2015 Year in Review & New Years Resolutions 2016

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It is hard to sit down and write a review of last year. Not because it was particularly difficult, challenging, or meaningful; but because nothing much really happened.

Work was fine. I stepped back from a Team Lead position to rejoin the rank-and-file designers once more, and it has been nice to be able to focus on day-to-day design work again, as well as thinking about ways to attract, retain and develop our ever-growing design community at Booking.com. But aside from the regular commute to Amsterdam I didn't travel anywhere else, and didn't attend any conferences, which is a first in many years. I'm not sure yet whether anything will change in 2016.

Outside of work, everything else has ticked along nicely. All three of our girls are now at secondary school, my wife got a new job, and we visited the Lake District before it disappeared beneath several feet of water. One cat died; we got another one. Vita pergit.

Things start to go awry when I look back at last year's Resolutions list, however. Let's see how I did:

  • Edit my novel (Grade: F. I started to review the first draft, and made it about a quarter of the way through before the combined terribleness of the idea and the writing caused me to throw the rest on a shelf and abandon the project altogether. It did reveal the main problem with my writing though; a tendency to skip lengthy description because I want to get to the next plot point, and a fear of writing dialogue because I don't think I'm very good at it.)
  • Write an album. (Grade: F. In retrospect this was a stupid thing to try and I gave up after the first few days, partly because I have nowhere near enough free time to write a song every two days, but also because I am woefully out of practice at writing music.)
  • Exercise every day. (Grade: D. Looking back at the calendar tracking in the app I use, I didn't do too badly during the first half of the year, but in August it pretty much stopped. To be fair, I was running 3-4 times a week from that point until mid-October, but the last two months of the year were a complete wash.)

While these disappointing non-achievements are annoying, my biggest regret of the year has been my complete lack of discipline when it came to writing. After I ditched the editing, I started work on an idea I had been researching for a year or more, but after a couple of months working on that I realised I actually wanted to write something else first. I started work on the new project in early August, but to date have only managed a shade under 10,000 words, which works out at around 2k/month, or less than 70 words per day; barely a handful of sentences. Shameful.

So, it was with that complete lack of work ethic in mind that I formulated a new plan ... and with it, a new resolution.

Resolutions, 2016

Recently, a member of the /r/writing subreddit posted how he had successfully maintained a daily writing habit of over one thousand words per day for the last two years. A lot of the advice he shared was common to many other lists by both professional and amateur writers -- namely, if you want to get better, treat it as a job and write every day. If you sit around and wait for inspiration to strike, you'll never get anywhere (a common analogy asks whether you would only go to the gym when you are guaranteed to beat a personal best).

I had reasonable success with developing a writing habit in 2014 when I was writing the first book, but looking back I think where I went wrong was in only ever trying to work on a single project. With that approach, that tunnel-vision, if you ever get genuinely stuck for inspiration nothing gets written. So, with that in mind, my main goal for 2016 is:

  • Write 1,000 words per day, every day.

Whether it is actual progress on the book, or something else -- short stories, worldbuilding, blog posts, book reviews, or just private thoughts -- doesn't matter. What matters is the development and maintenance of a daily routine, a commitment to find time to put (metaphorical) pen to paper. I have plenty of ideas, this just provides a framework within which to explore all of them.

To that end, I've started carrying a notebook again. I used to always carry one, years ago, until it was superseded by the ubiquitous iPhone, but often I find myself wanting to write something down -- a story idea, an interesting quote -- without having to swipe through several screens to find the right app for the job. Pencil and paper will do just fine. Call it a modern commonplace book.

Along with this primary plan for the year, some secondary goals:

  • Exercise daily. Yes, it's the same as last year. And it's certainly nothing that you would feel tempted to call a 'regime'. But I can't deny that an early morning workout puts me in a more positive mindset for the rest of the day. Combine that with getting your daily writing out of the way first thing ... well, you can almost taste the endorphins. I'm also running again, but this year I'm keeping it strictly casual; no competitive races, no overly rigorous training schedules.
  • Less social media, fewer video games. To make room for writing, something else has to give, and since work and family are kind of important I'll need to cut back on other distractions instead. That's not to say that I'll stop altogether, just that perhaps when I have an hour to kill I'll open Scrivener instead of Fallout.
  • Read more. A paltry 24 books in 2015 is embarrassing. Another activity that needs to take precedence over mindlessly bouncing between Facebook, Twitter and Reddit.

So, there you have it. Lots of writing, less of other stuff. If Malcolm Gladwell is right about that 10,000 hours thing, I should have mastered this writing lark in about, oh, 27 years. Check back with me when I'm 68.

(1,036 words) ✓

Matthew Pennell

Designer, developer, writer, runner, gamer, devil's advocate, INTP. Senior designer for Booking.com. Founder, Refresh Cambridge.
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