New Years has never really meant much to me, besides the shock and disbelief every time I write the date, which always continues well into spring. But in terms of resolutions and reflections and all that clean-slate, look-at-everything-that’s-happened stuff, I’ve never really subscribed to it. I seem to spend my days shocked at how fast time blows by me, and feeling nostalgic for the past while simultaneously freaking out about things I have to get done before the future hits me in the face. Maybe that’s why it’s so easy for me to forget that, actually, a year is a long time, and often brings massive changes that I just don’t notice because I’m too busy wallowing in the past and stressing about the present/future.
In May 2010, my boyfriend bought me a five-year diary; every page is dated with month and day and has five lined paragraph sections with a space in front of each one in which to write the year. The idea is, you write down something, anything, about your day – you do that for 365 days, and then you do it again the next year, and the next. And then, one day, you can look up at the days above, and see what you were up to / feeling / pissed off about on that day exactly one year ago.
When my boyfriend bought this little book for me, in a shop near my parents’ house in San Francisco, I’d been flipping through it nonchalantly, thinking about what a cool idea it was and how I’d never actually follow through with it. But then he bought it, so I had to at least try or else I’d look like a miserable ingrate. And amazingly, with the exception of long holidays when I didn’t bring the book (I never do – I’m a practical packer these days) and couldn’t remember what to fill it in with, I’ve done pretty well keeping it up (never underestimate the motivational power of guilt). And now that I’ve looped around a full year and started a second, I’m beginning to reap the rewards of all my tedious-at-the-time notemaking.
Not only do I get a direct visual on just how much can happen in a year – good friends’ weddings, family pregnancies, and the many ups and downs of my own relationship/job/self esteem (god, I spend a lot of time thinking about my feelings) – but I also get a really interesting contrast when it comes to the book I’ve spent the past two years imagining, crafting, whittling, and reworking.
For example, on November 9th, 2010, I wrote 1000 words for my dissertation (a full-length nonfiction book), which merited a “woohoo!” because I’d been struggling quite a lot with organizing my thoughts and getting them down on paper/Word. Exactly one year later, I signed my contract with Faber&Faber to have the resulting book published in 2013. And now that I’m revamping my MS for my editor, I’m having regular freak-outs (not her fault – she’s lovely, I just absolutely loathe editing and I’m terrified of letting her down) and writing them down in the diary. But all it takes is a glance up, or over a page or two, to remind myself that this time a year ago I was convinced that I’d never even finish the damn book, let alone get any sort of validating feedback on it from agents/editors!
So let that be a lesson to me, and to all y’all writers who have far too many days in a row of wondering whether kicking yourself to get a measly 1000 words on the page will be worth the effort and tears and frustrations when nobody wants to read or rep or publish the damn thing in the end. To y’all, I say only this: you won’t believe me when I tell you it’s possible, even probable if you work hard enough and write well enough, that someone will love your book and want to help sell it, and someone else will love it just as much and want to print it. You won’t believe me, because I never believed anyone who told me those things (yes, older and wiser classmates, okay!), but you will probably keep going anyway. Why? Because you have to.
There were so many days when I broke down into tears and screamed at myself (or, more likely, my poor boyfriend) that I was an idiot to keep going. I wasn’t writing this book because I thought it would sell, nor was I writing it because I loved the process (I’m not a masochist) – I was writing it because I had to. If I didn’t finish this book and get it all down on paper in a legible style, those words were going to eat me alive from the inside out. I knew that, somehow, in the pit of my altered stomach, and so I kept plodding on. And I kept crying, and tearing my hair, and telling myself I was worthless, too. But luckily, it didn’t stop me writing.
Now I just have to get through the editing process intact. And then there’s the publicity, and writing short-form pieces, and trying to find a job that allows me the time to work on my writing but still pays enough for me to live in an expensive-ass city…
But the good news is, I have my little diary, and it’s got plenty of space to help me find perspective. And I thank god (and my boyfriend) for that!