New beginnings: rules

by | Dec 31, 2017 | The Writer's Life, On writing | 5 comments

S. Le Manning: It’s New Year’s Eve, the end of 2017, the beginning of 2018.Once again, we celebrate that everything is starting new, that things in the coming year will be different, that we will be different.

So, it’s a perfect time to talk about new beginnings. The beginning of a year always brings self-examination and the hope of change. Do you want to lose weight? Start a new career? Find a relationship? Improve a relationship? Get out of a relationship? Stop talking about relationships?
It doesn’t even have to be a big, life shattering change. Starting a new hobby: learn to ski, golf, shoot, speak French. Travel somewhere new. Join a club.  New Year’s Day operates as something of a start line. Ready, set, welcome 2018, yahoo, something new.
It’s also a terrible time to talk about new beginnings – because it’s expected, because there’s too much pressure, because it’s easy to interpret a lapse as a failure and give up, because everyone’s talking about change in the new year and it feels a little conformist and maybe a little boring. How many damn columns are there now about resolutions and how to keep them and yada yada, which means you’re probably as fed up as I am even though I’m writing this– and which is part and parcel of my general loathing of New Year’s Eve. (See last year’s blog.)
But giving in to the mood of the season, and because I have to write something, this post is my personal list of rules for new beginnings. (I like to make lists – maybe part of the ADHD thing – or obsessive compulsive thing. Whatever.)
So here we go:

Rule 1. Don’t set an artificial deadline for starting. New Year’s Day is a perfectly okay day to start something new – but there’s a whole 364 other days in the year that’ll work just fine. I know this sounds kind of simplistic, but the day you start whatever it is you want to change, that’s the perfect day to do it. Don’t get stuck on starting in the new year or on your birthday or on Valentine’s Day, especially not Valentine’s Day, because it’s another stupid holiday that just gives restaurants an excuse to jack up prices.
Rule 2. You’re never too old, or too young to start something new. There are, however, some limitations based on physical ability – and it helps to be realistic. If your eyesight is failing, I suspect you might want to reconsider taking up target shooting. (Maybe not – but do let me know when you’re going to be at the range so I can hide.) Maybe ski jumping isn’t a great idea at 92 – but then again, I’m not going to rule it out based just on age. I wouldn’t do it myself, but then, I’m not 92. I’m also terrified of heights and ski lifts and clowns – none of which is relevant here, is it?
Rule 3. For many new beginnings, focus not on the end goal but on what you’re doing every day to achieve it – and make it something reasonable to do. You want to give up the law and become a New York Times best seller? You want to give up writing, become a lawyer, and argue before the Supreme Court? (Okay, give me a minute to stop rolling on the floor.)  We’re talking new beginnings here, not a reality show. So, you can become a lawyer or a writer or a teacher – and if in the course of doing so, you become a best seller or win the Pulitzer Prize, terrific. But don’t have that as your goal. And don’t effing tell me about it, either, because I won’t take it well.
Rule 4. Have a positive reason for the change. If you’re only starting something new just because it’s a new year and you feel you should, maybe you should rethink. Do it out of love or excitement or wanting to be part of a community. Take up exercise because it makes you feel good, not just because you have been pressured by your kids or your partner or your doctor and you just want them to shut up. Silencing the nagging voices may be a side benefit, okay a really big side benefit, especially if it’s your husband who is older than you but can outwalk, outrun, and outclimb you –  you get the picture. Still, you need a positive reason to keep going – and this leads into …
Rule 5. Find other people who are also writing or skiing or exercising or leaving bad relationships. Starting something new can be difficult – but sharing that new start with other people makes it more likely that you’ll stick to it. Community is important for all of us, even those of us – like most writers – who are essentially introverts and have a tendency to hide under tables at parties.  However, brief and infrequent it may be, even if it’s over the phone or on-line or at conferences twice a year, having someone to cheer you on can make all the difference. Just make sure that you pick the right person – and not someone who wins the Pulitzer Prize with her first novel, because, well, just because….
Rule 6. Okay, this is the last and most important rule – to hell with rules. What I wrote above might work for some people. It might not work for you. Whatever works is whatever works.  Rule 5 could have been the whole post – but it would have been on the short side, and you would have missed all the side snide comments, which is the real reason I’m enjoying writing this post and maybe the reason you’re reading it as well.

So Happy New Year. Happy new beginnings.  Catch me on-line and at conferences for writing encouragement and power walking. Or not.

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  1. Karna Bodman

    You have certainly given us a lot to think about as we face the "pressure" of telling everyone what our New Year's Resolutions are. I had to laugh at #3 – I mean, if we want to start something new, yes, we need to be a bit realistic – right? Now, thanks for this post, S. Lee – and Happy New Year to all!

  2. Jamie Freveletti

    Like these "rules!" Happy New Year!

  3. Gayle Lynds

    Great 6 rules (and NONRULES). I laughed out loud while nodding at the truths you write. Thank you, S. Lee, and Happy New Year to you, too!

  4. Chris Goff

    Love the list. I'm a list maker, too. And I love the fact I have some guidance, but I don't have to follow the effing rules if I don't want to. Happy New Year!