#QOTD: What are you reading and is it a physical book or an eBook?
I spent the yesterday hiding in the bookstore, doing freelance work, and trying to decide which book to buy myself as a pick-me-up. I settled on Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, and I’m very happy with it. I also got THE COOLEST journal (pictured above)! It’s going to be my positive-thoughts journal.
Basically, it’ll be a place for me to write down my outlandish, happy, crazy life dreams and goals. It’s something I need right now. Shout out to you Law of Attraction people who use “scripting” all the time. I learned this habit from you.
Using scripting as a way to break down negative thoughts is my favorite way to get my motivation back. Writing down your wild dreams – fleshing them out with details and letting yourself feel the positive, uplifting excitement that you know you’ll feel when you make them real – helps you gain focus on your goals and gives you the motivation to work on making them happen.
Yesterday’s post was about how I’ve been in a funk, how I’m trying to do more happy activities to help me get out of a negative headspace. The funny thing is, by the time I went to bed yesterday, not long after I posted, I felt amazing. Better than I have for the last 6 weeks, maybe the last 6 months since going freelance.
I hadn’t slept in 36 hours. Had been in a funk for WEEKS. Felt in general like nothing in my life was moving forward. Butting my head against the wall. But somehow, I felt better.
And I don’t know if it was the fact that I got out of the house yesterday just for fun, or because I was meditating on my dreams, or because I’ve had a few good cries lately that got the bad stuff out of my system for a while. I don’t know what exactly did it, but something lifted my funk yesterday.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I know that good times come and go. But if you’re like me, you feel like you’re always in some bad predicament or getting ready for the next one. There’s a certain amount of realism that comes with that negativity. I’m okay with the fact that bad things are just a part of life, and by not resisting that, it helps me feel more connected to everything. The thing is, knowing that hard times are a part of life, kind of lifts the pressure to be happy, which helps me… be happier.
Isn’t that weird?
Right now, I want to focus on having more happy days. Everyday won’t be perfect. But life is short, too short to NOT cultivate happiness when you can. This mentality wouldn’t work for me at all if I thought of happiness as something to aim for, but just trying to give it more space in my life is an idea that works for me.
You can read yesterday’s post here.
Speaking of things I wrote, I have a few recent publications that I haven’t put on my about page yet, so I wanted to drop them here in case any of them sound interesting to you.
Her Culture Blog:
Mindfulness in Everyday Life
What it’s like growing up hyper-religious
What Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Taught me about Womanhood
Noise (brief essay about anxiety)
If you made it this far, comment and tell me what you did today (even if it was nothing productive or fun, I want to learn about you guys!)
Question of the day: What helps you feel positive? What things light you up? What are your just-for-you passions?
I’m having a slow reading month. Some of you know that my life has just been weird the last couple of weeks. But that’s okay! I want to take joy in where I’m at in life and bring more passion and mindfulness into my everyday life. That begins with taking a few days to recharge and do things that light me up.
The funny thing is… if you wait until a time of stress to figure out what makes you happy, it can feel impossible. You get this sense that nothing makes you happy because the stress turns your brain to mud. You might not be able to remember which pass times really help you feel better. If I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that a moment of stress is not the time to rely on your memory!
So, take time this week to think about where your passions truly lie and what you can do to make them a more intentional part of your days.
What does that look like for me? Well, for starters, I’m participating in @BooksLikeWhoa’s Dracula Read-Along which just started today. Being able to chat about a classic with other people will make my heart happy. Reading classics gives me this sense of accomplishment (hopefully that’s not just me). It gives my English major brain this sense that I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing (even though, obviously, being an English major is irrelevant. We can read whatever we want!) But regardless, it’s a nice feeling to immerse yourself in a classic you’ve heard so much about and find out for yourself what you think of the story. They’re also a great opportunity to learn about history and the societies present during the time period you’re reading from.
Next, I’m going to try to wrap up I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son by Kent Russell. It’s really great and gets me thinking – this month just hasn’t afforded much time for reading, unfortunately. I love that in the essays, Russell is purposefully choosing provoking experiences just to learn and write about them. His journalistic but personal approach offers an intriguing perspective on the memoir/essay genre. Plus, I’ll feel proud once it’s finally on my read-shelf considering how long I’ve owned it!
