The rotten thing about New Year’s resolution lists is that most don’t stick to them. Nothing encapsulates this theory better than the local gym after the first of the year. People flock there in droves, like thousands of swine desperate to roll in the slop. And they remain there for a few weeks, hogging the machines and looking altogether disinterested and languid, until they give up and go back to their diurnal slothfulness.
As you can see, I’m not enamored with people who don’t commit to something. Simply wanting to do something is much different from committing to it and seeing it through. Consistency, hard-work, dedication are words thrown around a lot, but they aren’t worth a shit unless they are practiced.
Is this pep talk getting through to you?
Mostly, I’m giving it to myself. It’s that time of year when I sit down and make a list of goals for the New Year, the dreaded resolutions that so many turn their backs on. I, for one, love resolution lists. The idea of writing down goals and then chasing them appeals to my monomaniacal itch for organization and structure. I’ve broken myself of this over the years, but the public school got its hooks into me early. Was there anything better than five folders marked for each subject, the homework due for the next day neatly tucked into the right side, the left side full of finished papers, notes, and anything that might be needed for a test or review? The very idea of it makes me shiver and smile.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve opted to simply make mental notes of things I need to get done. This past year it was to finish a second novel, something I spoke candidly about and I truly believe it was setting the deadline in my mind that led to the finished product.
This year, I decided to share some of the goals I’m setting. There’s a chance it might inspire you to make your own literary to do list. This way you don’t have to call them resolutions since the word is often associated with failed promises.
Here’s what I’m shooting for in 2014:
1. Finish a (third) novel- My second “novel” fell out of me. I wrote 70,000 words in five months, cut it to 45,000 and called it a day. I have a work-in-progress on the shelf that is nearly 200,000 words. As I said in the article which I linked above, “the third one I’m working on should probably be printed out and used to stoke a fire for a homeless person.” But there’s no reason not to finish it at this point. I encourage all writers to finish pieces. Don’t get hung up on perfection. Finish a piece and then go back and tinker afterward. You’ll never be a writer if you don’t accept that nothing is ever perfect.
2. Read two “big books”- This is something I try to do every year. Last year it was Larry McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove” and Thomas Pynchon’s “Mason & Dixon.” This year I have tentatively slated Charles Dickens’ “David Copperfield” and Haruki Murakami’s “1Q84.” In recent years I’ve gained a great appreciation for Dickens. My most recent read was his novel, the mammoth “Pickwick Papers.” I truly enjoyed it though it dragged a bit. As for Murakami, I finished his larger-than-most “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” last year and I’m hungry for more. Setting the bar at two big books gives me plenty of room for error. Ideally I’ll throw in another 1,000-pager for fun, but there’s no reason to make goals that I can’t see through. Because then I’m no better than the pigs at the gym. If you need help getting through big books, I jotted down some lessons before I dove into “Mason & Dixon” this past year.
3. Reread two books- Last year it was “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald and “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad. To be honest I reread both of these a great deal, so those aren’t imaginative picks. I mentioned in last week’s “Seven Novels for Christmas” that I really want to reread “Under the Volcano” by Malcolm Lowry. It’s a book that draws comparisons to “Ulysses” by James Joyce, but the beauty of it was lost on me the first time around. Books, as I’ve always maintained, rely as much on the time and place we read them as anything else. Of course that could be a ridiculous theory, stuffed in behind my thoughts on aliens and the JFK assassination. At any rate, that will be one of the books I’ll try to reread. The other will likely be an Ernest Hemingway title since I have neglected him for too long.
4. Write five short stories- Last year I had a goal of three and finished only one. With my writing here and the much larger projects—the first half of the year I wrote what will hopefully be that third novel—I didn’t carve out enough time to focus on shorter pieces. In all honesty, short fiction is more fun, if only because the product is finished. Even when you climb a small hill, it’s good to be on top.
5. Learn to speak conversational Spanish- Long a regret of mine, I know snippets of three languages and I’m garbage at all of them. Armed with Rosetta Stone and a workplace full of Spanish-speaking folks, I figure this is at least worth trying. I don’t need to be able to read Cervantes, but it’d be nice to order a taco and beer and find out why the dishwasher is always giving me the stink eye. How does this have anything to do with a literary resolution list? It doesn’t, but this is my list. Now go make your own.