What 2020 Taught Us

Happy New Year – and, as many may feel, good riddance to 2020!

Given the past year I thought it important to start off on a positive note – though as I am tiptoeing into the new year, I’m not quite ready to commit to any new year’s resolutions…you know, just in case… I have, however, been reflecting on what the challenges of 2020 has taught me – both personally and professionally. The TKZ community I think weathered the storm pretty well and I hope we continued to be a place where you felt encouraged and supported as writers. For me 2020 revealed both my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. I was discombobulated as well as distracted most of the year but nonetheless I did manage to finish major revisions to a novel (so there was one balloon still aloft at the end of the year:)) and I learned to be more proactive and assertive when it comes to my career (with mixed results given the year we had).

I’ve definitely spent the last few weeks wrestling with goals and plans for the coming year, but it’s been focusing on what 2020 taught me that’s helped me keep these in perspective…so in the spirit of sharing, here’s my short list of takeaways from the dumpster fire that was 2020:

  1. I need more mental space than I realized to be creative – having a houseful of people all trying to learn and work remotely taught me that I should have prioritized this more
  2. Manuscripts in drawers don’t sell themselves:)
  3. I need to be braver, more assertive, and proactive as a writer (see item #2)
  4. I shouldn’t spend all my time obsessing over the big goals, but be satisfied with achieving the smaller, more attainable ones on a daily/weekly basis (again…see item #2)
  5. I don’t need to make lunch for everyone!!! (seriously, lunch became the most loathed meal of the day as I foolishly operated the ‘all day mum cafe’ for most of 2020)

What about you TKZers? As we look forward to 2021, what did the challenges of 2020 teach you as a writer?





51 thoughts on “What 2020 Taught Us

  1. I know what you mean about the all-day-Mom-cafe.
    2020 taught me that I wasn’t serious enough about my writing goals. Apparently wishing won’t make “it” so, one actually needs to type words before a book will be written. It also taught me that it’s hard to find a readership before your book is written, I don’t care that there are experts saying otherwise. But it also taught me that there is hope for my writing, that I can make sales, even if they trickle.
    THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE. That’s my theme for 2021.

  2. Your words, discombobulated and distracted, definitely describe what 2020 was like for me. I felt adrift all last year and could not focus worth a hill of beans. Not to say I didn’t get some writing in because I did–but it was splattered out over several different writing projects so I really didn’t finish the year feeling I’d made any definitive progress. I kept reminding myself that real writers write, no matter what circumstances they face. Well I may have reminded myself, but it didn’t change things.

    As far as 2020 discoveries: Writing is just one of my interests, so when not working at the day job I typically push myself hard to use every spare second of time to work on other things–to the point of not allowing myself much down time. 2020 reminded me to take time to refill the creative well. How that will play out in 2021, I don’t know because time is still limited, but I’ve got to find a way to build in creative play time.

    Usually by December, I’m a lean mean goal-producing machine & have a carefully crafted list of goals for the next year. Didn’t happen in 2020. I did not write any down and don’t plan to until I see more of what 2021 is going to be like.

    Finally, I’m not above regressing to childhood in order to cope. For every day that I manage to write, I’m literally giving myself a foil star on my planner calendar that day. Goofy? I suppose so. But I’ve written the first 3 days of the year (at this point happy to write ANYTHING, even if its not my main project) & seeing those stars gives a throwback to a sense of normalcy.

    Looking forward to a better 2021 for all and may we all make good solid steps forward in our writing and publishing this year.

    • “refilling the creative well” really resonates with me as I definitely felt depleted in 2021. I think giving yourself a star on your planner for every day you manage to write is a great idea – my attempt to stay focused on goals like this is to have a list which I then get to tick off each day – similar strategy and it definitely helps you feel like you accomplished something:)

  3. Happy New Year!
    As an empty-nester living in a rural mountain area, I confess my life didn’t change as far as daily routines. Yoga classes were cancelled, and I switched to grocery shopping online and curbside pickup (nobody delivers up here), but it was the stress that challenged my writing. Between everything becoming a political battle, and not being able to help care for my 94-year-old mother, or even visit, made it hard to maintain focus. I did get two books written, though. And an addendum to Claire’s #2 … even published books don’t sell themselves.

  4. Hi Clare,

    So glad TKZ is back! In 2020, it provided one of the few stable touchstones in my life.

