By Faith Watson (fmwrites)
Janus, the Roman god of doors and beginnings, was the figure at the center of one of Rome’s oldest cults. It makes sense that the first month of the Roman calendar is named after this mythical ruler of gateways, transitions and change. With one face looking forward and one looking back, Janus, like his namesake January, reminds us that we can improve future possibilities based on what we have learned in the past.
The tradition of resolving to change aspects of our lives also makes sense as we usher in a new year each January. However, resolutions, being the firm decisions they are, are not always the best match for creative souls involved in the creative process, where a little more Eureka!-like unpredictability can be expected (and hoped for).
Yes, decisions need to be made, and acted upon, for our writing endeavors to become finished projects and realized goals. But you might want to carry some of that original Janus mystique with you, too, as you pass through the gateway to your 2008 writer’s life. You can do more than make a resolution—go for an evolution.
If you resolve to evolve as a writer, you’ll be seeking the gradual process of change into a better form, and undertaking the process of adaptation, growth and development. It’s essential that you use the backward-looking face of Janus, to assess where you’ve been and how you’ve gotten there, and at the same time use the forward-looking face to search for new horizons and keep an eye on your destination.
Here are some basic evolutionary concepts that can help you make firm decisions about your writing. A bit of introspection combined with realistic goal setting will help you meet the demands of your life’s priorities without sacrificing the personal aspects of your artistic growth.
Aspire. To evolve, we identify a need to move onward, toward a new or better form. To what do you aspire, as a writer? Answer this question first and foremost.
If you can’t comfortably speak of your aspiration, or if your answer is along the lines of “I feel I was meant to be a writer, but it seems impossible to achieve,” take some time to look inside yourself without pre-judgment. (Also, look at that last sentence again, and remember, they say everything after the “but” is baloney.)
Consider this inspirational quote by Marianne Williamson, which was used with great effect in the movie Akeelah and the Bee: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. … We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? … Your playing small does not serve the world.”
You need to use that forward-looking face. Try journaling a page of possible aspirations, without regard for plausibility or likelihood. What do you want? Tell the truth. (Don’t be sorry about it!) Own your answers—it’s the “new or better form” you need to be moving toward.
Perhaps your goal is long-term and large, or vague and hardly manageable. If it’s something like “I aspire to have a short story published,” then make sure your aspiration is followed up with a list of smaller steps leading you down that path. It’s a lesson that bears repeating: specificity is your friend when you have admirably giant dreams. Big desires are totally allowed, but they need breaking down into actionable bits. Look behind to where you’ve come from to arrive at this door, and while planning your ultimate destination, imagine the steps you need to get there.
Questions to help you express your aspirations:
- What would you do with your writing if you weren’t afraid?
- If nothing were stopping you (including your doubts, your education, your finances, your job, and so on), where would you go with your writing?
- Exactly what kind of work do you aspire to have published (or published next)?
- Have you already started writing a story you believe in, and need to get back to? What’s stopping you, and what can you do to work around that obstacle?
- Do you need to take a class and brush up on the basics of you chosen genre? Should you consider new organization for your yet-to-be-accepted work, to make it more saleable?
Resolving to become a published author is admirable, and it is doable for many people. But evolving into a writer whose work gets published is different. What kind of writer will you evolve into, and what does that kind of writer look like? Whatever your aspiration, you’ll need to guide yourself through the landscape with a route and a plan.
Questions to help you act on your aspirations:
- When will you write? How often? How many words or on what deadlines?
- Where will you write? What tools will you use? Can you create a better working environment for yourself, say, by investing in new software, keeping paper files for queries, or creating a cache of internet bookmarks for next month’s research projects?
- How will you write? Recreationally, enjoying writing for writing’s sake? Inspired by a social element, such as heading out to club meetings, or finding an online writing buddy?
- For whom will you write? Have you identified a potential market or two for your next project? Do you have all the facts you need about submissions organized, at the ready? Will you only write for pay, on assignment?
Your aspirations are nothing to fear, nor is asking yourself the questions, even the tough ones. There are no wrong answers—in fact, honest answers will help you succeed.
Succeed. You might think this step seems out of order, but it’s not. Evolution is gradual. We need to make changes, and we need to keep going.. For many writers, just getting started is the hardest part. For some, it’s building momentum, for others, it’s the dreaded finishing. In every case, success breeds enthusiasm. You’ve dreamed it, now do it.
