Anyone who has ever rung in the New Year with me is probably aware of the uniquely poignant and philosophical mood it puts me in. I’m the person who asks if you have any New Year’s resolutions, despite no one ever being enthusiastic to hear that question. I’m the person who will swoop on you from the other side of the room if I hear you utter ‘I don’t really care about New Year’s Eve’ and explain in an unsolicited rant why you’re wrong. I’m always the most sober at midnight, because while everyone else at the party has taken the evening as an opportunity to be merciless with their livers, I want to be cognisant, sensitive, ready. In short, I’m a massive New Year’s Nerd (NYN).
I know January first is just another day, but that’s kind of the entire point: every day can be January first if you want it to be! New Year is just our best shot at remembering that. It infuses the lives of NYNs with fresh purpose and motivation. It gives us a dose of live-for-todayness, and if you can maintain it until New Year’s Eve rolls round again, I hear they make smiling pot-bellied statues of you a la Buddha.
This is why I’m so into New Year’s Resolutions as well. I say I’m going to do something differently almost every single day of my life, but if you embrace the New Year, you can make it mean more. Think of how you’re most careful with your belongings when they’re new. If I asked you to stop scuffing the toes on your three year old, worn out boots, it probably wouldn’t mean much to you, because what difference would it make anyway? Looking at your failings and beating yourself up over them is not the way to motivate yourself to do better. But feeling good about the fact that you’ve eaten your five a day every single day this year, even if it’s only January third, is how you become a new you!
But enough. I will probably spend most of January blogging about my renewed enthusiasm. I’m here to talk about this year. 2016. The year that, if the internet is to be believed, literally murdered David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Carrie Fisher, and a whole load more of your faves. The year of nightclub shootings and [more] bombings in France. The year of Brexit and The Donald FFS. The world at large had a pretty terrible 2016, and almost as if my stars wanted to make a show of solidarity, mine will also not be making any best-of lists when I buy the farm.
Exhibit A: my 2016 New Year’s resolutions, annotated:
Give up alcohol and sugar for all of January.
Get a job.
Here’s the thing: I’ve filled out more applications for part-time work than I’ve admitted to anyone. Things I’m in no way qualified for, things I’m overqualified for, and things awfully similar to what I was doing in my last job. Someone has deemed me unsuitable for every single one. Can they tell my heart’s not in it? Erm, I write a heckin’ exceptional supporting statement, so absolutely not. And besides, some of them I’ve been truly excited about. Are they put off by the long stint of unemployment? It’s highly likely. But whatever. There’s nothing I can do about that other than continue to believe that when the perfect job comes along, I’ll be the perfect candidate.
Publish my novel as an ebook.
Check! This was a big’un and I did it. Could I have done it better? Yes. In hindsight, I wish I’d thought to promote it more in advance of putting it on sale, but I’m not losing sleep over it. Getting it out there and having people I’ve never even met read it has been beyond exciting – and the work that went into it gave me real purpose for a few exciting weeks – but this was never meant to be my big break.
Don’t get ill. All year.
Aim high, right? No, I did not achieve this.
Finish current novel.
There was this schedule, this time last year. This beautiful, colour-coded, thoughtfully planned timeframe for a first draft of book #2. It expired seven months ago, and no, I have not finished my novel. I might have if I’d worked harder, or managed my time differently, or not made that beautiful schedule in the first place, and approached the project without as much pressure. The thing about New Year is that I get to leave the ifs and buts in the past. No, I didn’t finish my novel. Yes, I’m frustrated by that. But it’s not going to stop be putting this one back of my list of resolutions this year.
In the end, I’ve realised it’s not the resolutions that matter when I look back and pass judgement on the year. Or it is, but not in the way I’m valuing them. I pick a list of things I think will help me grow and change, and it’s the growing and changing that makes for a successful year, whether I planned for the specifics last December or not. The problem this year wasn’t that I didn’t finish my novel, it’s that I didn’t finish anything, or start anything either. 2016 never gained momentum. The story arc was lacking. The star did her best with the source material, which was promising in parts, but repeatedly failed to deliver. While 2016 improved on the jarring pacing and frankly atrocious first half of its predecessor, it was probably, in retrospect, damaged by the hype. It was no way near as good as it promised to be.
