Resolutions of the Written Word: Lessons in Sustainability

“The mind of the man who dreams is fully satisfied by what happens to him. The agonizing question of possibility is no longer pertinent. Kill, fly faster, love to your heart’s content. And if you should die, are you not certain of reawaking among the dead? Let yourself be carried along, events will not tolerate your interference. You are nameless. The ease of everything is priceless.” — From The Manifesto of Surrealism by Andre Breton

blogger-ball

Resolutions are a funny, fickle thing we love to hate. We desire to improve upon ourselves, but somehow always end up falling short. For one, I had a number of resolutions to meet by the time I turned 30, notably: publish my first novel and have children. I’ve accomplished neither. I’m halfway past 32.

But 2012 also taught me a lot about learning how to let go of certain expectations in my life. Even goals now exist on a sliding scale and the word itself—’goal’—clings to what feel like antiquated ideas of ‘success’ and ‘importance’ that I see slowly fading to a distant, stupid, short-sighted youth.

Steinbeck, resolved to do something

Steinbeck: resolved to give up smoking?

But I’m not that old. Steinbeck, when he wrote this letter to his editor and friend Pascal “Pat” Covici, was much older than I (and wiser too).  He’d just finished writing East of Eden yet still he was burdened by an aching sense that the novel was not what he’d expected of it. He wrote, “Although some times I have felt that I held fire in my hands and spread a page with shining—I have never lost the weight of clumsiness, of ignorance, of aching inability.”

I’m with you, Steinbeck. Last year I gave birth to my novel—entrusting it with an agent who believed in it. The path to publication has been slower—and more mired in self-doubt—than I’d expected. Of course, my earliest scribblings of this novel began in 2004, if not earlier, when I had absolutely no intention of building a career as a writer. Then, I was a sinologist who would never have dreamed that one day I’d have an esteemed literary agent interested in my writing. Or that published authors would support my work. Or that this little project I’d dreamed up while sitting in my Chinese Baba’s kitchen in Beijing would become a manuscript, a story, a possibility.

Reading Pessoa this past summer in Lisbon's Alfama and feeling blissfully lost

Reading Pessoa this past summer in Lisbon’s Alfama and feeling blissfully lost

Over the years since I began the project, I recall several ‘resolutions’ involving my writing—most were amorphous and existential, things like ‘trust your work,’ ‘write what gives you meaning,’ and ‘read more.’ I doubt I met any of them in the time anticipated, but, if I think about it, I’ve probably learned a lot about myself, and my process, by setting them to begin with.

So then we come to that whole resolution of 2013 bit. The end of a year, the beginning of the next. The somewhat arbitrary turn of the calendar’s page (in an era when calendars cease to exist on the material page). What is my resolution? Is it to fail to make a resolution at all? What do I hope for my work, my writing, the world at large?

I would say, on a personal and selfish level, I resolve for my first novel to reach publication, to reach an appreciative audience. But of this process, even Steinbeck himself has his doubts:

“A book is like a man—clever and dull, brave and cowardly, beautiful and ugly. For every flowering thought there will be a page like a wet and mangy mongrel, and for every looping flight a tap on the wing and a reminder that wax cannot hold the feathers firm too near the sun.

Well—then the book is done. It has no virtue any more. The writer wants to cry out—”Bring it back! Let me rewrite it or better—Let me burn it. Don’t let it out in the unfriendly cold in that condition.”

As you know better than most, Pat, the book does not go from writer to reader. It goes first to the lions—editors, publishers, critics, copy readers, sales department. It is kicked and slashed and gouged. And its bloodied father stands attorney.”

For 2013: One foot in front of the next

For 2013: One foot in front of the next

So while I once never would have dreamed that I’d write a novel, perhaps 2013, and years beyond, may teach me something new about expectations, resolutions, and where I intend to be as a writer and a person. Then again, isn’t that the most fruitful lesson of resolutions? They are not necessarily predictors of who we will become, but telling reminders of who we are when we are at our best, the essence of who we are now.