Don’t be fooled by the word success—it’s not defined by accomplishing your ultimate goal. Success according to Webster means “the gaining of something desired, planned or attempted.” You get to choose what that something is. Your successes are up to you! Maybe you plan to write for an hour on Tuesday. Do that, and you’ll have your first success. Perhaps you long to attend a weekend writer’s retreat next summer. Make your reservation, and you’ll have another success. With those two successes under your belt this week, you’re sure to have new enthusiasm for your research day on Friday. After all, you’ve been going strong all week!
It can be difficult to stay motivated when you’re working on a goal that seems distant, or largely out of your control, such as becoming a professional writer or selling a screenplay. But if you can succeed in doing something specific, that you yourself desired, you will have that enthusiastic edge. You’re proving to yourself, step by step, that you can do what you decided you needed to attempt, and that’s exciting! It’s a successful manifestation of your aspiring mind. Your writing life evolves as it learns that you are making good use of it. It improves, and so does your outlook, and that confident optimism attracts your effort, and then guess what? Your writing improves, too. Now that’s success.
Adapt. Perhaps the toughest aspect of the making and keeping of any Resolution is the part about how life happens. Try. Try again. Tweak as needed. There, that might work.
We aren’t walking around with fish gills anymore, and we now have these handy opposable thumbs. We aspired to move onward, we tried out some smaller steps, and many of them succeeded. Then, we adapted according to the challenges we encountered on, and the efficiencies suggested by, our new path.
When researching this article, I learned that male genitals are actually not in the best spot, biologically speaking. It all descended a long time ago, as part of a species-wide evolutionary experiment. The body learned that the testes would indeed be physically better off it they were tucked back up behind the urethral tube on the inside, with the pubic bone providing a sort of automatic athletic cup. However, the sperm would not survive there. Now, isn’t that something? One face looking forward, one looking back, right there at the doorway of how man might best adapt to go about populating the earth.
How does this apply to your writing pursuits? Well, you will need to be willing to keep up on your gradual development, consider new alternatives, and still morph into the writer you aspire to be, even when stuff happens. Because, it will. If you’re stuck at what feels like a roadblock, don’t despair, and don’t give up. Just change your mind about your approach. Adapt to find something that works better for you. Transition may take a day, a decade, or stretch out over an entire adulthood. The secret to making positive changes is to… (hang on to your hats here) make changes, for the positive.
Grow. Doors and beginnings. Firm decisions about moving forward. Adapting to a new, better form. Looking behind, looking ahead. Grow, to fill your own writing shoes, for your own gain.
Growth is so individual, it’s not easy to advise on. It starts where you are at, includes where you’ve been and what you’ve found there, and it never ends. There is always unlimited potential for you to grow into and out of the various phases of your life, facets of your self, and areas of your desire. If it all seems too abstract, or these types of introspective concepts leave you wondering what you can actually accomplish as a writer, try this one simple exercise to get your creative juices flowing and your writing self growing.
“Act As If” Exercise (write out answers to any or all of the following):
- If you were the writer you want to be, what would you do? Like, right now, specifically, what would you do? Would you stop reading this article and go write? Would you call your mother and ask her advice on being a writer? Would you meditate? What? Write all of it down. Then, turn it into your To-Do list.
- Tomorrow, what would you do? Next week, every week…what about the next time you have a three-day weekend? In the summer? When you have a spectacular idea that you just need to get out of your head and onto paper?
- What would you do with your writing files? With your unfinished stories?
- How would your desk look? Your reference library? Would you be learning more about a specific subject or two?
- How would you arrange your time, if you were already the writer you want to be? What sacrifices would you make? What priorities would never change?
- What would your book jacket bio say?
- Would you have a website?
- Would you read more?
- Would you keep up on publishing trends?
- Get an advanced degree?
Your To-Do list will be as individual as you and your goals are. However, every list will always contain one element, no matter who you are or what kind of writer you’re aspiring to be: you will have to delve further into, and extract more out of, your own possibilities. After all, if you are not yet the writer you wish to be, then you have some growing to do in this regard.
Both evolution and resolution will support your growth quite nicely.
“I dwell in possibilities.” —Emily Dickinson