My Best Self Writes and Writes and Writes

I spent last New Year’s Eve at the budget hotel where my boyfriend worked. His coworker had called in sick (with what was likely wine flu), leaving him to work yet another double shift. My boyfriend was overworked and underpaid. I was unemployed, broke, and feeling the despair of the newly graduated and constantly rejected. Our New Year’s kiss at midnight was not one of celebration, but grim determination. We will succeed. This year will be different.

That night as I returned to my cold, sparse apartment, I remember thinking that this disastrous night was 2014’s final “screw you” salute. 2014 had illuminated with piercing clarity how unsafe, how untenable it was to be truly broke. I learned how lack of money will force you into previously unimaginable situations and stress levels. I earned around $3,000 dollars in 2014, and I was out of college for over half the year. That is a whole lot of broke. I also had student loans that would go into repayment in 2016. My financial future was bleak. I envisioned my 2015 Best Self as a debt-free woman, with a healthy savings account. I wasn’t concerned with losing weight, or personal enlightenment or any of the usual suspects. I only wanted cold hard cash.

In 2015, I wrote down my goals, worked like a madwoman, and became that mythical Best Self. Now, I’m debt-free with savings. But that’s last year’s Best Self. It’s time to move on to the next version: Rachel 2016. It’s maddening trying to pare down all my dreams until I am left with one central goal. However, I find that the most effective way to accomplish my goals is to have only one. Which of all the desperately important things is the most important? Fitness? My career? My relationships? I’ve decided my focus in 2016 will be on pursuing work in the notoriously unstable field of writing.

And so begins the year of the career. I’ve known I eventually want to support myself freelance writing and editing. I am aware this could take decades. But I want to do it, because writing is extremely fulfilling when it goes well. More importantly, I still like it when it does not go well. When I come across a problem while writing, I feel like a curious raven gently tugging at a bright red string until it comes loose. I don’t get that frustrated-yet-intrigued feeling from any other kind of problem solving. For me, this makes writing worth pursuing.

When I attack a goal, I create a strategy. “Become a successful writer” is a vague and unhelpful goal. Distilling my overarching goal into a daily activity is the most important step in the goal-setting process. I’ve resolved to take one step every day toward my dreams. These steps range from sending out a pitch to editing for an hour. Each day, I take a step. Some steps are Charlie Brown shuffles and others are majestic leaps. I draw a blue X on the calendar date every time I take a step in order to chart my progress.

I also need to have a clear markers to reach so I know I’ve achieved my goal. When pursuing debt repayment and other financial goals, the markers were easy: numbers. This goal is more amorphous. My “made it” milestones include creating a website for my portfolio, earning my day job’s pay through writing and editing, and publishing pieces in major media outlets.

Another way I keep track of my progress is through a rejection list. I have papers posted on the fridge listing all the pitches and jobs that failed. This may seem a bit masochistic. But think about it; Stephen King’s Carrie was rejected 30 times. How did he know that? He kept a list. In my wildly successful daydreams, I imagine spreading sheafs of rejections out on the floor, and thinking “Yes. This is how hard I had to work. Totally worth it.” I keep the rejection lists as proof I am still furiously trying, writhing like a fish in a bucket.

In order to actualize this Best Self I’ll need to tap into my reserves of stupid, bull-headed determination. Naysayers step aside; I’m going to dive into insanity. Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” That is also the definition of practice. So insanity it is.

I hope 2016 will be the year I lay the foundation for a thriving freelance writing career. And if my Best Writing Self doesn’t fully materialize after 365 days, I won’t worry. 2017 awaits.

This article is part of The Billfold’s 2015 end-of-year series, “Our Best Selves in the Coming Year.”

Rachel Ahrnsen lives in the unexpected paradise of Birmingham, AL. She writes half as much as she reads.

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