Something Accomplished, Something Learned, Something Resolved

I love New Year’s. It’s a time to look back, evaluate, and then look forward, outward, up.

My critique group does an end of the year round table where we all share one thing we’ve accomplished and one thing we’ve learned in the past year of writing. I love this, and I think it leads very naturally into my resolution for 2014.

What I’ve accomplished: I succeeded at last year’s public resolution to find the right agent for me. About a week ago I accomplished last year’s private resolution to complete my requirements to go from Affiliate member to Active member in the Horror Writers Association — basically the difference between semi-professional and professional. That one slipped in just under the gun for 2013. I’ve officially become a professional horror writer. (Or at least as much as any impartial source will ever be able to declare a thing like that. It’s the one I’ve chosen as my own personal meter.) This one is huge for me.

I also achieved something I hadn’t even set out as a realistic goal: I just got news (again, a week ago; follow me on Facebook for the most up to date news) that I received an honorable mention in the national poetry manuscript contest this year. That means my book of poems, Hope and Other Myths, placed top 5 in the country! (This is through the National Federation of State Poetry Societies. They didn’t rank the three honorable mentions, so I was either 3rd, 4th, or 5th place overall.) Only 1st  place gets their book published, but I’m incredibly honored to be named. Really, really honored.

So I was over the moon happy in 2013, right? Well, no. Not when it came to my writing career. Which brings me to the thing I’ve learned. Achieving new goals isn’t what will make me happy; learning to appreciate where I am and how far I’ve come is what will make me happy.

Goals are great. I’m a really strong proponent of pushing one’s self, of setting defined markers of progress. Maybe too much so, though, because somewhere along the way in 2013 I realized I wasn’t that happy with my progress, even though I am indeed making it. Every time I succeeded at something, I wanted more. Somehow, I reached a point where accomplishment felt less like a joy to celebrate and more like… a relief.

Did you catch that? I would succeed at achieving one of my goals and feel relieved. Not happy, not excited, not proud. Well okay, maybe a little, but mostly I felt the distinct release of stress that we call relief. Needless to say, that’s a problem. I’ve always straddled the line between ambitious and dictatorial, and this was a major clue to warn me I was slipping down the wrong side of that line.

I guess I let myself get away with it at first because things began small. I just wanted some initial validation. When I started out, all I wanted was to get one poem accepted for publication. Just one! Then I would know I wasn’t fooling myself. But of course, the thing about goals is that once you accomplish them, you need to set new ones – as it should be. I, however, began setting new ones instantly. Got a piece of flash fiction published? Next I wanted a whole story accepted. Got a short story published? Next I wanted one accepted at professional rates. Got that? Next I needed three so I could bump up in HWA status. Got that? Now I want to land one in a best of the year anthology. (Seriously, I’m incorrigible.)

Do you see the problem here? There will always be something more to want. I used to think, “If I could just _____ (win a contest, get something published, land an agent), I’ll feel better. I would be happy then.” Even some of the most famous authors have admitted to this. Have a book published? Next you want a series. Wildly successful? Next you want to hit the bestseller lists. Land on the lists every time? Next you want to be #1. Done that? Next you want to conquer a new genre under a pen name to prove you can. There. Is. Always. More.

Which means that if I believe reaching my next goal will make me content, I’m sadly mistaken, because the minute I reach it that goal will change to a new one. That’s a great way to accomplish lots of things, but not such a great way to be a happy person.

This has led me to the only logical answer: I need to find a way to be happy with where I am. I will always be driven to achieve the next goal, and I’m grateful for that, but none of that holds value if I don’t enjoy them when I reach them. Somehow, I need to learn to be content amidst the striving. I need to learn to stop and appreciate my accomplishments on a deep level. In that spirit, my resolution this year will not be to reach a distinct goal. It will be to change the way I interact with myself about my existing goals.

The path of a full-time creative is a strange one, full of inspiration and stress and loneliness and pain. It’s unpredictable and maddening and daunting. It’s absolutely unique, which is absolutely beautiful.

In 2014, I resolve to appreciate it – every step along the way.


Do you have a resolution in mind? I would love to hear from all of you about something you’ve accomplished, something you’ve learned, and what you’re resolving. Happy New Year!

Share this:
This entry was posted in Goals and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.
  • Traci Kenworth

    I would’ve liked to have gone further in my writing career than I did this year, but I’m working on it, and not giving up. I hope to become an anffliate of HWA as well this years when funds become available. I really enjoy reading your blogs and learning from you!! May you have a blessed new year!!

    • Thank you, Traci! Best of luck to you with the HWA membership!!

  • Cynthia Robertson

    It’s like the Buddha said, Annie, life is about the journey,
    not the destination (or something like that). Seems to me you realize it’s just
    a matter of letting yourself be there mentally.

