Black and white photo of an open notebook with the year '2020' and word 'grit' written on the first page. Photo by Reghan Skerry.

2020 in Preview

Art + Craft, Personal, Photography, Writing

The year—the decade—isn’t even two weeks old and it’s already testing my optimism. I keep sitting down to write this post, and I just stare at the blinking cursor, trying to figure out what to say about my goals for the new year, trying to figure out how to say that I’m still hopeful. That despite everything, my goals for this year are more ambitious than they have been for the last few.

But maybe that makes sense. Everything’s terrible, so why not take some risks? This isn’t a year for ‘find a hobby’ or ‘build a sustainable writing routine.’ That was about building a foundation. This is a year to make some real, concrete changes. 

I’m not going to go into all of them here. Some are obvious and don’t need further explanation (finally get that photo thing off the ground, finish Violet Lane, keep querying), some are too personal, some just aren’t within the (current) scope of this blog. Some I’ll talk about later, but I just want to keep them to myself for now. 

But there are a few things I do want to publicly commit to:

Focus on improving my craft.

I said back in September that I felt l like I’ve hit a plateau when it comes to my skill, both as a writer and a photographer. That feeling hasn’t gone away.

Like I said then: it’s normal. And, really, I wouldn’t want to be satisfied creatively—I think an artist’s vision should always exceed their skill, at least a bit. It’s not that I think I’m a bad writer or photographer, I’m just not where I’d like to be, and it’s time to level up.

I’m not 100% sure about my game plan, here.

I know I want to work on building my technical skills, whether that means studying the writing books I’ve collected over the years, or working on specific photo projects, or taking classes, or something I haven’t thought of yet. 

I want to do more work—I want to take more photos and spend more time writing. I’ve done well, building a sustainable practice, but it’s time to expand on that. I need to be careful not to push too hard—burnout is always a real risk for me—but the pace I usually work at now doesn’t allow for much growth. 

And I want to build my creative confidence. I don’t (just) mean when it comes to sharing my work—I’m getting better at that, even though it’s still difficult. I want to be braver in the work that I create; I want to stop holding myself back from taking the photographs I want to take, or writing the stories I want to write. This is a process, and I don’t expect it to be a quick one, but it’s something I need to do.

So, yeah: not exactly a clear plan, but at least my goals are clear. I’ve got time to figure out how to get there.

Reevaluate my relationship with social media.

I’ve been wrestling with this for a while, and I’ve come to some conclusions:

  1. Instagram and Twitter are terrible distractions that make it harder to focus on the work I want to be doing.
  2. Facebook and Twitter are actively harming society and chipping away at democracy, and the people in charge embrace it because it’s lining their pockets. (Instagram itself isn’t as terrible on that front, but the ad revenue still goes to Facebook.)
  3. I’m sick of Facebook’s constant presence. I’m not even on Facebook, and I can’t get away from it. It’s creepy
  4. I miss blogs. I miss the old internet, back when it felt fun and creative and serendipitous. Back when it was still weird.
  5. Instagram is one of the things that has stalled my progress as a photographer. Yes, it’s helped in some ways, but it rewards sameness rather than creativity, and it’s hard not to play to that.

Any one of those is reason to jump ship—taken together, I’ve reached a point where it’s hard to justify my presence. At the same time, there’s part of me that feels like I need to be on those networks, for personal or professional reasons. I feel genuinely guilty when I don’t post to Instagram or Twitter for a few days, and I hate it.

So this year, I’m going to figure out a solution. I’m probably going to step back from the services that bother me most, or abandon them completely. I’ve already taken some steps in that direction, curating my feeds a bit, and I’ve already left Pinterest (they finally made it too difficult to avoid the cluttered home feed).

I’m definitely going to breathe some real life into this blog, rather than relying on those other services. (I might go back to the self-hosted version of WordPress, to get back a little control with that, but my account is paid up until the fall, so I’ve got time to think about it.) 