Other than that, I’ll be spending time on bookstagram because it makes me happy and hanging out with my family because they help me to do things I normally wouldn’t. We watched the Goosebumps movie last night, and I liked it way more than I thought I would, for instance. Taking time for activities outside my normal ones can get me out of my funk and help me feel refreshed. Thankful for moments like that, and hoping to have a few more of them this week.
I’d love to hear what you’re up to this week. What lights you up?
It’s already October, y’all! This year is flying past. The older I get the quicker time goes, but nevertheless, I’ll be spending the rest of the year the way I always do – reading and writing. I have a couple books already on my radar for the month of October, so I figured I’d post a TBR list.
1. I am Sorry to Think I have Raised a Timid Son by Kent Russell
I slept on this book too long. I can say that with confidence even though I’ve only read the first 3 chapters so far this month. My mom got me this book for Christmas a few years ago, but I never cracked it open past the first page. I came across it on Amazon when I was looking for essay collections and memoirs, and I liked that it had themes of masculinity and family. The reason I never picked it up was because I thought it’d be dense and hard to get through (due to Russel’s journalistic style), but that’s really not the case. At this point, I Am Sorry to Think I have Raised a Timid Son is one of the oldest books on my unread-shelf, so I’ll feel accomplished once it moves to my read-shelf.
2. @HalfwayToItBlog Instagram Pick (TBD)
I want HalfwayToItBlog Instagram followers to pick one of my books this month. I got this idea because I realized it takes me so long to pick my next read unless I’m already in the middle of multiple books. Since I plan on finishing the books I’m currently reading pretty fast, I thought it’d be cool (and maybe more efficient) to get my Instagram follows pick one. I’ll be posting about this on Insta soon, possibly before I even post this blog, so if you want to vote head over there now.
3. Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker
I started the audiobook for Why We Sleep, and so far, it’s fascinating. It’s basically a case study on sleep, and I feel like I learn something new each time I pick it up. Walker looks at the biological and evolutionary evidence for why we sleep in the first part of the book, and I’m excited to see what the rest comes next. I love a well-researched book on a useful topic like this one. Since the audiobook is due back to the library in 4 days as of my writing this, I need to hustle and finish reading asap!
4. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
I started the audiobook for An Absolutely Remarkable Thing as well while on a long car ride at the end of September, and I’d like to wrap up my reading of it this month. I held off on picking this up because I just wasn’t sure I’d like the story (robots, 20-somethings in New York, a lot of internet culture references), but so far, I’m liking the main character’s narration and humor. This one is also due back to the library very soon, so I need to finish reading it.
5. Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
This is basically a reread. I read most of Steal Like an Artist more than a year ago (and have recommended it several time), but it was my boyfriend’s scratch-and-dent copy so it basically fell apart while we were reading it. Now I have a brand new copy, so I’m stoked to read it cover to cover this month.
6. If My Body Could Speak by Blythe Baird
Blythe Baird is one of my favorite contemporary poets. A handful of the poems from this collection have appeared in spoken word form on the Button Poetry Youtube channel and racked up more than 8 million views collectively. She’s an amazing poet, so I felt like picking up this collection was a safe bet. Plus, I haven’t read any poetry in a few weeks, and it’s always nice when I come back to it.
Those are the books I’m hoping to get to in October! I’ve got freelance work on my radar for October, but I’m planning on limiting my social media so my free time doesn’t get sucked up by too much social media or Youtube.
What’s on your radar for October? Are there any books you're looking forward to reading? Let me know!
There’s an adage that says, “A writer is someone who puts their ass in the chair and writes.”
A writer isn’t someone who publishes, talks about their novel, pitches to agents, or what have you. Those are all things writers may choose to do, but the defining characteristic of a writer is that they sit down and gets their words on the page. End of story.
You’d think this would go without saying. You’d thinkI would have learned this by now considering how much I preach the “ass in the chair” idea! But you’d be wrong. Recently, I’ve gotten off track when it comes to writing.
Of course, everyone knows that you have to write to be a writer, but I’ve noticed something funny. It’s really easy to forget that writing is the main prerogative sometimes. It’s easy to start out your writing practice with goals that will simply make writing more stressful. I won’t call them “the wrong goals” – because you get to decide what you want out of writing – but I believe there are plenty of things that can at the very least hinder our writing.
Worrying that you won’t ever get your book published
Getting ahead of yourself
Spending all of your time worrying about how you’ll publish your book before you’ve even written it
Overthinking the writing process
Trying to take every famous author’s writing advice without getting to know your own writing style first
Forgetting to stay humble/acting pretentious
None of these are inherently wrong, but they’re distracting. They’ll keep us in our head instead of on the page. They’ll get us focused on our ego instead of our manuscript.