And if all else fails, there is still time for further resolutions (even resolutions not to make a resolve), as Maurice Sendak’s editor, Ursula Nordstrom, reminded him in a 1961 letter (coincidentally, I will turn 33 in 2013):

You reminded me that you are 33. I always think 29, but OK. Anyhow, aren’t the thirties wonderful? And 33 is still young for an artist with your potentialities. I mean, you may not do your deepest, fullest, richest work until you are in your forties. You are growing and getting better all the time. I hope it was good for you to write me the thoughts that came to you. It was very good for me to read what you wrote, and to think about your letter. I’m sorry you have writers cramp as you put it but glad that you’re putting down “pure Sendakian vaguery” (I think you invented that good word). The more you put down the better and I’ll be glad to see anything you want to show me. You referred to your “atoms worth of talent.” You may not be Tolstoy, but Tolstoy wasn’t Sendak, either. You have a vast and beautiful genius. You wrote “It would be wonderful to want to believe in God. The aimlessness of living is too insane.” That is the creative artist—a penalty of the creative artist—wanting to make order out of chaos. The rest of us plain people just accept disorder (if we even recognize it) and get a bang out of our five beautiful senses, if we’re lucky. Well, not making any sense but will send this anyhow.

In 2013, I may find myself finishing a draft of a second novel, or I may not. I may come close, but not close enough. I may finally have children, or my body may decide otherwise. I may want a lot of things that do not come to fruition, but in the meantime, I may have lived a life. In fact, I probably will have lived a darn good one.

And a special thanks to Meg Waite Clayton’s 1st Books blog and her Writing Resolution Blog Hop for inspiring this post.

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About Kaitlin Solimine

Kaitlin Solimine was raised in New Hampshire but has considered China a second home for the past two decades. She is the author of the award-winning forthcoming novel Empire of Glass and co-founder of Hippo Reads, a media start-up connecting academic insights with real world issues. She lives in Singapore.
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26 Responses to Resolutions of the Written Word: Lessons in Sustainability

  1. Emily says:

    I can so relate, Kaitlin! I appreciate your vulnerability. I am very much looking forward to your novel, and enjoying your blogs in the meantime. Best if luck to you in all of your endeavors for 2013. Xx

    • Thanks so much, Emily. Hope to see you soon and best of luck to you as well. I’m feeling like 2013 is the year for all of us. Something magical is certainly in the air. Grateful to have you along on the journey…

  2. Paulita says:

    I hope your agent has success in the coming year. Keep writing. Here’s my Writing Resolution blog hop

  3. Janel says:

    Good luck with your resolutions, even if they turn out to not make resolutions! I was 40 before I decided to take my fiction writing seriously. You have a lot of creativity left in you. 🙂 Have a Happy New Year!

  4. RYCJ says:

    Your art and photography is wonderful; and that caption by Nordstrom, not only humorous, but true. Heck, when I was forty and writing my first book, I was told I was too young! Yeah, I’m with Nordstrom; if the mood hits you great! If not, I hope you have so much fun that your resolution list for 2014 reads like Gershwin or somebody wrote it. Happy New Year!

  5. oebooks says:

    Your art and photography is wonderful; and that caption by Nordstrom, not only humorous, but true. Heck, when I was forty and writing my first book, I was told I was too young! Yeah, I’m with Nordstrom; if the mood hits you great! If not, I hope you have so much fun that your resolution list for 2014 reads like Gershwin or somebody wrote it. Happy New Year!

    • Thanks! Glad you enjoyed this post and yes, youth is certainly a good thing to have, although I also believe that much wisdom comes with age and my writing seems to improve (because of this) every year. Best of luck to you in 2013 and beyond! Thanks for joining on the journey…

  6. Kaitlin–

    Thank you for sharing your blog post. It was inspiring and at moments profound. I seem to live the illusion of existence with a sixth sense faith that what intentions I heartfelt fully toss to the Universe may be picked up and somehow placed fortuitously in my favor. I wish for your new book to be embraced by the world positively, as I hope one day mine will be. And that we each can see the short comings of our writing and make amends before the pages are bound.

