Journal

Friday Update: The Updates of Friday

And another week has passed (phew!). The weather is starting to warm, and the sun-! Oh, it feels so good.

Not a lot of words to point to this week, but that’s largely because it was a thinking and retyping week. Goldbug’s naps have (mostly) returned, at least enough for me to get a little work done everyday, and my AWC course–Novel Writing Essentials–has wrapped up, but there’s a little lull until Write Your Novel kicks in, which is kind of nice. I’ve been going all-out for the past couple months. While it’d be really nice to just kick back and write some new stuff or play without trying to get anything specific accomplished, I–of course–have probably been too ambitious about my goals for this two week chunk.

Accomplished This Week:

Lots of thinking. I went through the second half of the novel-in-progress and at least pinned down some of what needs to happen (though by no means, all.) At some point, I really am going to have to sit down and tack everything down so I can leapfrog a bit during the writing, but at least I’ve got the general synopsis written up for class. The first reviews are of the synopsis, I believe, so that may change some things, too.

I also hoped to get a story submitted by today (HAHAHAHAHA!), which didn’t happen with last week’s disruptions and–let’s be honest–it was a bit ambitious as a goal anyway. But I am moving along on the story, retyping it from scratch while cutting everything I can. It’ll need time to cool off, though, before I edit more, and I think I’ll solicit some solid opinions from some writer pals to give me a fresh eye on it before continuing.

Inspiring Me This Week:

The weather! Oh, it’s been lovely the last couple days. I know it won’t last (it’s March in New England, so hahahaha, yeah, winter doesn’t end with the “start of spring” up here), but it’s been a treat to go outside without a coat and just putz in the sunlight.

I’ve also started playing Return of the Obra Dinn, which is kind of a first-person mystery game for the Nintendo Switch. It’s a bit gruesome at times, so finding a way to play it without B-Bug being around has been a bit challenging. Luckily it’s all black and white and usually there’s a bit of warning before something gross pops up, so he knows to look away if he’s passing through while I’m playing.

And just finished Into the Planet by Jill Heinerth about cave-diving, which was fascinating. Really enjoyed it. It’s funny, but caving and cave-diving is such a small community in some ways, that it’s not rare to read books that follow different people who reappear in each other’s memoirs. Kind of fun! I wonder if one could write a sci-fi series that way, as a collection of memoirs and biographies of “the people who were there”… Kind of a cool idea. Hmmm…

For Next Week:

One more week before my next course starts, which really isn’t a lot of time. I think, primarily, I’m going to try to hammer out this third draft of “Earthbound,” and maybe send it to a couple friends to read at their leisure. Then I’m torn.

I’d really like to have the book plotted out before class starts, but then if I change things based on the synopsis review, will that be wasted time? Maybe.

On the other hand, I know I won’t get anything submittable by the end of the week. I could write a new flash story that’s been tugging in my head. I could plunge ahead on a rewrite of a story I’d like to polish up and submit this year, but I may not finish it in time. Or I might. HRMRMRMRMRMRmmmmmmm….

Well, finish Draft 3 of the short story, for sure. After that, I may bang out the flash fiction just to have it done and resting. The other rewrite I might be able to “cheat” on my novel with, when I need a mental break from long-form. One thing’s for sure, I need to make sure I work on short fiction on a somewhat steady basis, even when the novel is taking front-and-center, otherwise I’ll lose my mind.

So there’s that.

^ ^ ^

How’s your week been? Get anything crossed off your to-do list or was mere survival paramount this week? Some weeks are like that. All we can do is hang on and get through it and see what can be salvaged the next week or next month. Hang in there! And I’m always open to book recommendations, so let me know about the coolest book you’ve read recently!

Journal

How Do YOU Cope With Rejection?

Back in fifth grade, when I first started dreaming about becoming an author, I had no idea how much rejection comes with that goal. Back then, writing was all sunshine and flowers. A fun thing I did that maybe (maybe?) I had some skill for and enjoyed doing. 

I wrote because it was fun. I wrote precisely what I liked, without worrying about whether something was cliché, or had been overdone, or was basically the book I’d just read, or was too Mary-Sue-ish. I wrote epic fan fiction (so fun). I wrote “novels” in a weekend that were 100 pages long. I wrote short stories that went on and on and on without a conflict. Nobody else ever had to read them, so I indulged myself however I liked. 

So Many No’s…

But by the time I started submitting short fiction to actual markets (for actual money), I quickly began to realize that rejections aren’t just common, they’re the norm, especially for beginning authors. My short stories were too long. They didn’t have any tension. They didn’t have character-driven plots, or involve a new concept, or spin an old concept in a new way. They didn’t start with a hook. They didn’t end with change. 