    Like you, I sometimes need to be reminded, so thanks for
    this perfect New Year post.

  • Regina Richards

    First, congratulations on placing in the top 5 in the country!! And on your new HWA status!! Way to go!!
    Your drive is one of the things I love about you. It inspires me. But I think you are so wise to have figured out this early in the game that it’s the joy of the journey as much as the destination that matters. Good for you.

  • jclementwall

    Once, a friend told me that I “don’t spend enough time basking.” It made me laugh (uncomfortably). Not only do I have a history of resetting my sights on the new goal immediately, I’ve often downplayed the importance of a goal once I’ve reached it. It’s as if by reaching it, I’ve somehow proven that I should have been trying for something different… more prestigious, harder, bigger.

    I’ve been working on it ever since my friend said that to me. I told my husband to make sure I bask more, and so now he says things like, “Shouldn’t you be basking right now?” It helps me to be reminded.

    (And congratulations on a wildly successful 2013, my talented friend!)

    • J, I LOVE that. “Basking” is the absolute perfect word for it. I think I’ll tell my husband this too; maybe he can help remind me to bask once in a while. 🙂 Thank you for that!

  • Melissa Crytzer Fry

    What an honest post, Annie. Thanks for sharing (and congrats on the big poetry win — and all the other HUGE accomplishments). Your post really speaks to the “stop and smell the roses” part of life, and enjoying the tiny steps along the way. Easier said than done by someone who’s driven and pushes herself. I find myself always wanting, too, always pushing … and feel I’m missing out when something big DOES happen — that my reactions are often muted instead of celebratory. So your post really resonates. I wrote an article recently for the Breast Cancer Society, and an amazing older woman was talking about breaking free from negativity. And while I know you are NOT negative, I think her morsel of advice may help nonetheless, in how to appreciate the small things — and being present in them. She suggested writing a daily gratitude journal. The rules are to write 3-5 things you’re grateful for each day. And you can’t repeat them. I’ve started to do this and I think it’s a fantastic way to be more present with myself, the world around me, and the way I feel about the things around me. I mean – one of her examples: “It could be something as simple as, ‘I’m grateful for the sun on my face.'” I wonder if examining things on a smaller scale might make the ‘bigger things,’ when accomplished, all the more sweet and worthy of true celebration?

    • Peggy

      Nice thoughts and insight! Your idea of celibrating/being grateful for the small things makes me think of Mary Oliver. She can write the most beautiful poetry about the tiniest little things in nature.

      • Yes, and Jane Hirshfield as well. I try to practice mindfulness in my own life, but, as I said above, I need to begin including myself in that practice!

    • Yes, these are wonderful thoughts! I’m actually pretty good about being present and grateful in most of my life, but for whatever reason those practices (that I associate closely with being a poet) don’t carry over into my own goals and career. I guess maybe I feel like “basking,” as j calls it, in my own accomplishments feels a little selfish, as opposed to basking in relationships, beauty, life, etc., which feels grateful. But that’s a gut thing, not a logical thing. I should absolutely count myself and my achievements among the things worth being grateful for! This really made me look at it in a different way, Melissa. Thank you!

  • Peggy

    Here, here!! I applaud your self awareness and also your talent & drive! Congratulations on an amazing year!!! It must be quite a struggle to balance it all. I’ve noticed that a lot of your poems show a real ability to appreciate the journey & the small things in life. Poems such as: Firelogs, The Air in Our Apartment, & Nights in Texas are just a few examples.

    • Aw, thank you so much! Yes, I love writing poetry about the small things that are worth holding onto — the moments that really make up the fabric of a life well lived. I suppose the difference is that those things are usually ‘other,’ as opposed to ‘self.’ I always have been harder on myself than I am on those I love. These comments have been very enlightening for me! I will go into 2014 with a desire to see and appreciate my accomplishments the way I see and appreciate those of others in my life!

  • Congratulations on making the top 5 in the country. That’s incredible! I haven’t yet made any 2014 resolutions. I don’t know if I will. One thing I’ve learned this year is that my thoughts, whether good or bad, are what I’ll be. So I suppose I’d like to be more positive in 2014. I hope you have a wonderful New Year!

    • Thank you! That sounds like a very thoughtful resolution to make. I hope you have a very positive 2014!

  • Russell Linton

    I learned crashing and burning in spectacular ways is fun and a bit instructive. I also learned I have very little patience and will most likely grab some opportunities by the semicolons next year.

    As always, great post and a wonderful attitude for success, Annie. Looking forward to your latest short story and other great things from you in the future!