That’s not to say there haven’t been flashes of brilliance. I visited Barcelona. I started learning Spanish so I can go back. I saw two of my closest friends get married. I started a blog, and the reactions of people who see echoes of their own stories in mine has been more than I could have hoped for. I made my first paycheck as a writer, and I even won an award for the same piece. Yes! I won an award. I taught my dog to high-five; IT’S THE EFFING CUTEST THING YOU’VE EVER SEEN. I’m hashtag blessed, but I’m also living in this agonising stasis, at perhaps the most important juncture of my career (aka the one which dictates whether I will ever have one) – and it’s giving me déjà vu. This New Year looks uncannily like the last one.
Here’s one thing about 2016 though: it’s over. It’s time to try again. I’m still a diehard NYN, and the New Year spirit is already bubbling inside me (not a euphemism for I have been drunk off champagne for the entire festive period, but that too). It might look like I’m Groundhog-Daying this thing, but only Bill Murray gets to live his mistakes again, and I swear on a pair of novelty 2017 glasses, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Thirteen minutes ago, I got the news that somebody had looked at my hard-won, beloved brainchild and said no. Again.
I’m talking about my first novel, completed seventeen months ago after five near-impossible years, and then reluctantly self-published as an ebook this year to predictably poor success. Last month, I decided in a last-ditch effort to not let it die that I would enter it for an award for unpublished/self-published children’s novels. An extremely competitive award; one I barely stood a chance of winning. I knew this. I knew it the way I know the chances that Liam Hemsworth will knock on my front door today and tell me fate brought him here.
And I just found out I didn’t make the longlist, which is something I thought I was prepared for. Oh, how silly of me. If you’ve ever bought a lottery ticket and then mentally spent all of your winnings before finding out that you have inevitably been suckered, then you’ll know how this type of thing happens. Only – replace ‘buying a lottery ticket’ with pouring your heart and soul into something, and baring everything you have for it to potentially be tossed aside with the consideration of all but a moment; even to be loathed, pitied, ridiculed by people who know better than you. And replace ‘mentally spending your winnings’ with grappling to hold down your crippled, floundering self-belief. Because, when you stop lying to yourself, you know that you don’t buy the ticket unless a small part of you thinks you might win.
It’s so, so painful. It feels like the kind of humiliation you think only happens in a bad dream, when you get to school and discover you’re naked. It feels like being six inches tall. Because it’s not just one rejection, it’s the most recent of dozens, and each one represents a plethora of compelling reasons why I should just give up, and a set of questions I’m screaming in my head: At what point does perseverance become wishful thinking? At what point does an effort to be resilient make you blind? Am I, maybe, just plain not good enough?
And the most difficult to get my head around: if someone told me, categorically and without a shred of doubt, convinced me that my work was bad, would I even feel any differently about it? The slow decay of my hopes for my first novel has been like a drawn-out breakup, or even a kind of mourning. I know I need to let it go and move on, and to degrees I have. But my pride in that novel doesn’t come from knowing it’s good, it comes only from knowing that I wrote the absolute best story that I could at the time. Watching it die is a real heartbreak, but one I’ll recover from eventually. But days like today make me question how much more I can take. What will happen if my next novel suffers the same fate? How much worse will the blows be in ten years? Twenty years? When do I quit?
Under the swelling and bruises is this odd little masochist of a woman. She’s stubborn. She’s grown a thick skin because she knew what she was getting herself into and she is, in fact, oddly joyful. This is the stuff success is made of, after all. Every time it gets harder, I get to prove to myself that I’m up to the challenge – and even if I spend the rest of my life getting knocked back like this, knowing I’m that kind of person is truly success enough. Today I realised that self-belief isn’t effected by rejection, it’s effected by what you do next, and mine’s been battered by thirteen minutes (turned two hours) of wallowing, which is quite enough. Now to nurse it back to health.