It quickly became clear that I had a lot to learn, and the #1 skill I needed to learn was how to deal with NO. No Thank You’s and Hell No’s; Slow No’s and Fast No’s. (My fastest rejection took—I believe—about three hours from submission to NO.) There were Sorry, No’s from editor friends. There were No’s—then Oops, Yes!—then Actually, No’s. There were We Love This So Much OMG, But No’s. 

Devastated

At first, a rejection slip would devastate me. For several days I’d replay the words of those classic Form No’s–“Thank you for submitting X for our consideration. Unfortunately, it just didn’t work for us.”–wallowing in the fact that a story I had such high hopes for had crashed and burned. It would sink my mood into the muck. Rejections like that seemed to stand as proof that I sucked, that my writing sucked, that I’d never sell anything or “make it” (whatever that means) as a Real Writer. 

I used to have elaborate processes for getting over rejections: a square of chocolate, a used book, TV or video games and tea, a new cheap notebook. I even created a placebo called “Rejection Balm” and I’d glob a tablespoon of Fluff into my mouth to “cure” the rejection blues. (At least a faux cure was funny and usually made me laugh, whether I took the “remedy” or not!) 

Nothing like a spoonful of Fluff to get over the rejection bends…

The Joy of Personal Rejections

But over the years, as I submitted more often and learned how to write a hook, how to trim out extra words, how to make sure something changes by the end of the story, I started getting nicer rejections: Personal Rejections that actually tell you what they liked or didn’t like about your story, and what you could fix to do better next time. I started getting Send More rejections. And I started getting Yes. Still not as often as I’d like, but even a couple Yeses make you feel like you’ve got a shot. 

These days, I work on my craft. I submit whenever I can. A story is only “finished” to me when it’s sent out into the world (a fatal perfectionistic flaw of mine early in my career, when I still felt sure I could make every story I wrote absolutely perfect before submitting). I still get a lot of No’s, but more and more of them are Personal No’s, Encouraging No’s, and I’m getting more Yeses, too. 

Losing Their Sting

After hundreds of No’s, they start to lose their sting. They’re not personal anymore, not gut-wrenching. I still feel a little sad (even today, I got one from a market I love for a story I love, and still feel a little pang of “Aw, Man!” but it’s not the same), but I’ve learned a lot. Sometimes a story just isn’t a good fit for a market. Sometimes it’s simply not good enough to beat out the one other story on the editor’s desk. Sometimes an editor likes your style, sometimes they don’t. 

And it’s okay. It doesn’t mean your story sucks. It doesn’t mean you suck. It just means it’s time to get that submission out to the next place.

Letting Go

I specifically don’t edit stories once I’ve sent them out anymore, unless the fix is an easy tweak that won’t delay a story getting back out there ASAP. For me, that’s necessary, because I could tinker with a story forever in the hopes of making it perfect, but I’ve learned to let go. 

There will always be another idea. There will always be another market. And I’ve sold some stories to fantastic markets after they’ve been rejected by a LOT of other places, even less prestigious ones! The most important thing is to keep moving forward. The No’s are just hurdles. If you’re running fast enough, and aiming high enough, you won’t even notice when you fly over them. 

^ ^ ^

How do you handle rejection? Do you have a special routine or treat for coping when you receive one? Are you still in the early phases where each one feels like a coal dropped into your shoe, or are you a hardened Rejection Warrior, who eats rejection slips for breakfast? What have you learned about rejections during your writing journey? I’d love to hear from you!

Journal

Friday Update: The Late Edition

Not a bad week, all told! Better than last week, despite Goldbug deciding that the earlier bedtime might mean he doesn’t really need a nap until 11am or later, which then means he’s still awake at the end of his morning walk. Which is only slightly horrifying.

Today, after two loops around the neighborhood, he was still awake, and I think I broke out in a cold sweat thinking, “Oh, boy. Here it is. Just when you get used to a routine, the baby shakes it up on you!” But thankfully, I got him down for an afternoon nap around 2pm and had time to pound through some writing.

Missed my exercises, though. Ah well. If something’s got to give, I’d rather it be the exercising than the writing, though maintaining both are important. One thing at a time, right?

Accomplished This Week

First off, a confession: I did NOT do any planning on the novel this week. I KNOW. I’m ashamed, okay? (I’m not, really: the short fiction was flowing this week, and I let it, and it was glorious.) But I did finish a rewrite draft that’s been languishing for months (OKAY YEARS), and I started redrafting another story that needs some love before it gets submitted.

