Friday, January 8, 2021

Making Endings for the New Year

 

English Proverb


In Western cultures, January 1 starts the annual calendar and with it come resolutions for the new year. We vow to lose ten pounds, exercise more, get organized, save more, quit smoking, learn Swahili, et cetera. I have nothing against goals. They can be helpful if used the right way, and five years ago I wrote a blog on Making Your Goals SMART. We can start a self-improvement project any day of the year. Today, however, I want to suggest that making good endings can be a critical step to our success.

Have you had the experience of trying to solve a problem and, seemingly out of nowhere, a solution appears, often long after you have actively been thinking about the problem? In college, I kept a notepad by my bed because I would wake up in the middle of the night knowing how to work a math problem that had stumped me the previous day or two. As an author, my recent experiences take the form of resolving a plot hole that had bothered me, or realizing I have a plot hole that I had not recognized. These sudden inspirations often occur while I am walking or listening to music.

Our minds are wired to work on open issues. Think of a computer that has programs open for Facebook, YouTube, a spreadsheet to collect receipts and expenses for your taxes, three incomplete short stories, a webpage providing information about how long it takes a body to decompose in Georgia clay, a to-do list with a few items checked off, a calendar reminding us that next week we have a colonoscopy scheduled for Tuesday at 9:20 a.m., and we need to pick up our child from soccer practice at four this afternoon, and our email program dings every time a new missive arrives. That’s a lot of stuff going on. The computer has algorithms to tell it how to allocate memory, CPU, space on the screen, and whether to access your printer remotely.

Our brains operate in a similar fashion with the positive result that our brainpower keeps working on problems we couldn’t solve. Often when we least expect it, an answer appears. They are not always great answers, but often they are spot on. Unfortunately, our brains aren’t good at prioritizing which problems to work on. Consider those times when you catch yourself thinking about the job you didn’t take seven years ago, the day Sally laughed because your clothes didn’t match, how embarrassed you felt in fourth grade when you snorted milk out your nose. We can’t change these past events. Although it may be useful to learn from past mistakes, dwelling on them at the expense of moving forward isn’t productive – and yet, if we allow them to remain open issues, our subconscious keeps offering opportunities for review. Example: two days after Sam crushed us with a negative one-liner, we think of the perfect response. Too late to use that response, but if we accept it as a fine solution to the problem, we can close that mental tab.

Sometimes we can catch ourselves wallowing in the mud hole of a past situation and issue a personal cease and desist order. This is the advice not to cry over spilt milk.

We can control a vast number of mind-tabs that opened with the best of intentions that we should put to bed. As part of preparing for 2021, I decided to end five writing projects that once excited me so they no longer suck up precious resources from more desirable projects.

Five writing projects I will end

1. Audio Books & Screen Plays: I will not create audio books for the Seamus McCree series. Closing that path means I don’t have to spend time or effort to compare (yet again) alternative financing methods and royalty splits, or find a narrator, or worry about whether Amazon is treating its vendors well. Nor will I follow several suggestions I have received to convert some of the Seamus McCree novels into screenplays.

2. Analysis Paralysis: For 2021, I will not reconsider whether I should maintain wide distribution for the Seamus McCree series or return to the Amazon-only universe with its access to Kindle Unlimited readers. Nor will I make comparisons to what happened in 2020 or 2019.

3. Dystopian Novels: I will put my idea for a dystopian YA series on hold and spend no more time world-building and sketching character arcs.

4. Class for Writers Using Microsoft Word: I know many writers could use a class to help them efficiently use Microsoft Word to prepare their drafts, manuscripts, and format their material for printed books. I enjoy teaching and could do a good job. But the time it will take me to collect material, prepare lessons, market, and deliver the course far exceeds the financial or psychological benefits I might obtain. I will turn down current requests.

5. Dealing with Psychic Bleeders: I call people who sap our positive energy with their negative energy “Psychic Bleeders.” Their techniques include “Woe is me” posts and emails, constant complaints about others, and refusal to do the most basic work themselves while looking for others to spoon-feed information. I’m giving up trying to help (some might say to save) psychic bleeders. I’ll politely refuse to engage with their antics.

The above list is not all-inclusive, nor (except for #5, I hope) am I precluded from resurrecting a project in the future.

Ending projects also holds for the non-writing parts of my life. I plan to give special emphasis to ignoring political Psychic Bleeders on whom I have spent inordinate energy this past year! [I wrote this before the events in Washington, DC on January 6. I still have some work to do on this one.]

Does this idea resonate with you? What endings should you make to free up time and energy for the important things in your life? I look forward to your comments.

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James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree series. Full of mystery and suspense, these thrillers explore financial crimes, family relationships, and what happens when they mix. Furthermore, a novella is the most recent addition to the series. You can sign up for his newsletter and find more information about Jim and his books at https://jamesmjackson.com.

(A version of this post first appeared 1/5/21 on the Writers Who Kill Blog.)