My biggest hang up in my writing practice lately has been my focus on publishing. Yes, I’m giving these warnings from experience! I’ve been really lucky to have a few poems published in literary journals and a few articles published online. When everything’s going well and I’ve got pieces in the pipeline, I feel motivated, like I’m doing everything within my power to further my writing career. That’s a nice feeling and always having something in the pipeline is a good publishing strategy, but when all your efforts are geared toward getting an acceptance letter, writing isn’t the main priority anymore, publishing is.
I was spending way more time thinking about how to get my work published than I was spending thinking about how to make my writing better. It bothered me that my focus had shifted so dramatically without me even realizing it.
Of course, prior to my realization, I didn’t worry what my focus was on. I was simply okay with explicitly pursuing publication. There was no way I could publish without writing first, so I reasoned that writing truly was the main goal. Somewhere along the line that reasoning became faulty. All I cared about was getting my next piece of writing published. Since I’ve realized my focus was off, I’ve changed a few of my habits to begin cultivating my passion for writing again.
“This is how you do it, you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until its done. It’s that easy and that hard.” – Neil Gaiman
The first thing I did was stop submitting my work. I’ve spent the last four months either writing, reading, or goofing off. Not searching Submittable and Twitter for places to send my work.
Once I stopped spending every weekend compiling the right pieces, editing them, writing cover letters, sending them off, and anxiously checking my email every ten minutes, I realize how burned out I was on the process and how obsessive it’d made me. I wasn’t even as obsessed with writing as I was with sending my work out to editors! I wanted a break. Luckily, life got busy with other things quickly which helped me stay off Submittable and semi-cured my addiction to checking email.
I’ve only recently let myself entertain the idea of submitting again, but to be honest, I’m not interested. I have different priorities when it comes to my writing practice now, like developing a writing routine, reading more, and maybe drafting a novel. I allowed myself to apply to one writing opportunity since then, but I applied because it genuinely seemed like the right opportunity for me and I felt comfortable breaking my own rule this once. I was then accepted as a 2019 Her Culture blogger! I wanted this opportunity because it would be a chill way for me to gain experience working with an editor by writing blog posts. No stress. Writing is still the main goal.
Thinking about this now, I can see how the whole idea of “stressing out” about publishing can be laughable to some people. Those are probably people that have tried and true writing habits or people who simple don’t care about being traditionally published. That’s cool, but I’m not there yet. I’m still young and learning and (mostly) unpublished. I’m the kind of person who stresses about writing things. So, this post is for me and people like me.
My focus moving forward is going to be redesigning my writing practice. I have a habit of writing several times a week, but it feels sporadic. This week I’m setting the goal to write every night between 6pm and 7pm. This seems doable since I have some flexibility in my schedule right now. I’m going to keep notes on how each session goes – word count, what I wrote that day, etc.— and reassess at the end of the week. Maybe I’ll blog about how my practice evolves.
So, these hour-long sessions are going to be good for me in terms of the amount of writing I can get done and with a whole hour at my disposal, I can take my time and keep my desire to realign with my passion for writing at the front of my mind.
I feel like this is the start of something rewarding for me, and I’m ready to get to work.
How would you describe your writing practice? Whether yes or no, I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments. Happy writing!
I picked up The Day is Ready for You in April at a Books-A-Million because I’d flipped open to the first poem, “Never”, and it resonated with me straight off. It’s one of those poems that makes you jerk back your neck and think, “Wow, that’s the phrase that describes what I’m feeling. Who knew!” This simple encounter with Malee’s poetry promised a collection that would explore love and loss using vivid and delightful imagery. While the poems are lovely and immersive, the collection also explores complicated interpersonal relationships in a way that was unique but echoes scenarios that every woman has been through at some point.
Poems like “Right” and “Exhales”, explore the ups and downs of a relationship. The poet doesn’t turn away from tension or toxic love, and she gives the reader a close up of the push and pull of entering and leaving a relationship. It was nice to be reminded that art provides a space to think deeply about the nuances of our experiences. Malee showcases the intricacies of love especially well.