AND. I’m participating in AWC’s Furious Fiction challenge this weekend, which means writing a flash story utilizing the three random rules and coming in under 500 words. AND I DID IT. I drafted it just this afternoon, and while I need to do a bit of tweaking yet, it’s actually not horrific.

I’m quite pleased with myself! It’s the first time I’ve really plotted something, knowing what I was going for. I mean, I’ve got a lot to learn via practice still (oh so much…), but it’s a decent attempt at applying what I’ve learned about short fiction. So, pleased overall!

Inspiring Me This Week

Saga. Saga Saga SagaSagaSagasagasagaaaaaaaaaaa~! Oh man. I finished Book 3 last night, and I AM DESTROYED. *sobs* How I’m going to make it through this, I don’t know, but I will, and I look forward to seeing where the series goes after this, provided it goes at all, someday… It just blows my mind on character, character-design, theme, concept, and how much I love the characters–even some of the more despicable ones! And how much it hurts when one of them dies. OH. MAN. *sniffles*

Anyway.

I’m also getting ready to swap my thirty-three item capsule for my spring version (again, with 33, as inspired by Project333). It’s exciting to move clothes that have become stale to me (but that I still generally like) into storage for the season and break out some new things that are more warming-weather appropriate. I’m feeling an upsurge in energy because of it, and that’s always nice during these cold end-of-winter weeks. (Even if winter up here in New England seems to last until at LEAST end of April…)

I’ve also been playing around in my notebook to find a few spreads that will work better for tracking submissions, various stages of stories, and what I’m waiting on so I don’t always feel like I have to keep everything in my head. I use Duotrope to track submissions, but sometimes it’d be nice to not have to log-in to see what’s out and what markets are available for something. It’d also be nice to have a very easy overview of where something has already gone and an easy-access list of my “retired” stories with some of their “to fix” notes at hand. Plus, I get to use post-it notes, which I love. And stickers.

What I’m Working on Next Week

Whoo-boy. Okay. Next week. *1000 mile stare* I’m making progress on a new short story rewrite, but I should be getting the rewritten one out ASAP before my next course starts and saps me of time and focus. So I may try to focus on polishing that one up and getting it out by Friday.

I also really, really need to finish plotting the novel. So I’m going to have to fit that in. It didn’t happen during my writing time this past week, in part because I’m a touch addicted to word count as a measure of progress, which I KNOW is not a perfect measure. Thinking requires so much time, but it does need to be done.

So maybe I’ll isolate Monday/Tuesday for novel planning, and focus on editing Wednesday-Friday. I’m not sure three days will really be enough to get the story ready for submission (but then, five days might not be enough either), so I may have to push that deadline back a week and see if I can wrap it up as submitted for the FOLLOWING Friday. I don’t like to do that, but it may be necessary. Especially if Goldbug’s naps continue to flake out.

How’s your week going? How do you juggle different creative projects? Read anything that’s blown your mind recently? I’d love to hear about it!

Journal

Notes from a Poly-Reader: MARCH 2021

Well, if there’s one silver lining of Goldbug starting to skip his late afternoon nap and therefore requiring to go to bed early (and from past experience, that means I now go to bed early), it’s that I have guaranteed reading time in the evening, when I might otherwise watch TV or putz around on the Switch or otherwise while away the hours. And that definitely helped me hit my four books for the month of February.

During February, I finished Nerve, From Baby Brain to Writer Brain, Story Engineering, and Gardening Without Work. Which of course means I’ve added several new books to my currently reading pile! I am currently reading nine books, which means the warning lights are flashing. (Find out why in my post on 3 Common Poly-Reading Mistakes.)

Currently Reading:

Notes:

You Beneath Your Skin: Just started this one a couple days ago. It’s always fun to read something by a blogger I’m following! Just barely under the skin (hehe!) in this one so far, but enjoying the setup of what promises to be an intense read.

The Usual Suspects: Another pal’s book! I’ve known Maurice Broaddus for the better part of…oh geez, has it been eight years already?! I knew him as a writer before that, but that’s when we met in person at Mo*Con (which, if you’re a spec fic fan anywhere in the driving-vicinity of Indianapolis, post-pandemic you should attend! It’s casual and fantastic fun.) This is Maurice’s first MG book, so I’ve been looking forward to it. So far, true to form, his characters are vividly alive on the page, and there’s plenty of trouble for everybody. Looking forward to how this one wraps up!

