When I worked for the civil service we had annual performance reviews as you do and part of said review was to set goals for the forthcoming year. I was always awkward about it. “I’ll do my best,” I’d say. “What more can you ask from me?” I suppose others didn’t do their best, did as little as they could get away with but that wasn’t me. My personal goal in every job I’ve done was to be the best, to become indispensable and I pretty much achieved that; there’s definitely a competitive streak in me.
This year I wrote the novella Exit Interview and a handful of poems. I’m not even going to count how many poems but it’s certainly less than a dozen. I’ve read nearly a hundred books—and reviewed every one of them either on my main blog or on Goodreads—and that pleased me because I’m nowhere near as well-read as I think I ought to be for a man of my age. Correction: for a writer of my age. I feel I’ve an awful lot of catching up to do. I don’t do New Year resolutions but really my rest-of-my-life resolution is: Read more. Read better. When I think of how few books I’ve read up until now I’m frankly mortified. I would like not to feel that way. Name a classical composer and I’ll bet I’ll’ve heard something by him and there certainly won’t be a major composer I’ve not heard as many of their works, certainly their orchestral works, as I could lay my hands (ears?) on. I would like to say that about every important author out there. Having no plans for the future is a bit short-sighted but we’re not engineers, we’re writers. You can’t apply the imperatives of industrial output to the mystery of creation. Would I like to write another book next year? Of course I would! Stupid question. I’ve just written a long article on the Scottish writer William McIlvanney and when asked why he’s not written more in his life—not that his output is paltry—his answer is always that he can only write from “compulsion”; the word crops up with him again and again. I’m the same. I have the tools sharpened and ready but I need a reason to write and that, much as it irks me, is in the hands of my subconscious. I didn’t plan to write a novella this year but when the call came I answered.
I did my best this year. My best is not what it used to be but I did the best I could with the time I had and by that I mean with the time I had when my head was clear. I’ll do the same next year. If I can’t seize the day I’ll seize the hour or the next fifteen minutes.
(The above first appeared in a slightly different format in a comment on my friend Ken Armstrong’s blog. I felt it deserved a wider audience.)