Last week, my son sat in an unfamiliar school, waiting to take the entrance exam. “So many days pass us by, without us even noticing. And then there are the special days – the landmark days, on which your journey changes direction,” the head advised the fidgeting room kindly. “Whatever happens next, today is Important: today you boys form our school.”
Five days later, I went to Family Court, in order to formally mark and celebrate the adoption of a child by a couple I love. The adoption had already been approved, but the court recognises a family’s need for an occasion. The judge gave the child a teddy bear. “You can always look back on today, and remember the day you got your name,” she told him, and the bear (who had just been named after her).
Days, teddy bears, names, ideas: they don’t take on importance all by themselves. We give them importance. I have a habit of making things Important in life and in writing – often using Capitalisation to express the super-meaning I am reaching for when naming some beautiful thing a Beautiful Thing. A day may feel important, but how should it be acknowledged as different from the rest?
When I go to the beach, I see a million stones but I always search out the one or two which seem resonant to me. And then, inevitably, I give the stones Meaning, in order to identify their significance to me, and to use them as anchors, so that they moor the day and allow me to find my way back to it, whenever I touch them. This stone, I might tell myself, is perfectly smooth, and fits my palm exactly, so that it is wholly enclosed when I fold my fingers over it. Just as those children of mine, over there, splashing in the sea, like slick seals in their wetsuits (like the seals we saw earlier), are so perfectly held and protected by my love today, and are wholly embraced by this pretty bay, on this beautiful day. When I hold the stone in my fist, later, I will remember all of this: the smoothness of the stone, my love, the children’s happiness, the seals, the splashing, the wetsuits, the bay, the day. And in this way, the stone, and with it the day, are made Important to me.
If I enjoy nothing more than choosing the moments and things and people that have Significance to me, it is all so that I can steer by those stars. And so of course I love the turn of a new year. It helps me to navigate, if I chart my course by the calendar: if I put a pin in my current location, and look back at last year’s pin, so that I see how far I have travelled in the last twelve months. Yes, I have made December 31st Significant to me. I decided, along with many of you no doubt, to do as I had done one year earlier: to make it the night of a Big Goodbye – Goodbye to who I was, what I did, before. And to name January 1st Significant too: to call it the morning of a Grand New Beginning – the start of who I will be, and what I will do, next.
One of the most important things I was and did last year was this: writing about Publishing, for Humans. My first blog was a marker of a new year a year ago. 2015 opened, for me, with a resolution to write and this is where I stuck my pin.
And so it is time to look back. And now I see that what I’ve been doing over the past year of writing about our books business, is simply more of the same: more identifying of moments and activities and people that are Important to me, every week; endless attempts to put a pin in it.
Writers are experts in the art of Significance – every piece of work is the result of a series of choices: about what to use, what to invent, where to place emphasis and the best way in which to express it.
When we write about something, we give our subject an extra Significance it didn’t have before and the act of writing becomes a form of honouring that thing; of stopping mid-way and taking note, paying attention. Perhaps that’s why publishing people have been kind to me about these posts; because pausing to think about what we do all day every day honours that activity, and gives it more depth and importance than we feared it had before, especially if what we do ever starts to feel routine to us. We publishing people are not the heroes, after all: the writer is the hero. But we need to award our own endeavours value because, once we have valued our work, we can excel at it.
Just as every diary entry honours the day lived, and every letter honours the relationship between sender and receiver, and every piece of nature writing honours our world and names its animals, beaches, stones and plants as significant to us, so is every piece of fiction or non-fiction an attempt to honour our lives, through interrogating experience, by searching out the questions and the answers.
Paying attention to what we do – whether through writing or through reading and thinking – is to be responsible for ourselves, to keep a check on our behaviour. It’s not about morality – I have already confessed I adhere more to Guiding Principles than to a moral code – but such attention to what is Important pushes us to be our best selves.
And, every time we write, we capture something of ourselves on the page. When I wrote about the power of landscape, or living in metaphor, or how we fall in love in the pages of a book, I was pressing some flower of my experience between the digital pages. In writing about ‘Agenting, Publishing, Human Being’, I honoured it, and respected myself. I logged my year. And now I’ll never forget, what was Important to me, in 2015.
I love to mark the Big Goodbye and the Grand New Beginning of the turn of a new year with resolutions and I am not at all swayed by the cynics who tell us we can change our life any day. Why shouldn’t we choose to all make changes on the same day? Come on, let’s gather momentum together, as one of us gives up alcohol, and one of us pledges allegiance to the gym, and you decide to get out of bed an hour earlier every morning to write 500 words of your novel. (I hope all of you who aspire to be authors write your novels this year, at dawn if needs be. I will imagine you, a great army of dreamers and toilers, slaving away building your beautiful houses from the ground up.)
My resolution this year is to take as much pleasure as I can find in my everyday work and experiences. So I will continue to honour the things that matter to me, here. To own my own sentimentality without apology, even as I also try to balance it with honesty about the challenges every book-loving publishing professional faces in 2016, whether we are authors, publishers, publicists, booksellers or agents. I will hope, every day, to stick a pin in it, so that I can look back, from further down the road, and say: How far I have come!
Let’s all honour the day and make it Important – let’s write.