Into the Planet: Just picked this up the other day as I realized it’d been a while since I read an adventure-science book, and boy, if cave-diving doesn’t scratch that itch, nothing will. The first couple chapters are already promising some INTENSE experiences. Probably don’t read this one if you’re claustrophobic…

Saga – Book 3: SAGA I LOVE YOU. Okay, seriously though. If you’re chill with graphic depictions of literally anything that could be described as “graphic,” I cannot recommend this series enough. Killer characters (literally and figuratively), brilliant theme and concept, and a no-holds-barred plot that just keeps charging. It’s a perfect melding of its subject and its presentation, and if you’re not too squeamish (seriously), it’s an absolute delight. Every time I pick up a Saga volume, I’m reminded of the sheer beauty of a perfectly executed story.

The City of Gold and Lead: Haven’t made a lot of progress on this one just yet with B-Bug. It’s slower than The White Mountains, and they’re still far from the tripods, so it’s just taking a little time to get into. Will be picking this one up again soon.

Cetaganda: I love Miles Vorkosagan. He’s such a fantastic character, and I’m thrilled to be taking up another adventure with him. And these books are just so darn FUN, which I really need with my Currently Reading Pile potentially overloaded with INTENSE books. Plus, I’m doing it as an audiobook (which is what I’ve done for every Vorkosagan saga book), which means I get to lie in bed quietly and feel like I’m getting a book read to me.

Gideon the Ninth: Picked this one up in February, but haven’t made huge progress on it. It’s fun and bizarre and fascinating, but it’s also kind of like really rich chocolate cake. I can only chomp through about a chapter at a time before my brain starts buzzing with the insane (and awesome) world-building.

The Power Broker: Haven’t progressed much in this, but I am a few chapters farther than I was last Notes! This is in part because I went ahead and downloaded it as an audiobook, which means I can listen to it at night, and that eliminates the difficulty of not being able to hold it single-handed.

Designology: I’ve been chipping away at this one. For some reason, it’s not a super easy “just read” kind of book. It’s got a lot of information that I’m hoping will be useful, though, so I probably just need to knuckle-under and get it done.

^ ^ ^

So that’s what’s on the docket this month. I’ve got a hankering to get another “just fun” book on there, and I’ve got a lot of those kicking around, plus I have a number of novellas/short novels I could slip in to help hit my month’s reading goals. I’m pretty confident that I can finish The Usual Suspects, Saga, and Into the Planet by the end of the month, and maybe The City of Lead and Gold if B-Bug and I get back on track, and maybe Cetaganda if I get enough listening hours in.

One of my big reading goals this month is to get back into the habit of reading one short story per day, so I’ll need to pick an anthology to keep near the bed in case I forget/don’t get a chance to read one during the day.

Journal

Friday Updates: Switching Gears and Checking-In

This week has been all about wrapping up the month of February and any outstanding goals. I got lucky and Goldbug took solid naps everyday this week, and the new workout regimen hasn’t quite kicked into full-gear yet, which gives me more time to write afterwards. I’m hoping it doesn’t interfere too much, or else I’ll have to reorder my time…

Accomplished This Week:

Managed to finish reading Gardening Without Work which makes four finished books for the month! Woohoo! Which is good, because I’ve got a growing TBR pile, and I’m itching to grab something off the top. You can check out my February Wrap-Up post to see the other books I finished in February.

I was a little worried over the last couple of weeks that I wasn’t going to hit the 20k word count expectation for the Novel Writing Essentials course I’m taking, but as of Tuesday, I surpassed it! So I’m not having to worry about being behind when Write Your Novel begins mid-way through March.

I’m really enjoying working from an outline for this second draft. It’s similar in some ways to summary drafting (which I loooooove, and intend to do at least once this year for some new book), but it’s nice in the second draft to have a very clear picture of what needs to happen. It also lets me pick and choose what scene to write based on my mood for the day, which has already proven extremely helpful (both in motivation and productivity).

Inspiring Me This Week:

This week, I finally started listening to Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold, and man. I missed the Vorkosagan universe. It’s just so…FUN. Unrepentantly FUN. I needed that so much this week, as a lot of my other reads are drifting towards the heavier side. (For those interested in how I balance my “currently-reading” pile, check out this poly-reading post here!)

I also started SAGA Book 3, which is a graphic madhouse of awesomeness. I forgot how delightful it is to have a perfect alignment of theme/concept/characters/plot. It’s just, wow. I love it. IT IS NOT FOR EVERYBODY. Big trigger warning flag on that one, because it is GRAPHIC. Graphic violence, graphic sex. It’s all in keeping with its thematic question (is sex the opposite of war), but if you’re squeamish AT ALL, this one probably isn’t for you. But if you can tolerate it, OMG royal robots! How fantastic is it to have aristocratic robot family? I LOVE IT SO MUCH. The characters are so dynamic, so complicated, so flawed, so shockingly relatable. I love characters on all sides of this intergalactic war, even when they really hate each other. It’s a wonderful reminder of how for each person, we’re the hero of our own story.