Mostly, though, my goals for 2020—writing and photographic and personal—are summed up in the watchword I’ve chosen: grit.

Very few of the things I want to do this year are going to be easy. And it’s going to be a difficult year, just in general. (I didn’t know how difficult when I started thinking about my plans, but… well.) I’m going to to be tempted to give up, or slack off, or set my sights lower.

“Grit” is what’s going to keep me going.

Black and white photo of tulips in a glass vase. Photo by Reghan Skerry.

Project366: #261-270

Photography

Less than one hundred days left to go in this particular project, and I’m starting to wonder what comes next.

I know that this sort of daily project does wonders for my photography. I’m proud of some of the photos I’ve taken over the last ten months, and I know that they wouldn’t have happened without the commitment I made to post something new every single day. I wouldn’t have gotten into the habit of carrying a real camera so often, and probably would gone days or weeks without taking a photo. (Just look at 2018.)

And yet.

Inspired | September 2019

Links

Every month, I share the articles and sites that I found most interesting. Here’s what caught my attention in September: finances of book deals and self-publishing, China’s effect on Hollywood, thoughts on Instagram and Like buttons, how commuting has shaped cities, and more.

Wall hanging to display enamel pins, by Reghan Skerry.

Sketchbook #40

Art + Craft, Photography, Writing

In a lot of ways, February is when my real work starts—even in a good year, it takes me a few weeks to find my routines and start moving forward again with my writing, or photography, or… whatever.

This year, February has been a very good month.

My goals going in were to move forward with the photo-a-day project I started at the end of January, to find my rhythms in Violet Lane and The Black Sun again, and to start making time for the creative hobbies I want to explore over the course of the year. (I was also hoping to make up my mind about Scrivener, and to start moving forward on my big scary photography goal again.)

Inspired | June 2018

Links

Every month, I share the articles and sites that I found most interesting. Here’s what caught my attention in June.

The Key Book Publishing Paths: 2018 by Jane Friedman: a downloadable chart detailing the most common publishing options

The 430 Books in Marilyn Monroe’s Library: How Many Have You Read? by Ayun Halliday

A study on the financial state of visual artists today by The Creative Independent: “With this report, we hope to paint a clearer picture of how structures of the art world work (or don’t work) to grow artists’ careers, help them earn a living, and satisfy their overall human needs.”

The Perfect Photo: Myth or Reality? by Emily Ludolph: “As creators, we can spend hours fine-tuning the tiniest details until we deem our end result “perfect.” But is there really such a thing as perfection when it comes to creativity?”

Why photojournalism matters by Elodie Mailliet Storm: “This image is the result of ten years of John’s work documenting the U.S. Mexican border, way before it increasingly became “news” under the new Administration.”

How Instagram’s algorithm works by Josh Constine

Why Photography’s B&W vs Color Debate Is No Debate At All by Lars Mensel: “Just as black and white now looks reduced to our eyes, color must have seemed gaudy to the photographers of the 1950s: It looked like embellishment.”

How everything on the internet became clickbait by Kevin Munger (via Now I Know, which I highly recommend subscribing to.)

This setup is perfect for people motivated primarily by diversion and duty — anyone with an internet connection has access to more high-quality information sources than Harvard professors 50 years ago could have dreamed of. It turns out that there just aren’t many people who want to take advantage of that; most of us are more into drama and display.

#BotSpot: Twelve Ways to Spot a Bot by Ben Nimmo: Some tricks to identify fake Twitter accounts

You Have to Fail a Little by Melissa Baumgart: “When I am flailing in my writing, certain I don’t know what I’m doing anymore, I put on Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse to remind myself that however bad it gets, it’s not as rough as being Francis Ford Coppola on the set of Apocalypse Now.”

The Hidden Queer History Behind “A League of Their Own” by Britni de la Cretaz: “By not including a gay character’s story in “A League of Their Own,” the film does to the history of the league what the owners tried to do its existence—erase lesbians from the narrative.”

What’s the most interesting thing you saw online this month?