    • Thank you so much, Russ! I’ve done my fair share of crashing and burning; I agree, it can be quite instructive. I struggle with patience a lot too, for better or for worse. I’m sure you’ll be bowled over with opportunities next year. 🙂

  • I’m glad you’ve accomplished so many things this year. Congrats! I don’t know about you, but I’ve discovered over many years that things you really want because you think they’ll make you happy and make a difference in your life, won’t do either. But scurrying fast on the ambition path will occasionally take you places you didn’t know you could go and will change your life in unexpected ways. So aim high and dream big, but be proud of yourself for who you are, not who your accomplishments say you are — you are more than the sum of your accomplishments. Wishing you a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2014.

    • Wise words, Lexa. I was talking about this with someone recently. I think it’s important to remember not just that we’re more than our accomplishments, but that we’re more than our career, too. I identify very strongly as a writer, but I need to remember that I’m more than *just* a writer. Thanks for your comment!

  • Isn’t there some sort of psychological basis for the weirdness of goal-setting and goal-reaching? I think I read once that people are happier when they plan to go on a vacation than they are even when they go. There’s something about going somewhere that’s somehow more invigorating than arriving. The trick is to balance this in a healthy way. Unfortunately I have very little advice on that side, except perhaps instead of focusing your goals on external validations, maybe focus on the writing itself? I’m hoping to get my novel on submission to agents this year, but otherwise all my writing goals will be designed to push my writing in new directions. Craft-focused, and not career focused. If I stumble on other successes on the way, like story publication and the like, then all the better!

    Oh — one of my writing goals is to write some poetry. Eep!

    • There is definitely some weird psychology around goal-setting! For example, declaring one’s intentions to do something (your resolution) fulfills the part of the brain that strives for things, making you actually less likely to follow through. In other words, our brain finds saying we’ll do things very similar to actually doing them, so sometimes talking about plans inhibits our execution. Of course, I think knowing about that phenomenon counteracts the natural effect, but I’ve never seen any studies on it.

      And your example makes perfect sense to me. I’ve always tended to have more fun getting ready for things than actually doing them (like trips). I love the idea of applying this to writing. I can think of the goals as the destination and the writing as getting ready, so in that way all of the excitement *should* be in getting there, not being there — which really fits quite well with my lack of excitement when I finally reach a goal. Cool. Maybe that will help me relax and just embrace it.

      I bet you’ll be great at poetry. Good luck, and have fun! 🙂

  • Marialena Carr

    Annie, it sounds like you had a fabulous 2014 and it’s never too late to start basking. After all, you just reached some of these goals. Quick, go bask a while. 🙂 Come on, you can do better: bask harder!

    More seriously, I completely understand. It is one of the banes of the perfectionist or driven person. In my case I sometimes think that I could do “A,” “A” must not have been a very big deal. Or if someone said something nice about me, there was something questionable about their standards. 🙂 So I get it. Big time. But as you wisely say, creatives are never done: there’s always another book, story, poem waiting to be told, and it can always be revised one more time, and another. Learning to say good enough and remembering to *play* is my way of countering the “and now…” tendency.

    One of my accomplishments of the year was starting my blog. One of the rewards from that was meeting you and other wonderful people, who I consider friends! I look forward to continuing in the adventure of blogging and more in 2014!

    • ^^ So true, Marialena! Two of my three big things this year came in the last little fragment of the calendar year, so I am indeed still basking. It’s great practice for… uh… even more basking! 😉

      Man, you sound just like me (and j, in her comment above). It must be a certain personality type. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve brushed off compliments for fear that the speaker is biased or has lower standards or… deflection after deflection. I really need to stop that!

      I’m so glad you joined the blogging world! I think of you as a friend too, and so many of my readers/commenters/fellow bloggers. It really is a lovely community. Thank you for being a part of it!

  • Such an important distinction you’ve made here between that happiness and relief. I’ve had to work very hard (like at least once a week) to remind myself that THIS (personal essays here and there and getting paid for them) is what I”m doing now. There’s no book right now. There’s no agent right now. There’s really not much more than these 3-4 essays a month and that is all I can handle with the kids and it’s okay. It’s where I’m at NOW and it doesn’t mean I can reach for other things later.

    Congrats on the many successes this year, Annie!

    • Thank you, Nina. I can totally understand your struggle, but you have a wonderful sense of self-awareness, so I know you’ll get the knack of it soon. (And for the record, I really admire your choice.) Happy New Year!

  • Amy Cavenaugh

    Congrats on accomplishing so many of your goals! It is always a good idea to stay in the moment & relish reaching what you worked so hard for. Easier said than done, I know. I’m sure I will be the same way when I reach my goals for 2014! And I do hope I make them. I don’t like making resolutions per se but I’ve set goals for 2014: Find an agent. Run a half-marathon. Worry & stress less. Meditate more. The last one should help in all other areas. 🙂 Happy 2014!

    • Thanks Amy! 🙂 I could use that last one too. I wish you the very best of luck with your goals in 2014!