Also started rewatching the series Everest with my folks, since my mom had developed a taste for mountaineering non-fiction/documentaries. We watched Free Solo last weekend, which is always a great watch. I don’t have a fear of heights, but some of the shots in that film give me squirmy vertigo.

And for those of you interested in pen and ink and watercolor sketches, definitely check out the stunning sketch blogs of artist Suhita Shirodkar and artist Jean Mackay. Their beautiful work just feeds the soul, doesn’t it? Man, I love ink and watercolor.

What I’m Working on Next Week:

I’m going to take a wee step back from writing the book so that I can finish plotting out the last half. I’m very nearly through all of Act 1, but only have midpoint solidly worked out. Now I need to know where the rest fits in so that come Write Your Novel, I’m squared up and ready to write fast.

So instead of applying word count to the book, I’m going to try to blaze through the short story rewrite I’m working on. In fact, I’m going to put it down here:

I AM GOING TO SUBMIT THIS STORY BY MARCH 12, 2021.

– Me

Now that’s commitment.

How was your week this week? Anybody else feeling like they’re tingling with energy but also feeling totally stymied? How’s that work?!

What books are you reading? What shows are you loving right now? I’m feeling a desperate hunger for input.

Journal

February Round-Up: Stories, Sketches, and Sales

I have no idea where the month of February went! It felt like just yesterday I was looking for good strawberries to dip in chocolate for Valentine’s Day. There’s an element of “Blersuary” what with the pandemic ongoing, I’m sure.

But that doesn’t mean nothing happened in February! I finished three books (Nerve, From Baby Brain to Writer Brain, and Story Engineering), and started five others (naturally). I solved my Power Broker reading problem–due to being a ten-pound softcover that can’t be held in one hand–by getting the audiobook version, which means I’ve actually been making some progress on it!

I sold one story, though still waiting on the contract, so can’t (as yet) announce where or when it’ll be coming out. But I can say it’s a pro-market! So I’m thrilled to pieces. I also finally finished the rough draft of “A Splendid Journey,” but it’s about half-again longer than the max word count I was aiming for, and given the specificity of the anthology call I was writing it for, I’m not sure it’ll have legs at any other markets. (One of the pitfalls of writing to anthology calls.) But I do like it a lot, so we’ll have to see what I do with it, if anything.

I’m also just on the verge of wrapping up my Novel Writing Essentials course, once I get a few more critiques submitted. It’s been a great class, chockfull of great people, and some really great writing. Looking forward to starting Write Your Novel mid-March! I’ve gotten significantly farther into my book’s second draft than I ever had managed to do before via this course, and I’m hoping to maintain the momentum.

I also started sketching a bit this month! I’m pretty rusty, so some of them are a touch embarrassing, but overall I’m just thrilled to be drawing regularly again. The only thing that’ll help me get better is doing it more often!

And of course, no post regarding February would be complete without a shot of said Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries from Valentine’s Day!

Turned out pretty nicely, all things considered!

So how was your February? Did the get-up-and-go energy of January carry through for you, or did it start to flag a bit?

Journal

Friday Updates: Update-y McUpdates-Pants

Well, after last week’s wild churn of words, this week has been (perhaps not unpredictably) less…churn-y.

What did I work on this week?

Took three days to hit my 2k/wk requirement on the novel, and honestly, I’m not sold on some of the scenes I laid down. They feel watery and cheap. You know the feeling. But they’ll get there. One is actually pretty solid, and two just need…something. Time, probably.

Then for Thursday/Friday, I plunged into the rewriting of a fantasy short story I wrote years ago, but have never submitted. I still really like it at its core, but after all the book-learning’ I’ve been doing about plot and tension and dynamic story structure, I’m running up hard against that “conscious incompetence” thing. I know at least a lot of what isn’t working, but not enough to know how to fix it.

Well, I have some ideas. It’s just going to mean a complete rewrite. (*sobs*) So I’m going through the original draft, painstakingly tightening all the overwriting and trying to massage a better plot into it. It’s…not super fun. So I’m trying to keep my chin up and not get discouraged.

This year (and the previous one!) has been shockingly tough on short fiction for me. Finding both the headspace and the quiet time to make progress with both kiddos (one of whom was born in 2020) at home has been a challenge, to say the very least. My brain’s engine is revving and roaring, ready to blast off, and it feels sometimes like I’ve forgotten to take the parking brake off.

Classes have helped me focus, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot, I’m just chaffing to put what I’ve learned into practice. I’m working on patience. Lots of patience….