Inspired | April 2018

Links

Every month, I put together a list of everything that caught my attention. Here’s April.

How to read poetry like a professor an interview with Thomas Foster by Jake Nevins

How Social Media Perpetuates Cliché Photography by Graham Hiemstra: Three key influencers discuss originality, the rise of copycat photographers, and the future of Instagram (via Goodbye Instagram, hello Ello by Samuel Zeller, which is also a very interesting read.)

Can Instagram keep its nose clean? by Gian Volpicelli: “… it’s hard not to feel that Instagram lucked out, effectively airbrushing its public image amid Facebook’s whirlwind of scandals.”

Nikon versus Canon: A Story Of Technology Change by Steven Sinofsky

What’s the difference between a camera and a human eye? by Haje Jan Kamps: Or: What’s the ISO of a human eye?

What about the Breakfast Club? by Molly Ringwald: “How are we meant to feel about art that we both love and oppose? What if we are in the unusual position of having helped create it?”

Queens of Infamy: Eleanor of Aquitaine by Anne Thériault

Richard joined Eleanor after a few years, since she was ostensibly ruling in his name and he would one day have to take over as Duke of Aquitaine, and during this time the two became very close. You know that scene in Disney’s Robin Hood where a disconsolate Prince John mutters “mother always did like Richard best”? If that is not the truest line in any Disney movie ever, I don’t know what is.

Style Is an Algorithm by Kyle Chayka

We find ourselves in a cultural uncanny valley, unable to differentiate between things created by humans and those generated by a human-trained equation run amok. In other words, what is the product of genuine taste and what is not.

Sketchbook #21

Photography, Writing

This has been a strange month. (Another one.) Not bad, just… strange. In a number of ways.

I’m currently planning the second draft of the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo last year, and I’m in the earliest stages of planning a different novel. I’d worried that it would be confusing, trying to work on two different stories, but it’s not; they complement one another, but they don’t get tangled up together.

It does mean that I’m working on two different stories, but not actually writing either of them right now. I’m not putting words on the page. And the writing routine I built over the last five months doesn’t quite work when I’m outlining, or researching, or trying to make sense of the notes I made last November. I’ve been trying to do some free writing, but… meh. I don’t quite have the hang of that—I always reach a point where it feels like I’m just typing, rather than writing.

So, keeping myself on track—and feeling like I’m actually being productive—has been a bit of a struggle.

What I really want is something like my daily photo project, but for writing: a low-pressure way to give myself a little bit of structure and a reason to actually do the work. I’ve been really happy with the 365 project so far: not every photo is great (or even particularly good), but I’ve produced a few that I really like, and I’ve seen an improvement in my work in general, just in the last three months. Even posting the pictures to Instagram is part of it—I’m not chasing likes, but I’m not going to deny that the only reason the project hasn’t stalled out already is because I’ve got people who notice when I post, and who comment when I post a particularly good shot.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past couple of weeks trying to come up with a way to do something similar with writing, without much luck. I did have one idea that ticked all of the boxes, but… it’s not something I want to do. (And I realize I’m being vague. But. It’s not a good idea, and I’m just going to leave it at that.)

(I also realize that I’m saying this on a blog, and that a pretty good solution would be to just post more often. And that might be what I end up doing, but I’d rather focus on writing fiction.)

On a brighter note, this whole thing inspired me to dig out the unfinished drafts I was working on a couple of years ago, when I made my first attempt to ease myself back into writing. My goal at the time was to write 500 words of fiction a day, with no real plan or outline, just to see if I still could (and get some of the ideas out of my head). The attempt was ultimately unsuccessful, but… a couple of those drafts are actually really good. The stories themselves aren’t going to go anywhere (I abandoned them for a good reason), but… I think I came closer to “finding my voice”—or just finding a prose style that really works for me—in those stories than I have before or since. It’s a good time to remind myself of that, right when I’m about to start the rewriting process.

So! What’s coming next?