In some ways, reading Alison Malee’s poems felt like reading a memoir. Her life is seamlessly woven into the beauty of each line. Most poets draw on their life experiences to write, but Malee’s vulnerability on the page made me feel as if a new friend was sat across from me, rehashing old stories, pointing out her scars. This collection unravels slowly and immersed me like a novel or a good conversation would. Pieces I especially liked were “Never”, “Something Like”, and “Caught”.
In way of critique, I felt that the author, at times, over-explained the scenarios or thought processes in the poems. I crossed through a fair number of lines that stole the mystery. In poems like “Morning” and “Mistaken”, I wanted to wonder at the meaning instead of having it handed to me over the page. I wanted to observe and draw my own conclusions. The writer did not leave the story behind each poem vague, which I was grateful for, but she also pushed the reader’s interpretation to the margins in some cases by explaining its meaning in the very next verse.
“Mountains” and “Learn” seemed only to provide information of the poets overall narrative or promote an ideology rather that set a scene or create an image. Over use of what I would call “outline driven” or “filler” poems is common in contemporary poetry publications and could just be a product of the poet needing to extend the manuscript to a certain page count. While there’s nothing wrong with including works in order to extend a collection, there were a few from The Day is Ready for You that could have been left out. Those pieces only bored me and caused my mind to wander.
I mentioned earlier that the collection as a whole was immersive and that’s true. Filler poems didn’t ruin the reading experience all together, but in my opinion, the pieces certainly did not add to the positive aspects of the collection and seemed to only serve the purpose of meeting a word count for the publisher. Obviously, I don’t know what the publishing process was like for Alison Malee, so take these critiques with a grain of salt.
Poetry can be a very personal act, and I’m so glad to see more poets entering the industry and expanding our ideas of what poetry can be. Do line breaks make a poem? No, and the first critique you here of modern or “tumblr” poetry today is that the poems consist of simple phrases cut up by line breaks.
My gut impulse is to say, “Yes, of course line breaks don’t make a poem a poem!” But we forget to look at the rest of the poem when we critique in this finite way. Is the narrative of the poem nuanced? Does it use cerebral images that make us forget we were reading a book? Do the words seem to curl off the page with a rhythm and cadence? Then, in essence, it is poetry.
If you’ve read The Day is Ready for You, please let me know the thoughts you’re left thinking and your views on modern poetry!
This isn’t going to be one of my normal reviews. It won’t be balanced or critical. I had an overwhelming emotional response when I finished reading. This has been your fair warning: below there may be gushing.
The Charlotte Holmes books have quickly become my favorite series, and I’m not someone who claims favorites. I don’t even like series, but I like Charlotte, Watson, and their story. I could never fit everything that I want to say in this blog post, so I’m going to take a stab at defining the aspects of the book that I find most compelling at this moment. Maybe there will be more Charlotte Holmes blog posts from me in the future, but for now, here it goes.
If you’ve read the books – and you shouldn’t read past here if you haven’t because, damn it, would you be missing out on a gem of a series if you let me spoil you - you know that there is much to unpack as the fourth (and most likely final) book in the series draws to a close.
My heart splintered when I read the last few chapters of A Question of Holmes. The fact that Jamie and Charlotte have had to give each other up so many times actually puts a pain in my chest. It seems like they’re always waiting for each other, which is beautiful in its own right but it leaves me wondering when they will be together for good? When will moving and finding themselves come to fruition and they are able to grow together without being pulled apart again? God, what a heart-wrenching story.
The thing I like the most about Charlotte and Jamie’s relationship is how much it reminds me of my own relationship – which I know sounds utterly conceited, but it reminds me to be grateful. Charlotte and Jamie’s story reminds me how much I’ve been through. It makes me stop and actually feel the pain that I would feel if I had to part with my boyfriend in the same way that Charlotte does (several times) in the series. That sounds a little sadistic, but it keeps things in perspective. Books are supposed to make you empathetic, but Brittany Cavallaro didn’t just make me feel sympathy for Charlotte and Jamie. She makes me feel like I am in Charlotte's body. Reading her prose was an immersion exercise. Books don’t make me feel that often. Despite my belief that reading is an act of empathy. Charlotte’s story did that for me.
I can’t get the image of Jamie crying out of my head. Him wiping the tears away with his knuckles. How he said, you know I’ll wait for you, but I can’t make you feel like this is okay right now.
