It’s officially the third week of January. I’m not sure how you’re doing with resolutions at this point. Maybe you’re on track. Maybe you abandoned them already, but I’d like to offer another way of seeing this new year. Right around New Year’s I kept seeing this Brad Paisley quote being shared. He said, “Tomorrow, is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one.” So, I got to thinking what if we saw this new year as a story? Then, I thought about the different parts of a story.
I don’t have the stats on this, but I don’t think most writers start with a title. Usually, it’s an idea first and then a title is given to it later, but for the sake of the story of 2023, I think we should start with a title. This could be a one word title. If you already chose a word for this year, that is probably a good title. Maybe your book is called, hope, or courage, or grow. Maybe it’s a phrase like Taking Time, Open Mind and Heart, or Breaking Free. Whatever you want your life to be about this year, make that your title.
Theme or Thesis
I know. It’s starting to sound a little bit like school, but stay with me. When I was in high school, I had so much trouble finding the theme in a book. I would always fixate on my favorite part, but it usually wasn’t the most important part of the story. When I write, I struggle with the thesis just like when I’m reading. I tend to get caught up in a side character or details that don’t really matter and it weakens my story. For the coming year, let’s write a thesis that won’t allow us to get distracted by things that weaken our story. I’d love for you to actually sit down with pen and paper and write your theme or thesis. Or you can do it in notes on your phone or anywhere you’ll see it. Your thesis can look like a book’s subtitle or even a mission statement. However it’s written, it should be the direction you want your year to take. It’ll be how you want to prioritize your time, energy, and money. Maybe it’s general like “Working toward a better me” or more specific like, “The year I learned when to say yes and when to say no.” This phrase should shape your year and hold you accountable for making progress.
No story is complete without a good set of characters. When writing a story, you want characters the reader will relate to and cheer for. So, who do you want in your story? Start with your family. If you’re married, how do you plan to connect with your spouse this year? Will you prioritize time for dates? Will you take the time to celebrate and cherish your spouse? How about kids? Make a plan for connecting with your kids, grandkids, or nephews and nieces individually. Build time with them into your schedule.
Think of other friends or family members who make you better. They’re the people who build you up and tell you the truth. When you spend time with them, you feel energized and hopeful. Make a plan to have regular time with these people. I don’t have to tell you this nation is experiencing a mental health crisis and much of the cause of that is a lack of human interaction. We were made to be in community and when we choose not to engage, we aren’t as grounded as we could be. We can feel anxious, depressed, or begin to believe things that aren’t true. Time with a good friend is good for the spirit and healthy people schedule time for them.
I’ve written about this before, but there are ways to make this happen even if you’re very busy. When you see a good friend dropping off her kid at the same time as you are, maybe send a text and say, “Next week during dance, can we sneak away for coffee?” Ask a friend if she can take her lunch break when you do and grab a bite together. Once it’s not so frigid outside, ask a friend to take a walk with you. There are ways to work in quality time with one of your favorite people despite having a busy schedule. And remember, time with a good friend gives you energy, so you may find you save time by carving out some for a friend because you are more energetic and efficient as a result.
When my daughter was very young, she loved writing “stories”. The reason for the quotes is because she really only did character development. She’d go on and on about each of the characters -what they liked to do, things they have done in the past, and of course what they looked like. But what she was missing was an actual story. These wonderfully crafted characters never did anything. If we’re not careful, we’ll be ringing in the new year again and 2023 won’t have much to show for it. A good story has action, so what do you want your action to be this year? (These are probably disguised resolutions, but let’s call them goals or action so we actually do them.)
Maybe you want to read more books, or start a new hobby. Maybe you want to take a trip or run a race. Maybe you want to cook more or learn a new language. Whatever that thing is, try making steps in that direction. Caution: if you’re going to add action to your year make sure it fits into your theme or thesis. Oftentimes, we get caught up in activities that are not the best use of our time and effort. Before you invest in something, simply ask yourself, “Does this fit in with my thesis for the year?” Obviously, don’t go too far with this. I don’t want you to reach out to me and say, “Well, I haven’t done the dishes all month because it didn’t fit my thesis.” For me, it would be laundry. That never fits with my thesis. Yes, there are things we simply have to do in order to be adults and good citizens, but with the things you choose, choose them with a purpose.
Don’t forget to serve. God commands us to serve others, but the amazing thing about service, is it makes us feel good. How many times have you served someone and walked away saying, “That’s was so much fun!” Usually, right? If you want to have a good year, make sure you include service in your action. If you don’t, your year can become all about you and that’s just not healthy.