    #4 esp. resonates. Instead of obsessing over big, often-unachievable goals, celebrating the accomplishment of small goals has proven to be a much more effective, sane way to write (and live!).

    When you string together the successful completion of many small goals, they often result in the accomplishment of some big ones, too.

    Thanks, Clare, for a thought-provoking post! Wishing you much success in accomplishing whatever resolutions you pursue.

  5. Happy New Year, y’all…

    A brief recap from ATL – working my day-job for a health system (but not on the “front line”), I’m considered expenda – er, essential because of the on-call nature of construction in a hospital setting had my routine basically the same – my office being in a former nursing dorm across the street from the hospital…

    What I discovered, though, is in part influenced by the ‘Vid-demic:
    1. I was grateful to be “required” to on-site – with my bride working from home, and my baby-boy taking second year law on-line, there wasn’t the bandwidth – both data-wise and patience-wise – to accommodate the three of us under one, small, roof…
    2. Jotted ideas are not realized ideas… despite having stacks of notebooks full of lines and such…
    3. Similarly, “I shouldnโ€™t spend all my time obsessing over the big goals, but be satisfied with achieving the smaller, more attainable ones on a daily/weekly basis…” – and quit allowing my OCD to keep me from taking ideas from 2 above and doing something/more with them…
    4. What started as “The Corona Chronicles” back in May, to document changes to the “normal” has morphed into a true journal of sorts, allowing me to document those changes, but also explore my progress and/or evaluate goals for my writing, music, and drawing/painting… and maybe realize I should carve out some time for fishing, too (which allows for, as well as recharges, my writing and sketching…)

    Hoping your respective Christmases and New Years were full of warmth, wellness, and wonderment…

  6. This virus has turned us all into dogs: We roam the house looking for food, weโ€™re told “no” if we get too close to strangers, and we get really excited about car rides and walks.

    Clare, your “smaller goals” is really the key, IMO. I quantify that with a quota. My advice has always been make the number what you can do comfortably, then add 10% as a stretch. Daily, weekly, it wonderfully adds up. “A page a day is a book a year.”

    Happy New Year.

  7. Things I learned:

    1. I really do hate going to marches (consequences from 9/11 still working it’s awful magic, but I’m always terrified of drones and things turning violent)

    2. People can no longer say “we can’t accommodate you” because you just did for an entire year

    3. DisneyPlus saved my life, and I looooooove Disney.

    4. That thing called going in to class/work actually is helpful because it gives you structure :). Without it, it’s so much harder to get work done.

    5. I actually do understand how story works now! I think I can rightfully claim I graduated from story basics academy.

  8. I’m glad TKZ is back. And thanks, Clare, for forcing me to look back and assess. I told myself I wouldn’t make resolutions, but if we don’t learn from our history, we’re doomed to repeat our mistakes.

    I closed down a medical practice in 2020, on the last day of the year. I learned that my OCD can easily take over and crowd out any creative thinking. My goal for working on that is leaving the trouble behind, and that will take several months.

    The new realization: I have trouble switching gears. Like BK and George, I have other creative pursuits, and once I’m into one project, it’s hard to switch to another. I will now have time for those “other” projects (besides writing). My goal for 2021 is to set up specific times and “force” myself to switch, until my brain learns that is the new normal.

    I look forward to reading all the posts and comments from the Kill Zone community, and I wish you all a successful New Year!

    • Steve – such a great point about switching gears and it’s made me realize I have this issue too. In 2020 my default was always to turn to social media when ‘transitioning’ from one project to another…which inevitably led to far more time spent on social media than on the projects! I definitely need to learn that lesson and set specific times to do projects and not get distracted by the craziness in the world!

  9. Good morning and Happy New Year! I’m so glad TKZ is back.

    One thing 2020 taught me was to drop the stuff that wasn’t adding value to my life — like watching the news. I found more time to write and a healthier mindset. I will keep that lesson in mind this year.

    Like others, I appreciate the comment about smaller goals. It’s the marathon analogy: if you worry about running 26.2 miles, you may not make it. But if you put one foot in front of the other and just think about running the next mile, you’ll be surprised and rewarded in the long run. (no pun intended)

    Best wishes to all for a productive and healthy 2021!

  10. Happy New Year, Clare!

    This is a wonderful first KZB post of 2021. Your lesson #4 about setting small goals rather than big ones is actually a big insight. It’s too easy for many of us, myself included, to set incredibly ambitious goals.