Are they even together by the end of the book? We know that when Holmes and Watson are healthy, they make the best couple. We know that when they’re living in the same place and healthy, things can only go in a positive direction. Somewhere past the epilogue, Charlotte and Jamie will get back to the happiness they felt that summer in Oxford, but god, I wanted to see the fullness of that joy in the final pages. Not a whole epilogue that lead up to them hinting at being back together. I mean, I know the assumption is “all will be well as long as they’re in the same place”, but the framing of the epilogue leaves a little more doubt in my mind than I want. But again, that’s an aspect of the story that reminds me of my real life. If you focus on the wrong thing - that hint of doubt - you’re going to drown out the joy of the story’s cycle. A happy ending isn’t a permanent ending. People change. In the story that I like to think exists on the other side of the epilogue, Charlotte and Jamie could make the choice not to wait for each other. They could forget how happy they were. So maybe allowing that doubt to linger instead of neatly tidying it up was Cavallaro’s way of letting it be real. Even though that was tough for me to stomach in the first moments after finishing the book, I do think it is the best ending she could have given us. It shows us that Charlotte is building better habits and putting herself first so she can best care for girls like her. It shows us that Jamie is balancing his romanticism with reality. He’s not planning his life unrealistically into the future and getting his heart broken when he finds out Charlotte doesn’t want to fit that mold. They’re healthy. They’re always growing towards each other - even when they’re apart and growing into their own lives.
The weight of these books is so much on me. I know, I sound dramatic. I’ve just finished reading five minutes ago, so of course, the emotions are raw and on full display.
I want to write this so I’ll have something to look back on. I have dark periods sometimes in which it is so hard to remember anything that made me feel something. I hope I look back at this and remember that Charlotte and Jamie mean the world to me. They’ve made me joyful. They've made me cackle, sob, throw things around, get angry. They’ve confused me. They're a little bit mine now that the story is over.
When I was a teenager, this is a book that would have saved my life. It would have pulled me up out of my pit. Despite the sad moments.
Isn’t it weird that something that brought me grief can also bring me so much comfort and raise me up out of my hole? How on earth do books do that? And who would I be without them?
You can’t throw up a bunch of blog posts about pushing through writer’s block without God/the universe/your subconscious/whatever testing you. I haven’t written a post in a while, but I’m here now.
Maybe I don’t know everything there is to know about writing (obviously). The thing is, I’ve never had the thought, “I know everything I need to know about my writing. I know who I am.” Maybe I do know who I am, but I sure as hell don’t know everything there is to know about my craft. Maybe I forgot that I’m still learning. Just because I’ve had some success doesn’t mean I’m not shooting in the dark. In fact, just while writing this, I see how much editing I’m going to have to do for this post, and I’m reminded that I’m still rough around the edges. As a person and a writer. Thankfully, though, you’re seeing the cleaned up version of my writing!
The thing about writing is the pressure to be good. No one wants to put a subpar book out there and see a million bad reviews. No one wants to see one bad review, honestly. Elitism comes into play when writers buy into the pressure. We think if our work meets the criteria of Good Writing then we suddenly become the judge for everyone else. At least, that has been my experience.
A younger version of me was very judgmental toward other writers, and later in life when I was in my MFA program, I still struggled to remain nonjudgmental. Is part of it that I enjoy feeling superior from time to time? I hope not, but it’s more than possible. I can remember being a little girl and loving knowing that I was right about something, knowing that I knew something no one else knew, and the pleasure of enlightening them.
All of this feels a little too personal to write. I would hate for one of my writer friends to read this and feel that I must be inwardly criticizing them all the time. This post is mostly an exploration of my ideas – I definitely don’t have a clear cut, right answer for you, although, if you do please share!
One thing that I know is it’s more productive to critique your own writing that to critique someone else’s. What do I mean by that? I mean that, while reading and critiquing another writer’s work, whether it’s published or not, can teach you things about your own work, the only thing that actually changes your work for the better is when you critique it yourself and put the changes you need into place. I’m stating the obvious, but it’s easy to do the easy thing and the easy thing here is finding the faults in someone else instead of fighting the behemoth that is your own project’s flaws.
As much as I needed to be reminded that I still have a long way to go as a writer, I know that my writing has improved tremendously over the past year. This blog has certainly helped me learn to be clear and cut out the extraneous (although, recently, I’ve allowed myself to be more adventurous and see where the posts go), but another big part of my improvement has been having more time to revise.