April’s going to be a busy month for me, which… isn’t great, but it’ll be a good time to think about my options and try to figure out how to bring some structure to my writing time. And, now that I’ve started, I want to get the outline for draft 2 of the NaNoWriMo novel done ASAP; if at all possible, I’d like to start the writing process sometime in May.

I’m taking my time with the outline for the next story. I rushed the process for the NaNoWriMo outline (trying to get a plan in place for 1 November), and I regret it now. But I’m still working on it, and I want to see real progress by the end of the month.

I’m also hoping to get out and take some proper photos sometime soon. But, really, I’m pleased with how my photography is going. If I can keep it up, I’ll be happy.

Looking Ahead: Goals & Plans for 2015

Personal, Photography, Writing

1 January 2015

The start of a new year is always weird for me. I love the idea of a fresh start, and I love the process of figuring out new goals. But I always manage to freak myself out about the whole thing, too. (I’ve already had this year’s panic attack, so at least that’s out of the way.)

After taking a year off from the whole major-goal-setting thing (sort of), I’m ready to get back to it.

I have plans for 2015.

And, in the interest of making myself accountable, I’m sharing them with you. These aren’t my only plans for the year (I’ve got a few others that aren’t significant enough to mention here), and most of the ones I am sharing cover a lot of ground (I have several specific, measurable goals for the photography and web-related stuff), but these are the ones that really matter.

In 2015, I will…

Find a New Workout
For someone who loathes most sports, and hates the concept of exercising, I’m actually pretty good about working out. To the point that I get a little anxious when I can’t stick to my schedule. (This is actually a chicken-and-egg thing, since one reason I work out in the first place is that it does wonders for my anxiety in general.) But the several months, I’ve been getting so bored with my current routine. I’ve thought about running, and I might try that (I’ve got a measured 5K route right outside my door), but I know that starting when the weather is so miserable is a mistake. I need to find something new and interesting ASAP.

Focus on Photography (Pun Not Intended, But Unavoidable)
With so much other stuff going on in 2014, I wasn’t able to give photography the attention I wanted to. But I have a very specific plan in place to get back on track in 2015. If you’re local to me (so, in the Canadian Maritime provinces), watch this space in the first six months of the year… I’m going to be making some announcements that might be relevant to your interests. If you’re not local to me… your announcements will be coming in the second half of the year.

Do Something With the Office
Ok, so. The entire apartment is still a work-in-progress. But the office is the only place where progress isn’t actually being made. Since the move, it’s become a catch-all, and it is not a place I can actually get any work done. This needs to change. I need to figure out what I want the office to feel like (that’s part of the problem—I have clear ideas for the rest of the apartment, but the office is a puzzle), and set about turning it into a place where I want to spend time.

Get my Digital Life in Order
I’m actually not unhappy with what I’ve been doing here on the blog. (And it’s the first year I’ve been able to say that, about any website, so… progress!) But while it’s a good start—there’s much more I want to do. I’m going to work on increasing post frequency, and I’m probably going to be looking at a bit of a redesign to better incorporate some of the changes I want to make. I also want to start paying attention to some of the social media accounts that I tend to neglect. (*cough*Twitter*cough*Instagram*cough*)

Read a Novel. In French.
For about a year and a half now, I’ve been actively trying to improve my French. And while I’m still a long way from being anything close to fluent, I’m a lot more comfortable with it than I was before (much more comfortable than I was when I was taking it in school). By the end of the year, I want to try to get through an entire novel. Probably a fairly short YA novel, and definitely with a dictionary at hand, but that’s the plan.

MAYBE Think About Writing That Thing
I haven’t written any fiction since early in 2014. And that’s a good thing—I was feeling overwhelmed, and obsessive, and perfectionism was kicking my ass. And I don’t want to go back to that. But, at the same time, there’s a story that keeps nudging me, waiting to be written. If I can figure out a way to work on it, and not drive myself crazy, I might try to do something with it. But it’s not a priority.