What’s inspiring me this week?

Nothing. (#grumpus)

No, that’s not true. This week, I finished Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, and my head is exploding with ideas for how to fix a number of weaker (unsubmitted) short stories. Finding time to do so–well, that’s another question entirely. But the ideas are there, and I think they make the stories a LOT more functional. (It puts the “fun” in “functional”! XD)

I’m also getting the start-the-garden itch. I’ve never been particularly good at gardening, but now that we actually have some yard and garden space, I’m getting kind of excited to plan out something REALLY easy. Don’t know when I’ll get to start making those choices, but maybe this weekend? Maybe? (*whispers* maaaaaybe….?)

I’m also getting the make-your-own-clothes itch again, particularly with interest to making a front-buttoning midi-skirt from Wardrobe By Me. Because I have so much time! XD

Oooo, and Goldbug and I watched the Perseverance landing Thursday, so that was fun! It’s kind of nice to focus on something very far from Earth and all its issues…

What am I working on next week?

Umm….writing. (#needanap) Okay, okay, more specifically, I’m chugging along on the same method I’ve been tackling the last two weeks: 2k on the novel first, and then any extra writing time on rewriting that short story step by painstaking step.

I’d also like to finish one more book this week to hit my month’s reading goal (to read more about how to finish more books while poly-reading, I have a post here about that!). I’ve got a couple that are getting close, so I’ll have to look over the weekend and decide what’s going to be the easiest to wrap up.

Journal

Are These 3 Poly-Reading Mistakes Keeping You From Finishing Books?

I love poly-reading. For those unfamiliar, poly-reading means you read multiple books at a time. Not everybody reads like this. My mother, for example, is a pretty devout book-monogamist. She reads one at a time, and reads a lot, so we end up reading nearly the same number of books a year.

But if you’re a poly-reader like me, you enjoy switching between books. For me, poly-reading allows me the freedom to choose what I read depending on my mood. Feeling down? Maybe pick up that book on comedy writing tonight. Feeling tired? A nice easy Rex Stout mystery might be in order. Amped up and need to cool off? Time to break out the big, thoughtful biography. Life feeling a bit dull? Time for that mountaineering book!

Sometimes I just don’t feel like reading a downer novel. Sometimes I do. When I mono-read, I end up not reading as much, because if my mood doesn’t fit the book I’ve got, I won’t pick it up at all. Poly-reading allows me to read a lot, every day, regardless of my mood. And I love that.

As a writer, I also enjoy the benefit of mixing completely unrelated subject matters (George Washington’s biography plus cave-diving plus necromancer fantasy? That’s gonna give you some WEIRD dreams). Sometimes ideas I never would have thought about come to me precisely because I’m mixing books like a drunken alchemist.

But while there are many benefits to reading multiple books at once, there is one major pitfall: you can wrack up a huge “currently reading” pile that never gets finished. My goal is to read 52 books this year, which means I actually do need to finish books.

I’ve also encountered numerous people who poly-read but struggle to finish anything. (Poly-reading is a blessing and a curse.) I used to be that person. But I’ve picked up on three common mistakes I’ve made and others make that can bloat the pile and lead to too many unfinished reads. Watch out for these three things, and you will definitely be finishing books!

1. You’re reading too many books.

I know! I know! I hear you saying, “But isn’t the definition of poly-reading that I read a bunch of books at once?” Well, yes. The bliss of poly-reading is that you get to read a bunch at once. The pitfall of poly-reading is that it’s easy to start too many.

Almost every time I stop finishing books, the FIRST problem I run into is that I’ve overloaded my “currently-reading” pile. For non-poly-readers, this might be trying to tackle two books at a time. For you, it may be six. It may be nine. Or fifteen. For me, it’s twelve.

A dozen books sounds like a lot, and it is. Twelve is my max. The moment I have thirteen books on my “currently reading” pile, it’s a sign that I’m deliberately avoiding some of the books already on my list. What’s important is determining how many books you can reasonably cycle-through, while still finishing books now and then.

Why might you be avoiding books on your list?

2. You’re reading too many similar books.

This is the second reason my “currently reading” pile gets out of hand. One of the reasons I poly-read is because I like to have some options of what to read, depending on my mood. Sometimes I don’t want a really heavy read, or a humorous read, or a biography.

The problem occurs when I have two or three books that scratch the same itch. If I’ve got three books that are non-fiction pop science, when I’m in the mood for that kind of read, I now have to split my attention between the three. Same deal if I’ve got two similar-tone fantasies, or four writing-related books.

