In the spirit of the new year, the Brick Books staff share their writing goals for 2023. Each of the Brick books we recommend have inspired and continue to inspire our own writing.
I recently bought a pin featuring Lisa Simpson saying, “The whole damn system is wrong!” partly in response to a printer box I saw that said “Keeping Your Family Productive” (so gross!), partly because care of said family makes grasping for productivity feel so painful, and partly because my creative life is so often at odds with my must-make-money life. The must-make-money life tends to gobble up time I want to be reading and working on my current writing explorations. But I’ve realized lately that more often than not, I *let* the gobble happen. Sometimes I even encourage the gobble to happen because it’s easier to do “productive” work than sit with the unknown of the poem. It’s easier to have email apnea than sit in the discomfort of the entropy of creative emergence.
So, my writing goal this year is to sit in the discomfort every dang day – even if it’s just for a short amount of time. In fact, according to habit researcher BJ Fogg, it’s easiest to make a habit if you make completing the habit as friction free as possible. My specific goal, then, is to sit in the discomfort of pen-to-paper for five minutes every day. If I can’t move a poem forward in that five minutes, so be it. If I end up sitting with pen-to-paper for an hour, that’s good too. The more I sit, the more muscle strength I develop in resistance to the whole damn system.
Recommendation: All Our Wonder Unavenged by Don Domanski
All Our Wonder Unavenged helped me learn how to read and write poetry in conversation with the more-than-human world.
I have a big bold goal this year: finish my freaking novel.
My computer crashed this past fall, and I soon discovered that I had not properly backed up some of my personal files. For about three weeks I thought that I’d lost the last two years of work on the novel I’ve been working on (on and off) for well over a decade (work that I’d painstakingly carved out time to do here and there in the midst of my very full Brick and family life).
I took the computer to several different places, and finally found a forensic data recovery specialist who was able to retrieve the files, but the disorientingly ferocious grief that seized me for those weeks while I thought I’d lost the work was a wake-up call: if I’m not writing, the writer in me isn’t living, and if she isn’t living, she’s dying. So later this month I’m going away for a week at the Artscape Gibraltar Point self-directed residency program on Toronto Island, and I hope to finish this latest (eleventh? thirteenth? I’ve lost count…) draft, and finally hand it over to a few trusted readers by the end of the month. There, I said it out loud.
Recommendation: The Grey Islands by John Steffler
Every time I catch myself trying to shoehorn my work into prescribed forms, I pick up The Grey Islands by John Steffler (or, more recently, Grey All Over by Andrea Actis) to help me remember to let my work find its own idiosynchratic and hybrid shape.
As I begin the next draft of my novel, I’m determined to write in a way that feels good. Part of improving your craft is learning to parse through all the noise of writing advice and find the system that serves your needs as an artist. Whenever I find myself at the mercy of another’s method, anxiety seizes me. I have a deep-seated fear of never finishing the projects I start—like that knitted sweater or that blank canvas of a painting or my manuscript. Time was an enemy, and it didn’t help that capitalism often bombards us with messages of the Extraordinary and the Exceptional, of Grand Feats Achieved in One’s Youth™. I couldn’t see my progress, only the distant finish line.
But after many difficult conversations with my therapist, I realized that I’m exactly where I need to be as a writer (and a human being). The more time passes, the better I am at articulating myself, and my life experiences only make my writing richer and more nuanced. Sometimes, the best way I could keep those feelings of inadequacy at bay was to (dare I say it), remove the urgency from the act of writing, and subsequently, the sense of impending doom. That may seem counterintuitive, but some of my most productive writing sessions of the year came about last December, when I took time to read, think, rest, and dream. I hope to cultivate more of these necessary ingredients in the new year.
Recommendation: Sotto Voce by Maureen Hynes
Beneath the unassuming quiet of Sotto Voce is a startling force, and a deep compassion for the social issues it takes on. I hope my own writing can be as deft and purposeful.
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While You’re Here…
Check out the books in our new Feeling Philosophical Collection