Your guide to a better kind of New Year’s resolution

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If the recent passage of Jan. 1 has you feeling bad for not having made some writing-related new year’s resolutions, remember this: plans for writers are a far better idea… 

I no longer believe in new year’s resolutions. This discovery came over me in 2013 and, ever since, I’ve been free of the tyranny of figuring out what I want to change about myself, making lists and feeling disappointed by Jan. 15 — the point at which I had inevitably given up.

That said, I still think there is some merit in questioning our assumptions about how to approach life. And if we want to tie that questioning to the festive and mind-clearing date of January 1, so be it. Here is one assumption I’ve been thinking about lately, as a result of my daughter, Alison (pictured above).

Alison is in her last year of university and expects to graduate with her BA in May. She’s done well at school despite her learning disabilities, anxiety and the heavy genetic load of having her mother’s brain. Here’s what I mean by that: Like me, she is virtually allergic to math and science.

In high school, I passed Math 11 only by promising never to take math again. (To this day I still believe it was a trick question. Why on earth would I ever want to take math again?) In college, I still recall the two weeks of Psych 100 where we focused on brain chemistry. I remember feeling as though the class was being spoken in a foreign language. Swahili, perhaps? Or maybe Latvian. I didn’t understand a single word the professor said and contented myself with passing the class based on my stellar scores in all the other units of it.

Unlucky Alison is wired similarly. She does well in her essays but she finds science particularly daunting. Still, like all Arts students, she was required to take two science courses in order to graduate. She knocked off the first one — a course on natural disasters — with ease and dispatch two years ago. But the second one eluded her. She tried a number of new Science-credit courses and, quickly dropped each of them. They were too hard. Too confusing. The professor was unfriendly. Etc. I offered to plead to the university on her behalf to waive this requirement, given her learning disabilities, but she would not allow me to do this.

Last term, she took her almost-last chance. There were only a few remaining Science-for-Arts-students classes she hadn’t tried: nutrition and health was one of them. She started the class with high hopes but soon ran into the brick wall of a difficult professor. The professor announced that spelling would count and Alison wrote the prof an email politely explaining about her learning disability, which made correct spelling impossible. “I’ll take that into consideration,” the professor replied, opaquely. Then, a few weeks later, the prof announced that her marking method involved penalizing students for any incorrect answers on tests — a decision that sent Alison into full-fledged panic mode.

We had several difficult nights at our household — even a panic attack or two, as I recall — but Alison persisted. Prior to the final exam, she studied fulltime for the course for nine consecutive days, putting studying for other exams and all her essay-writing on hold. She wrote the exam with great nervousness and learned her final mark for the course just before Christmas: 88 per cent.

We were all ecstatic of course. But for me this result illustrates more than just a good mark. It shows the value of what psychologist Carol Dweck describes as a growth mindset over a fixed one. People in the latter camp believe their success is based on talent or innate ability. But those in the former camp — believers in growth — understand their success is based on hard work, learning, training and doggedness.

If you’re an aspiring writer who’s searching for a resolution in 2017, instead, plan to become a better writer through hard work and learning. Me? I might even resolve to learn some math…

What are your writing plans for 2017? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section, below.  And congratulations to Catherine W, the winner of this month’s book prize, Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis  for a Dec. 6/16 comment on my blog. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Jan. 31/17 will be put in a draw for a copy of Authorisms, by Paul Dickson. To leave your own comment, please, scroll down to the section, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.

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