Splitting my choices means I don’t make nearly as much progress in any of them, which leads to books lingering far too long in my pile. When they linger, it’s more likely I’ll start losing interest in them, and if that happens, the pile grows out of control, unless I avoid Mistake #3. 2

3. You don’t cull your pile.

“But I should finish the books I start!” I know. I know. I feel you. But after years and years of poly-reading, I’ve come to the conclusion that sometimes you just have to cut a dragging book loose.

For one thing, holding onto a book you no longer feel motivated to read weighs down your pile. Every time I see a neglected book on my list, it makes me feel guilty. Feeling guilty sometimes means I avoid my pile all together. Or start committing Mistake #1 again, by picking up new books in order to avoid looking at my disappointing pile.

For another thing, once excitement about a read is gone, it may not come back. I’ve held onto books I’d lost interest in for YEARS, and there rarely comes a point when I suddenly find myself excited about it again. And each year that passes without finishing a neglected book feeds the guilt, and that feeds the avoidance, and that’s a recipe for an overloaded pile.

Books you’re no longer interested in can be anchors on your reading motivation, and I’ve come to believe there’s some kernel of truth in what Marie Kondo1 says about unread books: “The moment you first encounter a book is the right time to read it.” Sometimes, you’ve just lost that lovin’ feeling. And that’s okay, too.

Now, sometimes you just haven’t been in the right mood for a certain book. (Especially true during a pandemic!) Super-depressing books just haven’t been appealing to me lately. Does that mean I need to ditch the heavy classic I’m half-way through because I haven’t been in the mood recently? Not necessarily.

I review my “currently reading” pile once a year, around New Year’s. I look over my list, evaluate how interested I am in continuing to read each book, and make decisions accordingly. Some books stay on my list for years. The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony was one of these; it stayed on my list for FOUR YEARS, because I loved it, I just didn’t want to rush through it. But other books, I just don’t care about anymore, so I dropped them from the list.

This also allows me to do the thing I love most about poly-reading: add more books to my list that I AM excited about!

BONUS TIP: Monthly Finishing Goals

Keeping an eye out for these three mistakes will help keep your reading pile reasonable. But what if you want to finish more of your in-progress books? For me, the thing that helps the most is setting a monthly finishing goal. Right now, my goal is four books a month. If I want to reach my reading goal for year (which is currently 52), I need to finish at least four a month.

Setting a goal like this helps me to look at my pile and evaluate how much time I’ll need on each book to finish it (some I can breeze through; some I like to linger on). It helps me pick which books are closest to finishing, and allows me prioritize them. Usually my mood dictates what kind of book I want to read; sometimes the book I need to read dictate my mood.

Ultimately, though, you need to do what makes you happy. If having a pile of twenty or thirty books in-progress is what makes you smile and they don’t weigh you down: that’s great! You do you. But if you’d like to finish a few more books this year, keep an eye out for these three mistakes and think about setting a monthly reading goal. You may find it helps!

~*~

1 I know a lot of people have a knee-jerk freakout reaction to Marie Kondo’s book opinions, but having read her books AND seen the show, I think a lot of that freakout is misguided. She doesn’t say get rid of all your books. In fact, in the book, she specifically states that the “right” amount of books will vary from person to person, and that some people find great joy in having their home filled with books, and THAT’S OKAY.

Just as some people are happier with closets-full of shoes, some of us are happier with piles of books. BUT. Sometimes we hold onto books that truly DO drag us down, and THOSE we need to be willing to let go of.

I love having a house jam-packed with books, even books I haven’t read yet, but sometimes seeing those unread titles year after year (and move after move) can make you feel shitty that you still haven’t read them (and be honest: are you sure you still want to?). Maybe the time for that book has passed, in which case, let it go!

2 Quick note: some people love poly-reading in the same genre, and that’s okay! Do that! But if you find you start piling up a lot of unfinished books (mystery novels, for example), look and see if you have too many that hit the same tone or style. Have you started several cozy mysteries recently? Trying to tackle two separate police procedurals, while also juggling a fistful of classic noir? Diversifying the mood and style of the genre books you’re reading may help avoid the pileup.

Journal

Friday Update: Like a Factory

Sometimes, you just have one of those weeks when things go smoothly. I know! It sounds insane. But this was one of those weeks.

The baby napped beautifully every day. The weather held-out so we could take his “go-to-sleep” walk, and it wasn’t brutally cold. I exercised every day. And I wrote STUPID amounts of words.

I say STUPID, because although the words flowed beautifully and I hit 2k on Wednesday (whaaaa-?!), I hit 2k while trying to write a shorter-ish story. Oops. So it’s now way too long for the anthology call I was considering. But, I love the words, which just makes it a longer story than what I was expecting. It happens. (A reminder that word count alone is a tricky indicator of “productivity”!)

