Filling the Blank Slate with Mandalorians and Long Walks
A devoted dad and ambitious author considers how he might get it all done in 2021
In my memory, early January every year has always been starkly overcast, white sky from horizon to horizon like a blank slate.
Because of curtailment at UC Davis, people like myself who hold staff and administrative positions are required to take a bunch of vacation days between the winter holidays, no matter how much work we were previously getting done at home. This extra time away from typical academic duties gave me time to take stock and do some planning, as so many of us do at this time of year.
I haven’t published a book for a couple of years, to my chagrin, so 2021 will see me come out with at least one new book: The Determined Writer: Quotable Advice from Notable Authors. I spent about 40 hours researching and collecting quotations over the break, for I had set a goal of finding and recording at least 3,000 such quotations before January 1st, thus doubling the size of the book from 2019 to the end of 2020.
I can become rather obsessive while working on writing projects. During the month before our 25th wedding anniversary back in 2017, I wrote much of a book of love poetry for my wife Kate, and thus at our anniversary dinner I could present her with the finished manuscript, titled 25. I’m lucky to know a talented book designer, who helped me with this rushed but substantive project. 25 was one of my more popular titles with my target audience. It had a printing run of one.
My hypergraphia this time led me to bust through my goal of 3,000 researched examples of writing advice, and as of January 5th, 2021, I currently have collected 3687 quotations. Now, at close to 150,000 words, even without a table of contents, chapter introductions, or the index, that would be too much for any writer (or reader) to digest who wants to focus only on determination. Consequently, I plan for this extensive research to yield a number of books, including one that I will compile exclusively to give away to the students in my journalism classes.
Even though I have self-publishing templates and checklists from my friend Jane Friedman and others, it’ll take discipline for me to have this document ready be the end of the first quarter of 2021. And getting this book ready to share is just one category of 15 that I hope to attend to in the first quarter. For example, I want to walk five miles a day in this quarter (I did 4.6 miles a day in 2020), meditate for at least three hours a week, and have 25 Pub Quiz subscribers join me on Patreon by week 12. Do you think I can accomplish all that?
One book that is helping me focus on these projects is The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Months by Brian P. Moran and Michael Lennington. As the title suggests, this book recommends that the productive writer, salesperson, or entrepreneur pretend that an entire year of projects and deadlines has been shrunk into 12 weeks. This means planning, prioritizing, streamlining, and focusing. Coincidentally, this is partly what my Determined Writer book will be about. How meta!
Moran and Lennington also require that those living in a 12-week year will sacrifice something pleasurable or distracting in order to accomplish something great. Because I have people at home with various health challenges and conditions, I am taking a break from my weekly KDVS radio show until more of us are vaccinated, so that’s one sacrifice that I’m making. I’d like to say that I will maintain my general abjuration of the TV set, but three of us in my family are about to start watching the second season of The Mandalorian.
Fortunately for me and the other residents of our south Davis home, there is a “quality time with kids” category on my plan for the first quarter (or the first 12-week year) of 2021, so that will provide my justification to watch some TV. I’m lucky to love my job, to love my family, and to love the writing tasks that I have assigned myself this quarter. Will I be able to find the right balance? As Steve Jobs once said, “As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” Stay tuned.
I hope you will follow me on this writing and publishing journey this year. All my Patreon subscribers will receive a copy of The Determined Writer when it is published, so please do join us there if you haven’t already.
Happy 20th birthday to my son Jukie! Check out this heartwarming YouTube video my wife Kate made to celebrate his special day. It features at least two unruly Covid beards.
And happy New Year to you. I hope you and your families continue to experience good health and peace.
P.S. Here are three questions from the last Pub Quiz of 2020:
Radio Shows. What radio show, recorded live, used to be sponsored by Powdermilk Biscuits?
Science. What is a rosella? Is it an ailment, a bird, or a plankton?
Books and Authors. Coming in at 768 pages, what was the title of the best-selling book of 2020?
P.P.S. My dad used to take phone calls from Lady Bird Johnson, the former First Lady, who once said, “Encourage and support your kids because children are apt to live up to what you believe of them.”