Looking ahead. . . and behind

- by Elaine Isaak

There’s this lovely bit in The Hobbit when Bilbo asks where Gandalf went while they were encountering the trolls, and what brought him back in the nick of time.  Gandalf answers to the first “Looking ahead,” and to the second, “Looking behind.”

This time of year I find is good for reflection of both sorts, and my family has a New Year’s tradition that helps to focus my looking so that, like Gandalf, I might find the bit of wisdom I need and arrive where I want to be just in the nick of time–if not a bit sooner.

Every year, we all gather around the table with a blank page (something I know many of us do on our own on a daily basis or as often as we can manage.)  I think it helps to have the group, but it could be your writing

group, support group, or just a friend who wants to move toward a goal, and will help you move toward yours.  There are three parts to the exercise.  You might choose to focus on your writing life, or take your year as a whole, including every aspect of where you are, and where you’d like to be.  The first thing to write is your Successes for the year.  Did you start or finish that novel you meant to?  Did you submit to a dozen agents or scrape the money together for an important conference?  Did your networking finally pay off for a speaking engagement?  Write it down.  We usually aim for a minimum of 3, but you can have as many as you’d like.  Celebrate your accomplishments. . .

Because next you need to write down your 3 Disappointments.  Maybe you didn’t keep to the schedule you intended to.  Maybe you had to put that novel aside.  Sometimes life gets away from you and things just don’t happen the way that you planned.

Now in both of these categories, try to stick to things you have control over.  You may be disappointed not to have gotten a new contract this year, but it’s not something you can make happen on your own.  The question is, how hard did you work toward that goal?  If you did all you could to achieve it, that’s a success in my book, even if it hasn’t come to fruition just yet.

The Disappointment category is a place to reflect on what you wanted, what you attempted, and where you need to work harder.  Then take that information and write down your Goals for 2009.  Submit more, write more often, get some exercise to help you think.  Try to be as specific as you can.  I find that just the act of writing down a goal creates a commitment in my own mind and makes me work harder to achieve it.

Successes, Disappointments, and Goals.  I have these pages reaching back for years, forming a record of the dreams that I’ve pursued and those that I’ve achieved.  Looking behind, I acknowledge the path that I’ve chosen, and looking ahead, I get excited about where I still want to go.

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