    Should you like, please visit my blog and Writing Resolution 2013: http://www.stephaniereneedossantos.com/writing-resolutions-2013/?preview=true&preview_id=845&preview_nonce=30c51431b4

    Many Regards and Happy New Year,

    Stephanie Renée dos Santos
    http://www.stephaniereneedossantos.com

  7. Janel says:

    I think it is a good thing to have goals, but you also have to decide not to be too disappointed if you don’t reach them. Sometimes life doesn’t goes as planned, but that doesn’t mean the differences are necessarily bad or wrong, just different.

  8. Kaitlin,
    Nice perspective and reminder that: You can’t always get what you want (or even intend), but if you try, sometimes you get what you need. (From the Rolling Stones)
    Congrats on your success thus far and best wishes for more to come.
    Deb

  9. P.S. For this novel and the next!

  10. Kaitlin – you write beautifully. Like all humans, we all have moments of doubt. Your enthusiasm for life will surely enfold a great year. I hope you have good luck with your novel this year. Don’t worry – you are young and time is on your side.

  11. Nancy says:

    Hi Kaitlin. Good to meet you. I so enjoyed reading your post and loved the quotes and letters. As a memoirist, I am drawn to writing that opens up and and just lets go where-ever it chooses, resting here and there on a variety of ideas and options. You are young and have plenty of time for resolutions, if you so choose.

  12. soniafogal says:

    Hi Kaitlin. Very nicely written. I am older than you by more than a decade and just getting started. We can do this! I would wish you luck but I don’t believe in luck. We create our luck. We work smart and good things come to us. I have a feeling you are well on your way to creating your own luck. Here’s to a great 2013 for both of us!

  13. Kaitlin, this is a REALLY lovely and thoughtful post. It took me years –with two different agents and a finalist for a literary prize in the process — from when it was “finished” to when it landed on bookstore shelves. Keep the faith.

    I’m off to tweet this post. Happy New Year!

    • Thanks, Meg. I appreciate your support and the kind reminder that all good things take time. It has certainly been a lesson in patience, but I remain confident that the work will find a home. Thanks for tweeting! All the best in 2013!

  14. trishafaye says:

    Terrific post!
    Your closing is my favorite …. you may …. or you may not. Inspiring the way you haven’t put so much weight and energy on the final results. The importance is that you would have lived a life and lived a good one. I like your attitude!
    Wishing you the best in 2013!
    Trisha Faye
    http://www.itsagreenthingblog.com

  15. Congrats Kaitlin on finding an agent who believes in your work. I’ve never even submitted to an agent, my first requirement was to meet the task I had set to myself: finish one project before starting another. That required a lot of effort for me. Now I’m on to the next stage. I live by lists so I’m very careful about resolutions…I tend to make ones that are nice and flexible and not going to bum me out if I don’t make them. But as someone who finds fulfillment through writing I look forward so much to reading your work!!

  16. shanjeniah says:

    I can’t tell you all the ways I love this post!

    The quotes are inspirational. I especially love the Steinbeck passages. They will resonate with me throughout the year.

    In 2001, I was 32, and first became a mother. My son is 11 now, and a fascinating blend of boy and emerging adolescence. He’s both tender and tough.

    In 2003, I became the mother of a second son, only days before my own 34th birthday. I will never know who he might have been…he lived his entire life before that birthday came, for me.

    Just less than a year later, our daughter was born. At 8, she, too, is transitioning. She is a blend of Frederick, diva, and naturalist.

    I will be 44 this summer, and I feel…seasoned, maybe. More aware of myself and what matters most to me.

    My resolutions are for me. Not as a goad or an instrument with which to drive myself, but as a gentle guide for my energies as I honor my passion for writing.

    I maintain the right to change or ignore them at will.

    It seems that you have come to wisdom relatively early in life…which seems a wonderful thing!

    I will be poking around here over the next weeks…I feel inspiration here, waiting to be explored!

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