So… I’m up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep. Thinking about how 2013 is somehow already ending. How did that happen?
One weird thing about being a blogger is that I have archives of my thoughts, so I get to leapfrog back to past resolutions each year, to see if I’ve accomplished my goals. It’s a funny kind of time travel. Tonight I’m looking back at where I was a year ago.
I’ve been a little worried about this moment. I haven’t been feeling terribly focused lately. But it’s okay! Last year I said I had only two goals.
#1 was “I want this to be the year I start taking better care of myself physically.”
And #2 was “I want to try very very hard not to think about selling the books I write.”
Honestly, I only half tackled the first goal. I did NOT go back to dance class. I did NOT start running. So I’ll roll all that exercise over to next year. AND I MEAN THAT, REALLY, THIS TIME I WILL. THIS TIME NEXT YEAR I’LL BE IN AMAZING SHAPE. (Ahem) But I DID do a much better job with other kinds of health stuff. I’ve been taking my vitamins, and my teeth are in much better shape! Ta da! So that’s fine. We’ll round up.
But I’d forgotten about the second goal, and I did tackle that one. It’s been a really good thing for me. Important.
Last spring I finished and turned in the book I was working on, SEVEN STORIES UP, which will be out next month. (Yay!!) But the revision process for that book was a tough one, and so when I was done, instead of trying to crank out a proposal for the next book, I just let myself scribble all kinds of different things. All spring I scribbled poems and picture books, and into the summer. I wrote a lot of manuscripts nobody will ever see in that time, and I didn’t finish THE MAGICAL THAT (mentioned in the post from a year ago), but I published some little essays, and in the end a few of the not-thinking-about-selling scribbles resulted in actual sales, namely CHARLIE & MOUSE, and CHARLIE & MOUSE & GRUMPY. Books I am deeply connected to. They’re so personal for me. I’m very happy about them.
But also– now I have a PILE of new picture books to revise, and I have drafts of 2 totally different chapter books, (as well as several false starts I never finished, but might someday). Also I have a very very clear outline, and the first chapters of a new novel, THE ORPHAN ISLAND. Which I’m insanely excited about.
It was good, this letting-go-of-thinking-about-selling. I didn’t stop making work. Rather, I was hugely productive. I only let go of my focus, my worry. I let myself fiddle and poke,, taking my time and not thinking about what exactly I was producing. Just letting the words come, in bits and snippets. Sitting on the couch, lazily. The way I used to journal, as a kid. Or the way I wrote poems in college. It felt different… and I feel much better.
Now, here’s what I find fascinating…
When I made my resolution last year, I felt like I needed a new model. A better way to work. I wasn’t in love with my ideas at that moment, and I was at the end of writing a novel, needing a break. I felt a little uninspired. Burned out. So I took some time.
But you know what’s funny? I just realized that was my SHMITA.
You know shmita?
In Jewish tradition, farmers leave their fields to lie fallow every seven years, so that the earth has a chance to replenish. It’s a sabbatical year. They can water and nurture the land. But they aren’t supposed to farm it, to work it. They call that shmita.
2007 was the year I really began my career as a children’s author. That was the year I revised UP AND DOWN THE SCRATCHY MOUNTAINS for Random House. The year I learned about “marketing a book.” I was getting ready to become an author in 2007. I saw my first galleys and my first line edits. I had my first meetings in New York. A door opened, and I walked through it. My life got INTENSE in a whole new way It was thrilling. And for six years, I put my head down and WORKED.
For SIX YEARS. Then I took a break, without exactly meaning to.
Now, obviously I haven’t been on vacation for a year. I’ve been watering and fertilizing. But I really did let up on myself in a lot of ways. I didn’t have a novel come out , so I traveled a lot less. But the main thing was this shift in how I thought about my work. I worked slow and sloppy. I let myself wander. in 2013 I let the fields lie fallow. I let my earth renew itself. I took a sabbatical. And it was good.
It never fails to amaze me how much wisdom there is in the Jewish tradition. So often I find a metaphor there, an analogy to my own life, though I’m not terribly observant. I’d been thinking until today that this slow and sloppy way of working was just my new method. That it was time to step away from the head-down word-count-a-day mode.
But maybe not. Now, thinking about shmita, I’m feeling the opposite. Maybe it’s exactly the time to get back out there in the fields with my plough, reap the bountiful harvest this renewed earth is supposed to yield.
I’m not ready to make resolutions yet, but I’m thinking about them.
What about you?