I should also mention, my daughter has a wonderful children’s chapter book coming out in August, so she figured out how to add action to the story.
Maybe you’re thinking, last year’s story wasn’t how I would have written it, so why should I think this one will be different. Maybe 2022 was marked by an illness or even the death of a loved one. Maybe it was the year of disappointment, financial struggle, or a broken relationship. These are things in our story we didn’t choose to write.
That reminds me of a book my son wrote for school last year. He may not be the one with a book contract, but he’s a great writer. It was this wonderful detective story, but when I was reading it, I noticed one section that had some random science facts in it. I asked him about it and he said, “Yeah, part of the assignment was we had to include at least four science facts. I thought it was only one, but the day it was due I realized it had to be four, so I had to sneek them in really quickly.” Here’s the excerpt in case you care to read it. Trust me, you want to read it.
“So,” I started to pull out my giant notebook, “let’s write everything down that we know.” I quickly jotted down two things:
1. The kidnapper is experienced with technology.
2. The kidnaper seems to know where we are and what is happening at all times.
“Creepy, it’s like he knows everything,” I whispered. Let’s look at our suspect list.
“Maybe he did all of his hacking from space,” Oscar suggested.
“You know that space is a vacuum.”
“What if he was kidnapping a bunch of people and creating a new eco-system?”
“An eco-system is a community of interacting organisms. Not just a bunch of humans. Now, would you just be quiet?”
“Well, what if he found a star?”
“He would be sucked in by the sun’s gravity and die and there is only one star in our solar system.” This was just getting annoying.
“What if he’s keeping them to be devoured by koalas?”
“Koalas are herbivores, because they eat only plants.” I raised my voice. “Would you just give up?”
If that doesn’t make you smile, I don’t know what will. He said, “At least it wasn’t as bad as my one friend. He wrote: “This situation was so bad it was beginning to remind me of science class, which I was always bad at. In fact, I only remember 4 things from science and they are…”
I promise I do have a point in all of this. Sometimes, life gives you things that have to be included in your story, even if you don’t want to include them. There will be years where these curveballs become what the year is about and unfortunately, that’s out of our control. (If that makes you squirm, you’re just like me.) But we do have some control in how we deal with them. We can incorporate them into our story in a way what grows us and ultimately grows our faith in God. And remember, God is in control of our story even when we don’t see it. He has our best interest at heart and we can trust him.
We can plan our story all we want, but know there will be “assignments” that we will have to include. We can do it elegantly (like I think Hudson did) or just tack them on (like his friend). But expect these curveballs. Sometimes the key to working through them is just not being shocked when they come up.
If you’re a writer, this can feel like a four letter word. I guess it’s four letters if your a writer or not. But editing is hard. When I’ve sent things to an editor, there’s this moment where you’re about to open the document and you pause because you just don’t want to hear what needs to be changed. You want to live in that fantasy that your manuscript is perfect for just a little longer. If you have a good editor, they mix in some encouragement with the suggested changes, but inevitably, there will be a section that just doesn’t add to the story. It may be one of your favorite parts, but it’s highlighted and the comment beside it says, “Consider deleting this. It doesn’t add enough to the story.” And man, that hurts. I don’t get rid of those things completely, I add them to a folder of other deleted segments to possibly use later.
But, in our stories of 2023, we’ve talked about adding things: characters, action, service, but unless you have unlimited time, some things needs to be deleted to make room. What are the things you need to edit out of your story? Maybe it’s an activity that has taken too much of you in the past. Consider stepping away or at least dialing it back a little. If it’s a time-waster that adds little value, edit it out. (Things like social media, binging TV, games on the phone, etc.) Ask yourself if these things are adding enough benefit to require so much of your time. Maybe there’s a character that needs to be edited out. Every story needs an antagonist, but you don’t need to keep people in your story that serve that role. Think of the people who make things more difficult. Maybe it’s time to cut ties with them. Or, in the interest of having a mission mindset, at least limit their access to your time and heart. There will always be difficult family members. You can’t change that, but you can decide how much you allow them to affect your day to day. Take a serious look at how you spend your day, and then get out that red pen and make the necessary edits that keep your year in line with your thesis.
My prayer for you is this, with God’s help, you’ll write a beautiful story this year. I hope it’s full of growth, joy, and strengthened relationships not in some shallow Instagram post kind of way, but that you genuinely feel like a version of yourself that looks more like Jesus. However, it won’t happen on accident. So take the time to make a plan and know that I’ll be praying for you.