on New Years Resolutions

I’ve had a pretty good record with New Years Resolutions in the last few years.


I’m not talking about America’s top two resolutions: join a congregation, and/or join a gym. Nor am I among the 55% of American resolvers with health-related resolutions (exercise: 31.3%, eat healthy: 10.4%, have healthier habits: 13.5%). I fit better in the third of American resolvers making work- and finance-related resolutions (save: 20.8%, get out of debt: 12.5%, learn something: 10%, get organized: 1.0%).

Three years ago, embarking upon 2016,
my resolution was to get something published.

It took me until September, when to my great surprise, my first acceptance was actually a poem — not a medium in which I’ve ever felt particularly talented — followed by a short story, something else I had almost  abandoned as an effective medium for me. When a flurry of creative nonfiction acceptances followed in the fall of 2016, but with the “contributor copy” kind of compensation for my trouble, I decided it was time to be more specific.

In 2017, then,
my resolution was to get paid for my writing.

To my surprise, it only took me until February to get my first acceptance in a paying market for “Becoming Bedouin,” and my contributor copies of Silk Road Review are still among the most beautiful publications I’ve held in my hands.

In 2018, reluctantly self-employed and working furiously to keep my financial head above water, I didn’t make resolutions, per se, but I certainly became more focused on paying markets. I still submit to unpaid markets when one particularly impresses me, or suggests a theme that’s perfect for something I’ve crafted, but I’ve definitely prioritized opportunities that could lead to financial success.

And I became increasingly determined to finish a book. I thought it would be my Peace Corps memoir — I had finally hit upon a title, Trusted With Their Children, that really clarified what the real core of the book was — but I kept getting distracted by other kinds of challenges.

Over the past nine months, actually,
I’ve set up a series of resolution-like shorter-term goals.

lonely planet writing

I wanted to try my hand at longer pieces. I started with the story of my best friend from my Peace Corps village, and The Matador Review quickly snatched up the ten-thousand-word “Neither Quite Bedouin.” I set my sights next on still-longer works: “Not My Allah, And Yet,” which I very nearly sold in all its 45-page glory but instead excerpted for Michigan Quarterly Review, and the equally lengthy “Thistle at the Crossroads,” my ode to the many-layered ancient and modern city of Jerash, Jordan, which piece has been much harder to find a home for.

Then, mid-year, I stumbled upon a contest
for 55,000-word mixed genre collections with a Halloween deadline.
I wondered….

A quick survey of my published and unpublished work easily revealed enough material beyond the scope of my book-length memoirs. I threw together a plan to develop an essay collection, using an old working title for my memoir, Lessons from the Desert, and punctuated with poetry and a little fiction, for that Halloween deadline and other essay collection contests I turned up along the way. Soon I had ten lined up in a four-month stretch of 2018 into 2019. Then, I started looking at chapbooks, developing two even shorter, more focused collections: The Fifty-First State, as the joke sometimes goes about Jordan, and Animus and Empathy.

But I’m starting to feel like I’m losing focus, tilting at windmills….

So in 2019, with a new bullet journal waiting for me in February, I have a new focus, a new writing resolution.

In 2019, I will find an agent

with the aim to get a book published this year

Wish me luck!


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