New year, new you.
In a previous life, I worked for a popular online bookseller. Every December, merchandising and marketing teams would brainstorm New Year’s ideas, and invariably “New year, new you” would take over. The idea—as we all know—is to take stock of life and roll out our lists (be they long or short) of resolutions. The goal? To change those things about ourselves we don’t like or feel shame about. Lose weight. Start a new business. Fall in love. Buy a home. Travel more. Eat better.
There’s an entire industry focused around this message, and we flock to books, products, services, gyms, and dating apps in order to remake ourselves. Sometimes those changes stick. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the changes really need to happen. And sometimes those changes involve us trying to be someone else entirely.
Writers and authors aren’t any different. Most of us have already started thinking about 2021 and aspects of our writing that we want to change, improve, or reject outright.
Without fail, most of these resolutions or goals tend to run as follows:
- write more
- spend less time on social media
- edit my book
- publish my book
- make more money
- write a new book
- sell more books
- get an agent
- find a publisher
- no, but really, write more
Sometimes our craft—or at least, how we manage it—just needs a few tweaks. We all know authors who seem to have everything down and keep churning out books, blogs, social media engagements, and other content. For others, our craft is struggling. We’re either not making enough money to get by, not writing enough, holding back our work (out of fear, anxiety, or the belief that we’re not worthy), or not selling well. In short, we’re simply not living our best writer life. At least…not the one we’ve imagined.
And perhaps that’s where the greatest danger lies. Sometimes, we ask things of ourselves that may not necessarily be true to who we are. Writers of the weirdly esoteric aren’t likely to have bestsellers, and yet some of these authors will try to cram themselves into writing commercial fiction. Others, seeing the popularity of romance (after years—or decades—of pooh-poohing the genre), suddenly decide they want in on the action, even as they continue to look down their noses at it. Sometimes these experiments work. Often they fail, because we’re trying to be someone we’re not, and if anything, readers have quite delicately tuned noses for the poop of bulls.
We’re all trying to find the perfect equation for success. The right book at the right time with the right resources. When it works, the outcome can be life-changing. And when it doesn’t, we can resort to berating ourselves for not doing more, for not being more, and for not achieving that ideal that’s been living in our heads for so long.
But comparing ourselves to others—or worse, to that imaginary ideal that haunts our brains—is the quickest way to insanity and self-loathing, and writers and authors are utterly susceptible to it. Which tells me that maybe the problem isn’t always with us, our writing, or even with the book-buying public.
Maybe the problem is that we’re so busy trying to improve ourselves and reach further for that ideal that we’re losing our hold on the parts of writing that give us joy and truly feed our souls.
This year—the year of compromise, adjustments, and reevaluating priorities in the face of pandemic and struggle—got me to thinking (always a dangerous prospect).
Think about the last time you were genuinely happy and excited every time you sat down to write. Was it the year when (despite not being a morning person) you dragged your sorry, exhausted bum out of bed at 5:00 a.m. every day because you heard that some authors write their best work first thing in the morning? Was it the time that, instead of writing the speculative science fiction you love, you decided to concentrate on a book of essays that explored every trauma in your lifetime? Or was it when you stopped writing poetry, because someone you love gave you the unhelpful and debilitating “maybe you need to reassess your life choices” speech? The answer to these questions is almost certainly a resounding no.
Perhaps, having managed to survive this strange, messy, and completely challenging year, we can be allowed to not spend the first of January trying to "improve” ourselves. What if, for this next year, instead of trying to be another kind of author or writer, we were just ourselves? The “ourselves” we were back when we were younger and excited about writing. The “ourselves” we were when we genuinely loved what we were creating and weren’t conflicted by nasty reviews, apathetic book publications who weren’t interested, or by a public who, for whatever reason, didn’t buy your book this year.
What if 2021 became the year of “new year…old you”?
That’s not to say we should ignore the years and even decades of experience we’ve earned or revisit destructive habits. Far from it. What I am proposing is a much more revolutionary idea. What if we each—armed with our current writing skills and experience—wrote the book we wanted to write when we had just decided we wanted to be a writer? Back in grade school, or high school, or college, or even only a couple of years ago?
Life has a funny way of throwing obstacles in our paths. Sometimes we’re forced to reevaluate old and unrealistic goals. Sometimes we have to change course entirely (hi, every parent ever). Sometimes we have to make compromises that will allow us to keep a roof over our heads and food in our little writerly bellies. But some of those first instincts had merit. After all, they got us this far.
And perhaps the lesson for 2021 isn’t necessarily to reinvent ourselves to suit the shape of others, or even the vision in our head, but to distill down to the essence of who we truly are. Those things that shaped who we became, and those first books that made our eyes and brains light up with joy. When we’re all tucked away (hopefully) snugly in our homes with only a few—or no—loved ones around us, we start evading the influence of others and avoiding those comparisons. Seeing curated lives on social media might make us question our resolve, but social media can be turned off. Temporarily, anyway.
What if the biggest opportunity of our trash-fire toilet year of 2020 is to become more authentically ourselves—and therefore more authentic in the stories we tell? Isn’t that when writing becomes most powerful?
So dust off those old dreams, my fellow scribes, and hold them up to the light and see what sparkles.
Let’s find ourselves again and reconnect with that youthful joy and enthusiasm.
Let’s hope that we can shine in the coming year ahead.
And now we begin 2021.
Hannah Guy lives in Toronto and is a professional writer and copywriter who specializes in books, books, and more books. Follow her on Twitter at @hannorg.