much I’m spending mine. I can literally feel my brain running out of gas. It’s finite and needs sleep and self-care to replenish. It also needs easy nights with no Zoom events and diversions like film, podcasts, and TV when reading becomes hard (because when my brain runs out of gas, my ability to read is fairly incapacitated).
Self-care might mean fresh coffee, drinking more water, spontaneous yoga, daily meditation, a walk around the neighborhood, yardwork, a quick trip into town to just sit at the park watching the ferries, a half-hour at the beach, birdwatching… you get the picture.
For what it’s worth, even when I work so much that it blitzes my brainspace, I still feel accomplished. Spending that brainspace isn’t the problem, it’s forgetting to replenish it. Therein lies the challenge.
It’s all about sustainability, right?
What do you see through your writing life peephole in 2022?
Just writing this post clarifies my priorities. It also reminds me that, even as the terrible triplets rage, this doesn’t mean I can’t still do good in the world as a writer. In fact, I must strive for this to balance all that’s broken, even if only for myself.
Maybe these aren’t resolutions, but they are intentions. For me, that’s where it’s at in 2022. I could list all the projects I want to complete this year, but I feel like they’re secondary to the foundational work of managing my “expenditures.” If I can do this, then I can do anything. Let the sustainability begin!
What are you thinking about for your writing life in 2022? Do you write resolutions? Build vision boards? Make lists? Impose budgets? Take workshops? Or, do you do nothing but ride the wave?
In the comments, please feel free to share what you look forward to for your writing life in 2022. The more we all talk about our process and efforts to make space and time so words can flow, the more we can inspire and motivate each other!