    I retired from the library at the end of 2019. I knew I was in for changes and new challenges as I went full-time as a writer at long last, but the pandemic threw salvos of curve balls into my writing year.

    1. I learned the importance of having a schedule as an anchor. My wife crafts (makes lace, spins wool etc) during my main writing time (I also write before she wakes) and having that time blocked out each day helps both of us.
    2. I can work on two novels at the same time, one first thing, and the second in the afternoon, but it’s a pretty heavy lift. I’m re-evaluating that today, after doing it for a month, the last couple of weeks in a ragged fashion. Working on books in different genres does help (in my case, my library mystery *and* a tie-in novel to my Empowered fantasy series).
    3. I need deadlines. I had a tight deadline for my last Empowered novel, and, with considerable hair pulling, got it published in late May last year. Since then, I haven’t had any deadlines, and have drifted a bit. The tricky part for me is coming up with ones that aren’t too stress inducing.
    4. Trust my feelings. I’ve wanted to write a mystery for a long time. Last spring, the feeling intensified. I’ve certainly been through a learning curve these past few months, and I have no doubt that my library mystery will need some serious revision before it goes to beta readers, but I’m very glad I trusted myself and went with this project.

    Here’s to 2021, hopefully a better year for all of us!

    • Great list Dale and I can definitely relate to many of these. I need self-imposed deadlines too and dedicated blocks of time in the day (which were definitely eroded with having everyone at home last year). I also keep telling myself I can juggle multiple WIP but like you, I’m re-evaluating that as I find it hard to switch especially as these are in different genres. I still struggle with trusting my instinct…not sure my instinct at the moment is very good (hah!).

    • Dale,
      You bring up something I’d love to hear more from people about–maybe it could be a TKZ post (if I haven’t missed it in the past-will do a search). i.e. If you work on more than one book at a time, and how you make that work.

      I don’t write in multiple genres, but I do have one book I’m working on with a friend, and one I want to work on that is a solo project. But there is no question that a book project is demanding.

      If folks do work on more than one book at a time, what are your keys to making it work?

        • I agree with you, Clare, and with BK. It would make a great blog post. I’ve heard a variety of suggestions on how to manage two novels simultaneously–do a split schedule, alternate days, work on different phases of each at the same time (draft one, edit the other) but would love to read a full on post ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. OMG! It’s so good to *hear* your voices! I’ve been in a serious state of TKZ withdrawals…

    Lessons from 2020…hmm.

    How important it is for humans to see a smile on another human’s face and not just imagine it behind the mask.
    Hugs are drugs.
    Whatever divides my family is. not. important.
    My dog’s velvet brown eyes are a good place to hide in.
    Outside is better than inside.
    Music is a creation of God to soothe us when we can’t get the hug drug.

    I don’t make resolutions, but I do pick a focus word each new year. 2021 will be the year to *Learn*. I’ve already lined up two online conferences, one Zoom class on how to write a query letter, and I’m working with an email marketing mentor the first few months of the year.

    And, as I’ve said before, still hope to release my first two novels in 2021.

    Did I say it’s so good you’re all back? Oh, yeah, I did… ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I’ve heard from several people some good choices on their word for the year. The only word that’s been coming to me is “chaos”. I don’t like that one. I want to send it back for a full refund. LOL!

      • A dear friend in my writer’s group refers to 2020 as a truly “singular” year,” and that’s been my go-to word for it ever since she mentioned it during one of our email check-ins (we haven’t met in person since last February–thank goodness for video conferencing and email ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I should have definitely added my sweet dog to my list – he taught me life is better with a collie by your side ๐Ÿ˜(especially in 2020!)

  12. Great first-of-year posts, Clare!
    (doesnโ€™t 2021 look futuristic? I remember when 2001 was unimaginable)

    Like many here, I learned to buckle down and self-organize. Every day is now a ritual where I pass from one phase to the next. Planning… Reading… Writing… Marketing… it all flows like a river.

    I just released my second-in-series SciFi/AltHistory novel, and I am totally digging the Indie Authoring/Publishing wave that Iโ€™m riding. Hereโ€™s to the future!

    • Congratulations Harald on releasing the 2nd book in your series – a definite accomplishment any year but especially in 2020!! (And yes, 2021 looks very futuristic – I was hoping for a moon base by now!)

