The Mark Blog

Resolutions, Rituals, and Routines

I imagine the new year like this: a whole calendar laid bare, waiting to be marked up—month by month, day by day, moment by moment, by who we are and what we will do with ourselves in this new parameter of time.

I went to Tahoe over the holidays, so I also imagine the beginning of the year, in its openness, like a meadow smooth and white with untouched snow. We take the time to set forth our intentions, name our aims and decide the path we will take across the valley. Once our boots, or snowshoes, or cross-country skis sink into the snow, the path cannot be erased. It gleams in bright white.

The new year also calls me to reflect on the fourth anniversary of my relationship with my novel-in-progress. I began it during my Emerging Voices Fellowship, in 2009. The Emerging Voices program was an invaluable experience—the opportunity to be exposed to writers of all walks of life, in all stages of publication, and to learn from their stories on and off the page.

One of the most important lessons I garnered from the Emerging Voices program, which is still a backbone in my writing life, is precisely that—to structure and build a life conducive to writing. At Author Evenings, I consistently (perhaps annoyingly) inquired about authors’ daily schedules and personal writing patterns. Did they always write at the same time? First thing in the morning? Late at night? How did they balance writing and other work? Where did they do it? How did they enter their writing—did they first read, meditate, exercise? What about the phone, email, and other intrusions? What about all the other things that compete for their time?

As I write in solitude, there is, of course, something reassuring–even cheering–about envisioning the day-to-day happenings of kindred writers at their desks, in their own worlds, tapping away. Or, when I’m on a run, it’s warming to imagine Joyce Carol Oates or Mona Simpson also out stretching their legs. (As JCO says, “Running! If there’s any activity happier, more exhilarating, more nourishing to the imagination, I can’t think of what it might be.”) Or, when I’m tempted to tackle the dishes or straighten my massive pile at the foot of the stairs, I think of Ron Carlson’s mantra “Stay in the room,” from Ron Carlson Writes a Story. (Yay for being obligated to not do the dishes!) Additionally, I love the Aimee Bender piece, previously posted here on The Mark Blog, about her journey to create a personalized, just-right writing space (like her cramped hall closet), and her decision to designate writing hours every day. In a profession that demands hours, days, weeks, months and, through accretion, years of solitude, it’s not surprising that I—we—yearn to hear what other writers are up to, and how the people who are getting it done are, in fact, going about getting it done.

So, when I settle in and think about 2013, I also envision it like this—and wish it to be so for myself and others:

A satisfying checkmark beside each day’s established writing time. A good place to write. A complete and polished manuscript (by the end of The Mark program, for me, please!). A long list of stories and books that I had previously yearned to read. And that meadow. In a different season, with damp grass, a sparkling stream, those paths explored and transformed—it almost seems like a whole new place to be discovered and crossed and known once again.