A New Year’s Writing Tradition

by Amber Lea Starfire on January 1, 2012


There’s something about the end of one year and the beginning of the next that invites review and reflection. Without this calendar marker, it’s really just another day—but, for me, January 1 always feels momentous. It’s like drawing a line in the sands of time between the past and the present: whatever happened in the past stays in the past. And though I acknowledge that the past affects my decisions now and in the future, a new year invites new awareness, new thinking, newness of all kinds. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I enjoy creating traditions for stepping over the line.

New Year’s Eve marks a point in time when one foot stands firmly on one side of that line, in the past, and the other foot in the present. And so, my New Year traditions include two parts:

Part One: Review and reflect on the past

I usually do this part of the tradition on New Year’s Eve, though I may also spend time during the first week of the New Year. First, I browse journal and calendar entries for the previous year, as well as last year’s New Year’s Chart (see below), to remind me of the various events and changes that occurred during the year. Note that I wrote “browse,” not “read,” because reading would take way too long, though I do read the letter I wrote to myself at the beginning of the previous year.

Then, I freewrite for twenty to thirty minutes, sometimes longer, with the following questions in mind (feel free to adapt this list in any way that works for you).

  • What did I hope for and what did I accomplish?
  • How has this year affected me personally and professionally?
  • In what ways have I been disappointed and in what ways surprised and encouraged?
  • What has been my greatest delight?
  • Where have I let myself down?
  • What has changed for me and within me?
  • Have my values or beliefs shifted in any way?
  • What fears have I overcome and/or what fears have I developed? And Am I more or less hopeful?
  • How have I grown and what have I learned?

Part Two: Looking forward to the future

Create a New Year’s Chart. This is a fun, creative activity you can do alone or with other family members. When my children were little we used to do this together on New Year’s Day. You’ll need a large piece of paper and several colored markers. If you want to add fun (and time) to the activity, you can include glitter pen, stars, stickers, and pictures that you cut from magazines.

The think to keep in mind about this activity is that it is not about resolutions or even setting goals. It’s about wishing and dreaming and thinking large.

  1. Write the new year in large numbers at the top of the page.
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  2. Next, draw six circles and label the circles as follows (feel free to change these as suits you). Be sure to allow plenty of space around each circle:
    •  Things I want to do.
    •  Things I want to be.
    •  Things I want to learn.
    •  Things and people I want to see.
    •  Places I want to go.
    •  Adventures I want to have
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  3. Choose a different color for each topic or give each person a different color, and begin brainstorming all the things you’d like to do, be, learn, and see, places you want to go and adventures you want to have, around each circle like spokes off a wheel. Categories to think about while brainstorming include relationships (family, intimate, friendship), work/career, recreation, health, spirituality, community, and education.
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  4. When you’re done, post the chart on a wall. You can continue to add to it as you see fit over the next week or so. You may decide to keep it up on the wall all year as a reminder or to put it away and bring it out next New Year’s eve during the Review and Reflect part of your own personal New Year’s tradition.

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Sand Image based on photo by the_girl
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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Pat Bean January 2, 2012 at 6:33 am

Very thoughtful post. I need to go browse my journal for 2011. I wrote in it daily for the first time. Thanks for sharing.

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Amber Lea Starfire January 2, 2012 at 3:17 pm

Pat, congratulations on a year of successful daily journaling! I’ll bet you find some gems…

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Deborah Watson-Novacek January 4, 2012 at 4:19 pm

Such a great article. I usually do take some time at the start of the new year to evaluate where I’ve been and decide where I want to be at the end of the current year. Generally this involves lots and lots of list-making! This year, though, I’m going to use the idea presented here of the New Year’s Chart. I never thought of doing my work in a mindmapping/chart format, and I can’t wait to try this. Thank you so much for the idea!

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Amber Lea Starfire January 4, 2012 at 8:21 pm

Deborah, thanks for the comment. I’m a list person, and I love the fun (and relief!) of this method. The other thing it does for me is takes me out of resolution and goal-making mode to dreaming big mode. Something I need :-).

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Susan Godwin December 31, 2012 at 5:26 pm

I am emotionally drained from writing five long pages of reviewing my 2012. Without even reviewing my journals, I used memories and events from this past year to comment on each month as I recall and am amazed at all the “challenges” I experienced. The list you suggest for contemplation is very cathartic and gives me insight to process how this past year has affected me. I’m excited about completing Part Two tomorrow as this does look like fun as well as creating hope and discipline for 2013. Thank you SO much for this prompt and I wish you the happiest New Year!

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Amber Lea Starfire January 1, 2013 at 9:21 am

Thank you Susan for your comment, and congratulations on writing 5 pages of reflection and memory. Also, thank you for reminding me to revisit my posts from previous years. These, like my journals, mirror my processes and growth. And I love this method for ringing in the new year.

The clustering/brainstorming exercise is also a great way to get started on your goals for the next year.

Happy New Year! May you prosper and grow in your writing and personal life.

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