  13. Happy New Year, TKZers!

    In 2020, I learned that I need more human contact than this loner imagined. And that distraction came from too many directions before I was aware. That led to starting many things and finishing few (none?).

    For 2021, I’ve printed off two accountability sheets–one for health and fitness, the other for writing. Just simple circles for each day. Right now, I don’t have goals for how many minutes I must exercise or how many words I must write. I’m more interested in moving from nothing to something. If–make that when–I accomplish something in each area, I’ll color in the circle for that day. Or maybe, I’ll get fancy and follow BK’s example and find some shiny stars. After 100 days, I plan to assess how well I’m doing without stated goals. If I need to be more specific, that’s when I’ll move into high(er) gear.

    Tomorrow I start small with a course that will require me to write a short story in five days for each of three weeks. A small goal, a huge attitude lift to carry me forward.

    Oh, and my word of the year is Move!

    • Suzanne,
      You remind me of one of the ironies of 2020. I’m very introverted, and thrive on T-shirts and slogans such as “Introverts Unite! Separately in your own homes.” Less than halfway through 2020, I found myself going from hardly any introvert time to total isolation. Needless to say, the above slogan lost its luster quickly. LOL! Here’s hoping for some moderation between extremes in 2021.

      By the way, love “MOVE” as the chosen word.

      • BK, I too love those shirts. And I ended up with a pile of them on the closet shelf. Until I realized, especially during the pandemic, no one was seeing them. I decided to use the money I’d spend on more to buy more books instead. Win!

  14. Great post to start a new year with!

    I found it very hard to concentrate. All three of my grown children had major job changes, with two living with us for several months. We helped all three move – twice each – that’s six moves… ugh.

    With all the chaos, I still feel very blessed and 2020 has taught me to be grateful for the small things. It’s taught me to be mindful of those around me and to be kind to them and myself.

    It didn’t help that we had sooooo many hurricanes. I have “prepared & hunkered down” for 12 months, not to mention the 26-hour “tropical storm/Cat 2 or 3 that caught us by surprise. But we were extremely lucky to have so little damage compared to some of our neighbors.

    My take away for 2020 is:
    1. Take time to appreciate all my blessings and not take them for granted.
    2. You have to be adaptable but sometimes your season may dictate what you’re able to do.
    3. Don’t be so hard on yourself or others. Goals are good to have but sometimes “stuff happens” see #2.
    4. Having a dedicated space and time is essential for my creativity but not as essential as knowing my loved ones are ok first.
    5. Always, always, even if you have some, buy toilet paper, bottled water, and hand sanitizer on biweekly grocery trips.
    6. Next time a tropical storm warning is issued, I’m outta here. Taking a Vacay somewhere far from the coastline.

    Wishing everyone here a happy & blessed 2021 and thank you all, this blog is the one thing I looked forward to each week.

    • I love your list. Here on West Coast, it was wildfires rather than hurricanes, but your list still applies in full. We had ten days in September where our air quality was unbelievably bad. I was already hunkered down at home with my wife (still am) but that just made it even less fun. Being organized helped deal with that.

      • Thank you Dale and yes the fires! Another thing that kept this mama on edge. My two sons moved to California right before everything shut down.

        My daily text was, โ€œHow close are you to the fires now?โ€

        Hope things are better this year for California too. ๐Ÿ˜Š

  15. Sorry Iโ€™m late, Clare! I never got the notification, or itโ€™s buried under marketing emails. Is anyone else getting slammed with โ€œbuy thisโ€ emails? Ugh. ๐Ÿคฆ๐Ÿปโ€โ™€๏ธ

    Anyway, loved your life lessons, Clare. After my headphones broke (classic for 2020, right?), I learned the quickest death to creativity lies with constant interruptions. With headphones on, no one dares to disturb me. Without them, Iโ€™m fair game, apparently. *sigh*

    • I’m seriously considering investing in a pair of noise cancelling headphones as I feel the whole of 2020 was a series of constant interruptions. I swear even though I’ve decamped to the basement from my office I can still hear every one of my husband’s conference calls!! Time to put the ‘do not disturb’ headphones on I think!

  16. Happy 2021, Clare and everyone else out there. Lessons from 2020? Hmmm… value of connecting with like-minded people who are “all in it together” like this bunch on the Kill Zone. I really appreciate being part of the group hug ๐Ÿ™‚

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