When I come up with the topic of a new post, if I don't have an image in mind, I often do a quick Google image search. When I typed in "guilty pleasures," the algorithm fed me lots of photos related to music or food, including this one from Nia Shanks' blog for people who spend more time than they want thinking about what they eat and how much they weigh. It's a good article you might read, if you have a few minutes (but please come back to finish reading this one, too). Her article gets at exactly the point I want to make in my post, only she got there two years before me. That's okay, I'm often late to the party.
Last year, in my New Year's post, I wrote about small resolutions. My plan was twenty minutes of writing every day in 2020. In case you're wondering, I stuck with that plan until I completed a draft of the novel I'm writing. Then, I worked at something writing-related for at least twenty minutes every day for the rest of the year. Success in small packages.
I stand by the idea of taking little steps in a direction you want to move. You'll get there faster than if you stop or turn to run the other way. Just keep shuffling those feet slowly in the right direction. This year, however, as I think about making a resolution, I am coming off the weirdest year in the history of everything. So much ridiculous/ sad/ scary/ unprecedented stuff went down in 2020, and some of what happened convinced me to shuffle my feet in a new direction.
Most of you know that I'm working on an MFA in creative writing at Southern New Hampshire University. (For one of my classes, I started this website.) I selected SNHU for two reasons. First, they offer a 100% online program. I didn't want to have to drive anywhere or miss work at any point during the year. Second, the program concludes with a three-term sequence designed to help students complete and revise a genre (contemporary, romance, speculative, or young adult) novel for publication. Rather than aim for academic prose, professors help students learn potential paths to a career in writing. I've learned a ton about the publishing industry, both from my coursework and from the internship I completed for credit.
I'm currently in the Capstone class, working on a romance novel. When it came time to figure out what kind of novel to write for the degree, I decided to make a pragmatic choice to learn to write the kind of novel that sells the most, which happens to be the kind I like to read the best when nobody's paying attention to the book in my hands.
I managed to complete my first draft in April and spent the the bulk of the summer figuring out what to do to turn it into something someone would want to read. I couldn't do it. Just before Halloween, I wrote a desperate missive to my SNHU teacher. I explained that I had created the most worthless piece of junk, that my first draft was probably a non-starter, probably a piece of junk that should stay just as it was, unreadable and unpublished.
She said to set the project aside. Her advice was to read some romance novels, trying to pay attention as a writer rather than merely as a reader. Her timing couldn't have been better. During the very long week of the election, when our national sanity hung in the balance, I read six romance novels. For those of you unfamiliar with the genre or with my politics, that means in one week, I experienced seven times of thinking that all hope was lost and seven times of getting my happily ever after. It was the perfect week of escape, but also the perfect week of education.
I learned about deep third person. I learned about creating micro tension. I learned about giving characters more zip. I learned about layering in sensory detail. Most important, I learned about taking time to process what I needed, both for my education and for my sanity.
I think we all know that we have to learn to balance our needs with our wants, our responsibilities with our indulgences, our rule-following with our pushing of limits. We can't spend every minute doing exactly what we're supposed to do; sometimes, we need to kick back. Equally, if we're always kicking back, we turn into the Axiom humans from Wall-E. Not pretty.
I spend a lot of my life being productive. I have hacks for my shortcuts and spreadsheets for my checklists. I've earned some academic letters after my name (BA, MA, EdM, and soon, MFA), but the ones I take most pride in are GSD. I like being the person others can count on to get stuff done (If you swear, feel free to upgrade/downgrade the middle word.), but 2020 and my SNHU teacher reminded me that when I'm stuck in mud, pushing down and forward isn't the best way to get through. By easing up and going back, I can untangle what's stuck to find a way out I couldn't see from my insistent drive.
All this by way of saying that my resolution for 2020 is to take life's pleasures as the gift they are. No more guilt. If what I'm doing isn't hurting myself or anyone else, even if it's not on my daily checklist, I'm going to feel good about doing it. If the great people at the Scoville and Windham Public Libraries are willing to keep on keeping me stocked, I'm going to carry my romance novels proudly. Maybe someday, one of you will be able to take my book out of your local library, too, but I hope you'll buy a copy and let me sign it for you instead.
Are you willing to give up the guilty part of your guilty pleasures with me? Want to spell them out loud and proud in the comments?