The rush of fresh year ahead of you is enough to get you started on new habits. But it doesn’t last. What matters isn’t how you start the year, it’s how you keep going when late January looms and you don’t feel like doing anything.
It can help to keep in mind that these concepts are just things other people made up. In reality, nature knows no months, it just goes through the regular cycle around the sun, perigee to apogee, and the 182.625 days in between are mirrored by the same number on the backswing around to the solstice.
Every day is a new start. No matter what, when morning comes, it’s yours to do with what you like. Start a daily habit or continue one, everything is always in motion. You might as well join in.
In the immediate human world, we can see the passage of time in seasonal change, at least, beyond the equator. We remember the past winter, we chop up time into moon phases and days. It’s easy to be hard on yourself for not being where you want when the new winter supplants the old.
But in a grander sense, there is no specific division of time. The illusion of time as a discrete thing is easy when it’s light and dark, cold and hot. Step out a million miles, and we’re all falling around the sun in a smooth curve, any moment like any other.
You could say there’s no starting point, or you could say every moment is a potential start.
So leverage the excitement of New Year’s to get started on new howls, or reinvigorate old ones. But don’t forget you always have a chance to start again, from wherever you are along the curve.
New Year, Same You, but Remember the Power You Have to Remake Yourself in Every Moment
Say goodbye to 2018, and hello to a shiny new 2019. But in the end, it’s just another day in winter (or summer, if you’re south of the equator).
Every day is a new chance to create. Piggyback on the enthusiasm of the world’s love of arbitrary starting and end points. That can get you going on a daily habit or further toward a creative goal. But keep in mind that it doesn’t matter if you fail. Stumbles are part of life.
You always have a new year to start, every day, what matters is that you do start. And also celebrate. Putting new things into the world is a worthy goal and a benefit to you and to us.
There’s Feeling Ineffectual, and Then There’s Feeling Useless
The difference is stark. You matter, and so does your voice. I’m struck by a line from Chris Baty, NaNoWriMo founder:
The world needs your novel!
And, for sure, there’s plenty to unpack surrounding the word, “needs,” because in a strictly survivalist sense, the word doesn’t.
But that statement is a passionate entreaty to start creating. It says your views and thoughts and your own passions matter, and they have something to contribute to humanity at large.
Until and unless you have followers and fans of your work, it’s going to seem a bit lonely, like your voice is mighty small in a very dark and enormous void. You aren’t useless, you’re working, making, creating. You do matter. You’re ineffectual, as far as the outside world is concerned. But that isn’t the important thing. What’s important is that you press on, say what you must say, and give that work to the world.
Because we need it, and we cannot know what effect it will have before it’s out there.
Into Every Artist a Little Self-Absorption Must Fall, So You Can See More Clearly When It Has Gone
Not all instances—and certainly not in art—lend themselves to quick decisions, but most often, forging ahead with decisions and paths is the best.
Hesitation and too much thinking about choices and potential outcomes can easily spiral inward in a disappointing and never-ending lack of finishing. Gut feeling doesn’t always work, but it does get you started.
Lots of advice on learning a new language (programming and foreign) or medium or instrument says you should just pick one and stick with it, not give it up and move to something else after the initial bout of getting the basics down. I’m not a big fan of this.
Life is short enough, and there are worse things than trying out several possibilities in a row. Sometimes you have to give something a shot to know it isn’t for you.
Or even that it’s not for you right this minute. In order to give learning something as complicated and slowly-progressing as language or the piano, you’ve got to have a connection to it. There needs to be a spark between it and you in order to make the tough middle part of the journey seem worth your time and occasional frustrated energy. Sometimes you don’t find it right away and you have to try a few different things.
But you won’t get chastised by me for abandoning things at the beginner stage because it doesn’t feel right, right now.
There’s a component of kids making art that isn’t always connected to adults doing it. We often see art making as work. Children just see it as play. Or, probably more accurately, they don’t think about it as anything, they just feel like creating stuff and do it.
It’s so easy to get in our own way, worrying about our skills or motivation. We fear the reception of the finished thing won’t be good. All that gets in the way. This is another case where focusing on process or praxis can help. You start something because you need to, and damn the finished thing that happens somewhere over there, beyond us, outside where we can see.
Once again, we may have a map: an outline, a sketch, a chord chart. But the path can always deviate, and you may or may not end up where you planned. It doesn’t matter. The hardest part is starting—the premise of Wonder Boys aside—and getting into kid mode might help you do it.
The weird thing about a daily habit, where you add something to whatever you’re in the process of making every day, is that you rarely have to start something, you just need to continue it.
What I find hard, though, is deciding on the next thing to do. There are a thousand possibilities, and one grand thing doesn’t necessarily present itself just because I’m ready for one. It might be a consequence of being generally scattered and disorganized, but it could be just something that naturally falls that way. I don’t have any prescriptions for this, all I can do is trust that the process can carry forward, that the need to do something outweighs the multiplicity of choice.
It’s possible this fear is overthinking how process can take over as a guiding principle. Without a focus on outcome—bearing in mind that finishing things is still important—all we have to deal with is one simple day at a time. Trick yourself, reward yourself, cajole yourself, as long as you get started in any small way, you’re back in it.