Being a full time professional writer means a lot of things, but mostly that you’re always busy writing, writing, writing… and not having nearly enough time to plan or reflect on how you’re doing or how far you’ve come. That’s why I look forward to Dead Week each and every year — it gives me breathing room enough to write my New Year letter to myself, adjust my business plans, re-balance my calendar and screw around some. It’s truly the best time of the year.
What is Dead Week?
Ah. That’s the question, I guess, isn’t it? Dead Week is usually what colleges call that week before finals, but it means something else for writers. For journalists, it’s the week between Christmas and New Year’s, when nothing really happens that’s newsworthy. That also happens to apply to copywriters and digital marketers, because, frankly, all our clients are out on break, too. So we get this one especially precious week each year to just… breathe.
Breathing is lovely. It’s the best, actually. After a day or two of non-stop binge drinking or playing video games or committing serial murders, your brain gets back in the right place to work for another long stretch. But, before you do that, I think it’s really important that you assess your situation. Where are you? Where have you been? Where are you going?
That last question is the most important one. Sure, you can survive as a writer without a plan, but you’ll never thrive. You’ll never be organized enough, you’ll never really reach your potential if you don’t have some sort of structure and a direction to set your rudder. You don’t have to be like me or any other writer, but you need to figure out who you do want to be and put together a plan for giving it a go. That’s where the New Year’s letter can help.
Components of a Good New Year’s Letter
I started writing New Year’s letters after a major medical issue that left me bed ridden for months. It helped me find some focus and really gauge where I was in my career. I also found the whole exercise quite cathartic and frankly, I needed that. I still need that. The first one was in 2012, published on Facebook for my tiny following. Now I publish them every year and stick a copy here for you to read if you’re so inclined.
If you’re looking for some direction for your own New Year’s Letter, here are some components I’ve found to be really helpful:
Failings. It’s vital that you own your failings for the last year. Did you seriously fuck up a relationship or make a huge professional mistake last year that continues to plague you? Own it. Put it on paper, bring it to light, show the world how big of a mistake you realize it was. It’s a great way to come out of that pile of garbage you created all fresh and new and clean.
Successes. When you win, everybody wins — assuming you’re not a dick about it. You deserve to cheer your own successes and to acknowledge them, because, frankly, they’re what you’re going to build on in the new year. So, whether you finally gave up the crack pipe or just figured out how to work your dishwasher so that even the dirty pots get clean, claim it and be proud for just a moment.
Projects. We’ll all end the year with a project or six that aren’t finished. It’s ok, it’s normal. Really. But you need a plan to get them done, so include them in your New Year’s Letter. For example, if you’re trying to hop genres or get into a new niche, it’s important that you follow through with that project, even if it’s to a lesser end than you hoped. Trying and doing and finishing, these are the things that matter.
New Goals. I’m sure you’ve got shiny new plans for 2016… if you don’t, maybe you should find a few. After all, new goals help us all stay motivated and moving toward that direction in which we’re headed. Now, when I say goals, I mean concrete, distinct, actionable goals. Not “I’d like to be a better person.” BAH! Maybe you want to be more patient with your coworkers or make more time for your children — whatever it is that you really want, don’t forget to spell it out in detail. You’ll thank me for this next year.
Writing a New Year’s letter doesn’t have to be an exercise in pain, but it should be a really deep look into the void. When you use it like a tool instead of like a diary, you can set some wheels in motion, throw the breaks on the ones that aren’t working for you and generally figure your life out in little moments. After all, the New Year is as good a time for reflection as any — and what else do you have on your plate this week?