Another New Year has come and gone. Another year of writing, revising and wondering how time slips by so quickly.
The merciless cliff-drop of New Year is a tough time to be a writer. No deadline feels as definite or as looming as that of the year’s end. Something about the inevitable reflection, the alcohol-induced emotion, the atmosphere of change makes me feel as if I should have so much more to show for myself.
So, inevitably, come the resolutions.
Every year my New Year’s resolutions are the same: finish the book, finish the play, write more, drink less, run more, complain less. The same old empty promises. And probably common enough for anyone living the literary life.
The problem with resolving to finish a book is that there’s no set amount of time that it takes to write a masterpiece (or a flop, for that matter), so I had no way of knowing if it was enough time to give myself. Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his first Sherlock Holmes novel in under a month. Junot Diaz, on the other hand, took almost ten years to write The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
After making these rash resolutions each year and failing every time, I started to wonder whether I was setting myself an impossible task.
Last year I decided that enough was enough. 2015 was the one in which the work would be done. I had moved to a new country, I had started an MFA, now was the time to make it or break it.
In the midst of last year, around month three or four, as I was trying to stare through the vibrating patchwork of my migraine vision, I started to tire. I started to think that writing a novel was not something I could do at all. Arthur Conan Doyle is just a better worker than me, I conceded.
Forcing myself to rush and break through the wall seemed to me a bad idea. A novel, I concluded, was something that should be worked on with respect and time. To rush my future masterpiece seemed like sacrilege. If I wrote when I didn’t want to, just to finish, my writing would surely suffer.
Perfect excuses, my subconscious chuckled.
Luckily, optimism, the fear of deadlines and the ever-looming knowledge of the year’s end struck me with enough anxiety during 2015 to get the work done. And now it is done (or the third draft is, but we can’t have it all), and my resolution as close to complete as I’ve ever managed, I realize something.
As I look at the couple of hundred pages I have, I realize that a year is not a long time at all. Or, rather, I realize that it has been no longer and no shorter than any other year. And that means that I will never have an excuse to not complete just as much writing.
That’s not a bad thing, I must keep reminding myself. Seeing the document there, representing a year of my life, does not remind me of the effort, the loneliness, or the migraines, but rather of the great deal of satisfaction that came with completing it. And within my own personal deadline. I did, I confess, have a good time.
So, perhaps as I always hoped it would on the first day of the New Year, my mind has changed. Rushing is not only a great idea for a writer, but maybe even necessary. Especially for one who is in the throes of their first substantially-sized piece of work.
Without the fear of another wasted year breathing down my neck, I know that I would never have been motivated enough to finish. And having finished a complete draft, I no longer see a novel as a holy object, a piece of work that must be written only when one is in the most capable state of body and mind. It is something that should, if it is worth writing, be written at any cost. Because only once it is finished can you look back on it and start the equally arduous process of making it better.
So, what are my resolutions now? Well, I will write more, I will watch a little less television, drink a little less and, of course, I will rush to finish another long piece of work. Because not only do I know that it’s possible, but I know that it’s worth it.
Josh King is a second-year MFA student at Adelphi University in New York, and moved from the UK in 2014. He is curator of the blog As & When for the literary website Village of Crickets, and divides his time between writing fiction and sampling the New York literary scene.