While in my creative writing undergrad and MFA programs, every week was about writing the next poem, story, essay, and paper. I took a ton of workshops and forms classes, so I was constantly writing the next thing, only stopping to revise a few weeks before finals so I could turn in an edited portfolio to my professors. I was always brainstorming the next thing so revising was somewhat superficial. I didn’t have enough time to dig into my work and evolve it until summer breaks. Now that I’ve spent a year out of school, I’ve learn so much about tightening up my language, discovering the heart of the piece, and doing more of what works and cutting back on the rest. If I had to pinpoint the biggest way I’ve grown as a writer in the last year, it is in my revision techniques.
I’ve learned to let myself word vomit and let the future editor me mop it up. Looking back, I’m very proud of how far I’ve come on my own just from trial, error, and revision. Sometimes I forget that I’ve got a body of work to work with, not just a few flimsy poems. Granted, I’ve got a lot more to write and in ten years I’m sure I’ll look back and wonder how I thought the writing folder on my laptop consisted of a “body of work.” But still, I’m working with what I’ve got and I’ve got something to work with, and that’s enough for me.
Hearing nothing but the sound of your breathing is a rarity. I know that the common thing to do here would be to sell silence to you as a tool. It’ll make your life better and you’ll reach self-actualization or something along those lines. But that sound bite is overdone. Not everyone finds the quiet moments as fulfilling as I do, and I recognize that. To some people, a lack of stimulation is absolutely maddening. It’s not even about being bored or some subconscious fear, certain people just aren’t wired to crave quiet time like others are, and I get that.
For me, though, quiet is a fundamental need that has to be met for me to keep functioning. I know that silence may not be a true necessity the way water is, but I still feel as if it I can’t live without it. It’s at least partly my introversion, but quiet time is also just good medicine for me. The quiet moments I get by myself are the moments when I fell the most grounded. The most connected to the world and the most alone. The safest and the most vulnerable. I need time to be quiet to figure out what all the rattling around inside of me means, and I’m sure other introverts feel the same.
Earlier today, I stepped outside on my front porch to let the cat out, and it was surprisingly quiet outside. I live in the middle of dozens of acres of farmland and wooded areas where small houses are lined up in little loops but still far apart compared to other neighborhoods. It’s not as loud as living in the city or even in a subdivision, but it’s never this silent. There’s so much wildlife around that the trees are always rustling, the water is moving down the drainage ditches and creeks, or the frogs are calling to each other. It’s common to think that nature is quiet, but it’s not, except on days like today. We had a cold front come through, so I think the drop in temperature made all the animals hunker down for a while, and when I stepped outside it was completely calm.
It was striking how silent my world was in that moment. So quiet that there’s no other way to describe it. I forgot that the world could get that still. I felt surrounded, but the world had been washed clean of noise. All I had was my sight, and with that focus of sensations, I felt a clarity. Not simplicity, but a clear focus.
As a writer, I’m always linking moments like this back to my work. Today, I thought about how stories don’t come from the quiet times in our life. Stories come from the overheard conversations, the arguments, the friendships – the moments when we interact with the world and exchange something within ourselves for something out there. Stories are not born in silence… but they do mature in the quiet moments when we are left with our thoughts and the sound of our breath. Without silence, there is no room for the seeds of the story to fully take root. We can learn, gather information, interact with the universe, but everyone, even an extrovert, needs a quiet moment for the experiences to sink in and take root in the story of our lives. I think I needed the reminder today of what true silence is, and I honestly think it can be the best medicine.
I’ve spent a surreal amount of time wondering how writers balance multiple projects. Especially unpublished authors who don’t have to meet a publisher’s deadline for each project. It seems like as soon as I get grounded in an idea that I’m fired up about, a new idea comes along that throws my brain all out of sorts. Some people call this “shiny new idea syndrome” and for me, that term sums up the issue perfectly.
Case in point: I recently started drafting a nonfiction how-to manuscript that I’m excited about. I’m treating the project as an experiment since I’ve never written a manuscript this long, but I think with editing it could be a book I’m proud to publish. I outlined it weeks ago and let the idea simmer for a while. Then a few days ago, I started drafting.
Guess what happened today, literally 5 days after I started the project? I was reminded that April is National Poetry Writing Month. I’ve always wanted to participate, and I view poetry as my home genre. I am suddenly more excited about potentially completing NaPoWriMo than I am about the how-to book.
