If you're like a lot of writers, chances are that you've greeted the New Year with a pronouncement along the lines of: "THIS will be the year that I finally ________ (fill in the blank)." Get that novel started. Get that novel finished. Enter that contest. Send out those queries. Write that story. Get published, somehow, somewhere. Take the plunge. Start writing. Start writing more.
Or perhaps the resolution is personal: Join the gym, lose weight, tackle the clutter, get control of the finances, mend a relationship. Chances are, there's something in your life that you want to start, finish, or change. (If one of your resolutions is to join the gym, here's a hint: Wait until March. That's when all the other folks who resolved the same thing in January have given up, and you can get to the machines without waiting in line.)
Now, I've made no secret in past editorials that I'm not a big fan of New Year's resolutions. In fact, I firmly resolved, back in December, not to write an editorial about New Year's resolutions! See how easy these things are to break?
What made me decide to weigh in yet again on this perennial topic was that key word in the first paragraph: "Finally." I've used that word myself quite often, year after year. This, I tell myself firmly, is the year when I finally get the website designed for my new book, update my Victorian site, finish the second draft of my novel...
The problem with the word "finally" is not that it's so, um, final. In fact, quite the opposite: The problem with the word "finally" is that it suggests a process that hasn't been final at all. We say "finally" in the hopes of bringing to an end a succession of "finallies" that have never come to pass. I wouldn't be telling myself next year that this year I will "finally" finish my second draft if, in fact, I hadn't not been finishing that draft for quite some time. You don't say "finally" if you've been putting something off for a week or two. You say it about something that you feel you ought to have been doing for, quite possibly, years.
In short, we say "finally" not because a resolution is new, but because it is old, and getting steadily older. Whatever you're saying "finally" about this year, chances are, it's not the first year you've said it. And yet, for some reason, it still hasn't gotten done.
If we take a good, hard, honest (and painful) look at our history of "finallies," it quickly becomes apparent that saying "finally" does not actually make it so. If it did, we wouldn't actually have to say it at all, because we would have already done it (whatever "it" is) by now. "Finally" just serves to reinforce the guilty realization that we haven't managed to do whatever it is yet, probably for at least a year, and quite often for longer.
So what are we to do? Give up on New Year's resolutions altogether? Throw in the towel and declare that "it" just isn't meant to be? That's just a bit too final!
As I look forward to the coming year, I've come to realize that before I can turn my "finally I will" goals into "finally I have" achievements, I need to do a bit of looking backward as well. It won't help to resolve, yet again, to do something that I haven't managed to do before, unless I can figure out why I haven't done it before. Why has this project dragged on for three years? Why haven't I completed this task, followed that dream, overcome that obstacle?
If you're bracing yourself for a prescription of soul-baring therapy, relax. Sometimes, granted, the "why" may be related to deep-rooted issues. But quite often it's much easier to track down. Sometimes it's rooted in being just too darn busy. (I have yet to meet someone who sighed and declared, "Wow, last year was just my most relaxed, laid-back, do-nothing year ever!")
As I've mentioned before in this space, one of the biggest problems with being able to do three tasks in the amount of time that used to be required to do one is that, now, we are expected to be able to do three tasks in the time it once took to do one. Today's time-saving technologies may have made some tasks easier, but the end result has simply been a multiplication of tasks. Unfortunately, our mental processes are a bit slower to catch up; we remember when we were easily able to accomplish certain things in a day, or a week, or a month, and can't quite figure out why that isn't happening anymore.
Another common issue is failing to realize how long a task may take. Often, I'll sit down to "quickly" catch up on my e-mail, and surface, blinking, a couple of hours later, wondering where the time went and feeling as if I've accomplished nothing at all. Of course, in reality, I've probably reviewed someone's submission, sent out a couple of ad contracts, answered two or three questions, filled an order or two from Amazon, posted a new directory listing on my pet loss page (and, thank you, Dawn, gotten sucked into a round of Horrible Histories on YouTube). But since all that didn't relate to my "goal" for the day, I feel as if the day has passed without "accomplishing" anything.
Sometimes the problem lies in the time we spend solving other people's problems. My sister retired last spring, and decided to embark on a new career venture. I didn't realize just how much time I spent in assisting, advising and general hand-holding until I backed up my e-mail archives; now, at least, I know where my summer went!
Looking back at my some of my "finallies" for last year, I realized that there were, in fact, some pretty easy explanations for why these tasks still hadn't been accomplished. Burnout, boredom, over-scheduling, and the inner editor have all helped contribute to seemingly endless postponements. Looking forward again, I don't know if "knowing" this will ensure that, in the year to come, those tasks will actually get done. But I do know that if I attempt to proceed without knowing what has caused me to bog down in the past, "finally" will just be another way of saying "not a chance!"
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