My theme this year–planting and watering–is all about small routines that grow segments of my life. The past two weeks I’ve talked about adaptation tools I use when anxiety and depression flare: checklist and menu. This week I want to pivot a bit to how my theme directly applies to me as an author.
In examining my theme and developing it over the course of a year, I must find ways to define what I’m looking at, what I’m looking for, and how I’ll know when change has occurred. No two themes have yet allowed me to use the same spreadsheet, so I’m either doing it very right or very wrong indeed.
Imagine a spreadsheet, less beautiful than practical. In column A, I’ve numbered the various areas of my life; column B names those areas, with a cascading list of goals underneath each area. Columns C and D are planting and watering, those small repetitive acts I can do to achieve a goal within a given area of my life. Column E, titled Desired Harvest, tells me what I know will happen if I plant column C and water with column D. Finally, column F reminds me of the things I don’t control.
Have a look:
Area 7 of my life is Author, and I’ve got four big goals: produce, learn, find representation, and self-care. To produce, I plant goal setting and water with meeting daily goals. The desired harvest is that I will build up a store of actionable works. To learn, I plant myself in critique group and water with applying for competitive opportunities to study. The desired harvest will be growing in my profession. To find representation, I plant through research and querying and I water through building relationships. The desired harvest is entering the next phase of my writing career. Finally, to promote self-care as an author, I plant by reading critiques rather than reviews. I water by creating boundaries between myself and my finished works so that whatever happens to those works, for good or ill, isn’t happening directly to me as a person. The desired harvest is to protect my ability to continue creating and working.
That’s the easy part, actually. It’s simple to think up goals and the small changes necessary to move toward those goals. The harder part for me, and the core of my theme, is what I don’t control. You see, by planting and watering, I am only controlling process, not outcome. A million things could intervene to kill a promising harvest, and my job is to let those things go while focusing on things I can control: planting and watering.
I don’t control, among other things:
- life’s interventions to my daily routines
- who responds to my work
- whether my work sells
- the availability of learning opportunities
- the cost of learning opportunities
- my acceptance to competitive opportunities
- who rejects my work
- how long it takes for my work to be accepted
- how long it takes for a representative to sell my work
- what people write in reviews
- what people say in critiques
- what anyone says, thinks, or feels about my works
When I look at that list, I can feel overwhelmed. Instead, I return to the simple acts of planting and watering. Of goal making and goal tending, if you prefer. Those are the things I control. My part. And I stop wondering and worrying about that list.
You probably have a list that you need to stop worrying over. Maybe not about authoring but about something important, some facet of your life. Return to basics. What can you plant? How can you water? What harvest will you produce even in the midst of all those uncontrollables?