Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Goals and Resolutions for 2010

The first big New Year's resolution that I remember making and keeping was when I was 13 years old and I decided to become vegetarian. That's a resolution I've kept for 17 years now. During my teenage years and early twenties, I rarely made or kept resolutions. My self destructive tendencies always won out. But over the past few years I've been pretty good at keeping resolutions.

In 2007, I vowed to get in better physical shape and lose 15 pounds. I did that. I've been working out regularly ever since. However when I quit my office job (which had an amazing gym in the next building over and tons of free classes that got me into the best shape of my life) and went back to bartending (where I work late and therefore snack late at night, especially on the free popcorn), I've slowly regained 10 of those 15 pounds despite the fact that I still exercise. Admittedly, I've mostly just been using my elliptical, which isn't as great as the ones at my old gym, so my workout hasn't been as intense. I've started adding in some workout DVDs to substitute for those classes and I'm trying to figure out the best way to deal with my late night appetite so I can get back into ideal physical shape.

Very important note: I had major body/self-esteem issues as a teen that I still sometimes grapple with, so I'm trying very hard not to make this be about achieving a certain number on the scale. I want to *feel* my healthiest, the way I did in mid-2007. I like feeling strong and healthy. This is not an image thing. And for those of you with the typical lose weight/go to the gym resolutions, I hope you are doing them for the right reasons, ie. your health and feeling like a stronger person and not because you are trying to meet those unrealistic, way too skinny Hollywood body ideals we are constantly bombarded with.

In 2008, my resolution was to get off of the sleeping medication (Ambien) which I'd been addicted to for ten years. This was a difficult resolution with many many setbacks. The first time I detoxed from Ambien, it was like the shit you see on Celebrity Rehab. I'd be waking my husband (then-boyfriend), sobbing that I couldn't sleep and I was a junkie and I should just give up. (This is why I do not recommend sleeping meds of any sort to anyone. I was told Ambien was not addictive and that was a lie!) I got a total of 2 hours sleep in the week I went off the pills, but with the help of acupuncture, soon I was almost sleeping normally. Then I had a major setback, a dear friend died a couple weeks before my first book came out. I was struggling with major grief while promoting a book and going on a tour on the West Coast. I got back on the sleeping pills again. But I continued with the acupuncture and slowly began to work my way back to sleeping without medication. When a friend of mine stumbled upon the CBT for Insomnia program, I decided to try it and after 17 years of struggling with insomnia, I finally found what I needed. It was as simple as discovering the ideal time for me to go to bed (2:30 am, this is why bartending/writing works so well for me) and the ideal amount of time for me to sleep (7 and a half hours) and sticking to a consistent schedule even if I don't sleep every once in a while. So it took a year and a half, but 2008 resolution met.

In 2009, my resolution was to be more environmentally friendly. I took some simple steps like always bringing my own bags to the grocery store and replacing all my cleaning products with earth friendly brands like Method. I also purchase organic and/or locally grown produce whenever I can afford to.

So yeah, that is where I'm at. Now, what are the 2010 goals???

For one I intend to continue the 2007 and 2009 resolutions (and hopefully I will have no reason to be tempted by sleeping pills and the 2008 resolution will continue to stick). I mentioned my plan to work out and figure out better things to eat above. As for the environmentally friendliness, I've been trying to switch us over to cloth napkins since we got some for our wedding and perhaps reusable cleaning clothes are next. I also want to find more ways to volunteer or raise awareness about the issues that are important to me. Doing my Women Who Rock For A Cause thing last month (and you can still enter the contest for that up until tomorrow morning, so check it out here!) reminded me of how much public service mattered to me as a teenager and I hope to find more time to do it again. But I'll have to work delicately to fit that into the balance of my life because...

The main 2010 goal is to stress less.

This is going to be a hard one for me. I'm a worrywart. I have been since I was a little kid. I used to get terrible stomach aches when I was worried about something in grade school. By the end of high school, I had an ulcer (though the abusive relationship I was in sophomore year was probably the prime cause of that). I got my ulcer under control in my early twenties, but what happened in April of 2009 after very stressful Ballads of Suburbia edits and my cats getting sick? Ulcer flare up!

