Ah, September. Summer is over, thank the merciful baby Jesus. The school year has begun for most people with kids, and here in publishing land it feels as though the school year has started for us, too. (If you don’t already subscribe to Dongwon Song of Howard Morhaim Literary’s newsletter, his most recent letter is about this very thing.) September brings its little rituals. It’s too early for Halloween decorations, but I busted out a flannel shirt today, and last week I indulged in my third-favorite hobby: buying a new planner. (My first and second favorite are hockey and watching Midsomer Murders straight through from the beginning.)
The fun thing about buying planners, for me, is the sense of hope. With each new system there is the idea that I am remaking myself; that the person who uses the Bullet Journal Method or the Passion Planner or the random $9.99 thing I picked up at Target mid-July is going to be the best version of me. That whatever system I buy is going to change me into the best version of me.
This, of course, is a lie. Wherever you go, there you are, after all. The me of the new planner is the same as the old. All my strengths and foibles are still present even though I’m listing out my never-ending to-dos onto different paper and crossing them off with different pens.
It’s very easy to blame instagram or the internet in general for this planner addiction, but in reality, I’ve been Like This(tm) since I was a kid. My favorite time of the school year was Sale At Office Depot time. Different notebooks and pens have always had a special allure; we were the kind of people who had a subscription to Levenger. I know I’m not alone in this; every time I’m at a conference there will be at least one gathering where authors gather to show off their pen collections.
New stationery and new notebooks and new pens and planners and systems have an allure because there comes a point in every project or year or life where it just feels like nothing is working, and the allure of new tools offers a chance at a way to get things working, even if it’s only temporary. And there can be a benefit to changing up routines in a way that gets the brain to stretch in new ways; the phrase stuck in a rut is a truism for a reason.
But even as I unwrap my new shiny systems and shiny notebooks (this time I bought a notebook specifically for language-learning! Because why not! it was $4!) this time I’m trying to remind myself that the system is meaningless without action. I felt absurdly thwarted yesterday when I unwrapped my new purchases and realized that the parts of the system I really wanted - the calendars - weren’t included, that I had been confused by the (in my defense, bewildering) online ordering system, and hadn’t included them in the original order. It would be very easy to sit here and say “Oh, I can’t start working on X/Y/Z until I have this new system in place,” but instead I busted out my old notebook and made a list, simple as that, and got to work crossing things off of it.
Action is more important than planning. Planning is fun, and the various accoutrement that go into planning are fun to buy and use, but we should never mistake one for the other. As you move into fall and the school year and the buildup to NaNoWriMo and the long slow march to November 2020, I hope you carry that forward with you. Write it down. Just don’t wait for the arrival of your new notebook to do something about it.
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