Even before I did some googling and learned about shiny new idea syndrome, I knew that this new idea was going to be a distraction. That’s not to say I can’t give it a shot but diving into 30 days of poetry will certainly make me question whether the how-to book should be a priority. True, I could probably draft a poem pretty quickly each day, and I should be able to continue writing my nonfiction manuscript at the same time, but the point of National Poetry Writing Month, at least for me, is not to write down 30 half-baked poems. If I undertook the challenge, I’d want to revise my drafts over the course of the month alongside writing the daily poems. That’s a time and energy commitment. One that I’m not sure I could reasonably sign up for knowing that I’d also be writing a book.
Yes, I overcomplicate things. I should just choose. The thing is, I don’t like thinking I have to pick a project or even a genre to focus on for a season. I’ve been writing long enough to know that this is how my brain works. I stupidly try to juggle a dozen things at once and drop all of them out of exhaustion. Sometimes I spend all my time trying to figure out which projects to juggle in the first place and go weeks without writing consistently.
I don’t know what the answer to all of this is. I see committing to a project as a sure-fire way to finish what I start. There’s no shortage of all the ideas a creative person could dream up over time, so if I continue idea-hopping I could potentially spend the rest of my life jumping from project to project without finishing one. I know that sounds dramatic. After all, I’d probably finish one of those projects eventually. My point is that once you get a shiny new idea, the previous one seems a little dull in comparison, and if the next shiny new idea comes along in a few weeks and your first shiny idea begins to look dull too… The old ideas begin to get buried in the pile. Then what?
Kristen Martin, an author who I’m subscribed to on Youtube, made a video about balancing multiple projects that I found pretty helpful. She suggests “tapping into your writer-brain” on a day to day basis to see which project you feel up to working on that day, but only picking one project per day. I like this approach. I translate it as taking a moment to listen to my creative side and see what she wants to write today. Since the only deadlines I have to work on are my own, this approach could help me be productive without putting pressure of me on to finish one project as soon as possible.
Kristen Martin also discusses “compartmentalizing projects” which I take to be a form of prioritizing. Once I’m rolling on a project and feeling good about it, I need to compartmentalize any ideas for other projects and save them for later. I should write them down, maybe take some notes in a new document, but then I need to put them away and make them wait their turn. I shouldn’t give up on my current idea or put it on hold unless I’m truly stumped or just don’t think I can make it work anymore. This seems basic to me, but I have such an impulse to do start on ideas as soon as they come to me.
Kristen’s advice is definitely helpful, and I’ll have to see how it fits into my own writing life over time. I trust that I can learn how to manages the ideas coming into my brain and the writing going out. It’s a matter of practice.
At the beginning of writing this post, I was tempted to drop my how-to project and start writing some new poems for National Poetry Writing Month, but I guess rehashing my dilemma has made me realize that I’d much rather complete a project than hop around. So I’ll keep trudging along on my nonfiction idea, and before too long it’ll be a full manuscript.
I know that consistently writing every day is what I need to focus on in this period of my writing life, and I am committed to that.
Do you struggle with project hopping or shiny new idea syndrome? I’d love to know what’s helped you and what your experience has been like.
“… a writer is the one who puts his arse in the chair when the last thing he wants to do is have his arse in the chair.” – Colum McCann, Letters to a Young Writer
Telling people you’re a writer, discussing your idea for a story but never writing it down, watching a third episode on Netflix and later saying to yourself, There’s no extra time in my schedule to write! talking about writing without actually writing, fantasizing about the day when you’re famous and doing book signings, reading books about writing, criticizing popular authors and jabbering endlessly about how those writers make no contribution to the literary world while you continue to not write anything publishable whatsoever, complaining loudly outside your writer’s workshop that no one “gets” your work, refusing to revise, sharing listicles about things *only* writers understand, complaining about your workload while refusing to shift anything superfluous around so you can actually write, spending your designated writing time tweeting about being a writer, glorifying [insert canonical author’s name] while you trash modern day writers, procrastinating on writing because you’re afraid you won’t be good at it, trash talking presses that rejected you, complaining about how no one appreciates “good” art anymore, using your writing desk as a clothes hamper, tweaking your blog without ever publishing posts, playing with the font, wasting time thinking of a title before you actually write a single word, accumulating “writing” notebooks that you never fill with notes or write in, sitting in a coffee shop with your laptop open to write but scrolling through Buzzfeed instead, laying down at night and dreaming about the day you’ll hold your own book in your hands without actually ever writing.
A short list of things that will make you a writer:
Putting words on a blank page.
Poet. Reader. Lifelong Student.