I put an incredible amount of pressure on myself. I always have. And I can't meet my own high standards. As proud as I am of my books, I am also disappointed in them and in myself. With IBWYJR every time I saw a bad review, it *crushed* me. With Ballads (with both books really, but especially Ballads), I was disappointed to see it kind of get lost out there in the world. It's not selling the way I want it to or getting the attention I hoped (although all the book bloggers have been incredibly kind to me/it and I love them so so so much for this). I've been disappointed in it since before it came out when I found out it was getting a much smaller print run than IWBYJR. It never got reviewed by Publishers Weekly or Kirkus. It didn't get any kind of promotion other than the stuff I did myself and enlisted the lovely bloggers and my street team for. And I took all of this very hard. Even though I know it is out of my control, I can't help it. It wasn't upsetting because I want to get rich or whatever. I simply want to be able to get by as writer, which is a hard enough goal. It was upsetting because I'd never poured more of myself into a project. I had to go very, very dark places to write that book. I had nervous breakdowns while writing it, but I pushed forward and I did so because I knew there were teenagers out there who needed this story. I wanted to do it right, to do the best I possibly could to give real life to these characters. I did that, but then the book never really broke through and I fear that the teens who could benefit from reading it most may never get their hands on it.

So that was my biggest concern. And then of course I have goals. I'm a very goal-oriented person. Getting published was the first major goal achieved on my list as a writer. Now I'd like to sell enough books to warrant another print run, to assure that my books remain in print. I'd like to be on those bestseller lists someday. I can't help but compare myself to other writers and when I don't see my books measuring up to theirs, it upsets me. I wonder what I am doing wrong.

The truth of the publishing industry is that authors are clueless and powerless over a lot of things. We can't control if our books get promoted by our publisher. And we often have very little clue as to how our books are doing aside from those hard-to-interpret royalty statements that come twice a year and usually bring more questions than answers. People ask me if my books are selling well and when I answer "I don't know," they give me a WTF? look. But I don't know. I don't know if my publisher is happy with my sales. I don't know if I should be happy with my sales. It's all very scary.

The greatest source stress in my life is my lack of control. I can't control how my publisher will promote my book. All I can do is write the best book possible and do all the promotion I can handle. And of course, my writing is *not* how I earn my living right now. Bartending is. And that is just as unpredictable. I can't control the weather or the other factors that determine if people will come to my bar tonight. In short, this means that I cannot control my income. Hugely fucking scary. Like I said, I don't want or need to be rich. I just want to be able to pay my bills and maybe buy some new clothes, music, books, and travel from time to time.

This past year I spent a lot of money. I had to. I put out Ballads and got a publicist and put other promo $ into it. I got married. I refinanced my house (in order to get rid of my terrible ARM loan that might have thrown me into foreclosure in the future) and had to fork over an unexpectedly large amount of money to do so. In late November/most of December, the business at the bar was abnormally terrible. I got incredibly stressed and depressed. I started thinking about going back to school, knowing that if I do so, I would have to give up writing at least until I finished and established myself in a new day-job. But the thought of giving up writing is the scariest thing in the world. It's like giving up breathing. I want to make this work.

In 2009, I didn't sell a new book. This was sad and distressing to me, but out of my control. I submitted a partial manuscript to my editor and I can only hope I'll hear back soon. However all the stress and the pressure has slowed down my writing process. My push to try to figure out ways to promote my books has slowed down my writing process. My constant comparison of my career to others has slowed down my writing process.

I have to stop stressing myself out over things I cannot control. If I cannot control them, why stress? There is nothing I can do. All I can do is write.

So in 2010, that's what I'm going to try to do. Just write. For the love of it. For the new characters whose stories need telling just as badly as the characters in Ballads needed me to tell theirs.

I'd like to sell two books this year, though I know that goal is kind of out of my hands. So my goal is to write two books this year or at least one and a half since that is kind of lofty and it all depends if I end up under contract or not.

The ultimate goal is to be self-sufficient as a writer in five years--that means I want my portion of our household income to come from my writing. As much as I love bartending, it's not a forever job. I'd rather do it for the pleasure of doing it than because I depend on it. I also dream of moving to Seattle in five years. I don't know what it is about that city, but I really fell in love with it and miss it like a person.

Again these feel like lofty goals and I'm not entirely sure they are attainable, but I want to try. I think it helps to break down big goals into smaller goals. For example at the end of 2009 my goal was to finish 100 rough pages by a certain date. I did so, but I totally beat myself up because I wasn't happy with the pages. Sigh. I really do need to learn how to silence these "you are not good enough" voices in my head that have been plaguing me since childhood.

Seriously, my mental state and this whole stress-less thing is going to require a lot of work this year. I think I'm going to be repeating to myself a lot " do not to worry about the things that are out of your control and focus on what you love about life and writing." Because there is a lot to love. My husband, friends and family are fantastic. I have some story ideas that I'm truly excited about. The rest will come.

I also have to stop piling so many tasks on myself. You might not see me around the internet as much this year. This blog might only be updated 2 or 3 times a week instead of the 4 or 5 I was striving for last year. The people I love come first. Writing comes after that. And promotion comes third. I saw author Sara Zarr post on facebook that she was going to try to reduce the noise in 2010 (ie all the internet stuff). I'm trying to figure this out too. Figuring out a schedule that works for me and ways to balance my time is a work in progress and another part of the stress-less goal for 2010.

If anyone has suggestions on balance, time management or other techniques for a worrywart to unwind and stress-less, please let me know! Because this worrywart and sometimes pessimist is determined to have to a bright and happy 2010 with much less stress and much more success. Since there was a Blue Moon on New Years I am determined that I can do it!

What about you? What were some of your goals and resolutions for the New Year?


maybeimamazed02 said...

What an inspiring post!

Typically, I don't set New Year's Resolutions: a) I put enough pressure on myself as it is, and b) I feel like every day is a chance to make my life better in some way. (Granted, I don't always act on that, but I try to keep it in mind.)

That said, I do have a goal for this year: to get a literary agent! I feel way more prepared and qualified than when I previously went on an agent search about a year and a half ago, so hopefully this confidence will reflect in my queries and my writing samples. (I would also like to publish a book this year, but I know how unpredictable that can be.)

I like your thoughts on body image, as I had many of those issues in my teens and early twenties. About two years ago, I got back into dance and started practicing yoga (and eating more vegetables) because I wanted to feel better and be healthy. I do fit into my clothes better now, but I try to think of that as a bonus and not the ultimate goal.

I'm sorry if I come off like a superfan sometimes, but I just wanted to say that I was really glad to meet you, read your books, and take a class from you this past year. Keep on rockin' and writing--Ballads is awesome and I try to talk it up when I can (I also gave it to my best friend for Christmas!).

Happy 2010!

John Knowles said...

You are your own worst critic. I don't know who originally said it, but it's true. If i'm ever feeling like a song or a story isn't good enough I back track to something that I wrote that I think is the coolest shit in the world and then I go back to the other one, the bad one and I feel better about it or I know what needs to be changed. Another thing is, if something you wrote makes you feel tingly and wanna get up and pace around, it's probably worth keeping. I wish I knew why so many women have self image problems. My girlfriend is absolutely beautiful and she hates herself. I know it mostly has to do with companies making profit (If you sell a body image that is unattainable, people will spend all their money to achieve that.) But I'm curious about the text book explanation or the psychology of it or whatever. I'm surprised no ones marketed Vegetarianism for weight loss. Most vegetarians I've seen are in really good shape, except Fat Mike. My new years resolution is to try and write some happy sounding songs. My band is starting to sound like an Alkaline Trio/Lawrence Arms rip off... Another one is to convince my mom to go into anger management. The last being an EP by summer.

Punk Rock Girl said...

I did one thing in 2009 that helped me deal with my reduced financial circumstances and lack of professional success more than anything else: reading the book OUR BAND COULD BE YOUR LIFE, about the great indie bands of the 80s and early 90s. What these bands had in common was getting in the Econoline van, living on very little food and sleep, booking their own gigs, recording their own EPs, and doing their own promotion, to very little reward at the time. Although I know I couldn't live like that, it made me grateful for whatever I do have and cognizant that these bands ended up much more important in the long run than anyone who was outselling them in 1989. Who is more influential, respected, and listened to now: Black Flag, Husker Du, and the Replacements, or Wham and Samantha Fox?

Bands now are having to go back to these tactics b/c the recoding industry has collapsed. And so has publishing. Ballads deserves to be read and would be thoroughly enjoyed by any teen who doesn't fit in and any adult who used to be one. But publishers and bookstores, as they exist now, are not going to reach them. So the solution is to get in the van. You have done that by making the link between socially responsible organizations and the kind of people who support them (the kind who would enjoy Ballads). Ballads is the Replacements to much of the Wham that is on the YA bestseller charts, and maybe linking up with people and organizations that disaffected teens and adults are drawn to is the "indie" way. That said, I wish there was an equivalent for writers of bands being able to eke out a living on tour with T-shirts and CDs and downloads. Nothing like that for writers so far.

As for me, 2010 is about "finding a cure" for my own life, as Ida Maria advises.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Lauren, I like your idea that every day is a chance to make life better in some way. It is a great goal to get a literary agent. Good luck with it! And you aren't coming off as a superfan. it has been great getting to know you!

John, good luck with the song writing! And you are so right about being your own worst critic. We have to work hard to overcome this.

Punk Rock Girl, um I love that Replacements comparison! Thank you, huge compliment! But yeah, I wish there was a way to tour and sell books the way bands do. Our Band Could Be Your Life is a very inspiring book. I need to reread it!