Accomplished This Week:

All told, I wrote 6,600 words this week, a little over 2k on the novel, and the rest on a mix of short fiction. Deciding to split my weeks (work on the novel until I hit 2k, then switch to short fiction) looks like it’s going to work out well. This way, I can keep making steady progress on the book, but not lose practice on writing short fiction (which I love so much!). 

And I did finish that short story (even if it’s way too long), so that’s one new rough draft done! I LIKE the story. It’s kind of what I hoped it would be, despite it’s flaws, so although I probably won’t be able to submit it to where I thought I wanted to, it may make for a nice piece some other time.

I have a bit of catch-up to do on the novel over the next couple weeks, as I cut out a bunch of a second POV I ended up not needing, but I’m confident I’m headed in the right direction at long last. My head is still getting back into gear on short work (for some reason, it’s much, much harder to piecemeal work on short stuff, and much easier to go long), so that’s been a bit frustrating. I’d really like to get some new work out soon, since I’m almost out of pieces to submit! (It’s a good thing.)

Oh! And I got The Power Broker on Audible, so now I can listen to it at night in bed! Finally, a workable way to read it. 

Things Inspiring Me This Week:

This week has been all about collecting new books to read. With figuring out how to progress through The Power Broker, and with Goldbug going to bed fairly well most nights, I feel like I’m taking the e-brake off my reading time. Still not getting in as much as I’d like, but if I can keep up finishing four books a month, I’ll do all right. 

I also started reading Brain Jar Press’ latest chapbook on writing, From Baby Brain to Writer Brain by Tansy Rayner Roberts. It’s fascinating, it’s made me laugh in that “it’s too real!” kind of way, and I’m quite enjoying it. It illuminates the problems all writer-mother/primary-parents have when trying to balance kids and art, and–as a side-benefit–has given my internal tapes a nice workout on not comparing myself to other (vastly more) successful mother-writers. 

I will say—I was talking to my mother about this the other day—I think I’ve come a huge way, emotionally, in the last three years. I feel much more grounded, much more confident, and far less terrified of failure. The toxic perfectionism of my youth has well and properly died, and that has helped my process more than anything this year. I actually feel like a professional, far more than I ever did before, and it’s not a feeling that’s faded away over the past few years. It’s here to stay. And can I say, I’m immensely relieved and so much happier (and more productive) because of it?

Plan for Next Week:

This weekend, I’m going to decide what scenes I’m writing on the book next week. It seems helpful to do that thinking separately—helps me launch into the words on Monday. I’ll also probably be re-reading the short story I’m trying to edit and get back into its mindset, since it’s been a while since I worked on it, and this week’s work on it felt like driving without headlights. So 2k on the book, and 500/day (or equivalent editing time) on the short story. 

Hope your week has been smoother than last week, but if it hasn’t, hang in there! The days are starting to get longer here in New England, and the sun has finally decided to shine on all that blinding snow. I have to say: as much as snow can be a pain in the butt sometimes, I love snowy winters more than rainy ones. Snowy winters have sunny days that radiate light like you’re living in a mirror, and boy, does my mental health need that brightness sometimes!

Hang in, and hang on, folks! 

Journal

Notes from a Poly-Reader: FEBRUARY 2021

Phew! Can you believe it’s already February?! At the end of last year, I decided I was going to try to read 50 books in 2021, which means I have to hit 4 books every month to even come close. I’ve managed that many before (and someday, hours willing!, I’ll read a heck of a lot more!), but it still requires a lot of focus to get done with wee-ones underfoot. This month, I did hit four books finished (The Color of Magic, Atomic Habits, The White Mountains, and You are Not Your Writing), but I’m going to have to really buckle down in February. I’ve also started some new books in January, and I’m a little ways into a few of them (thank goodness), so I’m not starting a bunch of barely opened books this week.

Currently Reading:

Notes:

Story Engineering – The WRITE YOUR NOVEL course I’m starting in March had this on its recommended reading list, and YOU GUYS. If you can get past Brooks’ cranky defensiveness about pantsing (he’s clearly had a lot of arguments about planning vs. pantsing during his workshops), WOW. I mean, so much of it is stuff I’ve read elsewhere in some part, but never have the requirements of a good story been so clearly spelled out and quantified. It’s really helped me to see both where my writing strengths are (things I’ve been doing unconsciously for years, but never understood), and what my writing weaknesses are (things I’ve struggled with consciously without any grasp on whatsoever and despairing of ever “getting”). I’m so excited to try some of this methodology, mixing it in with a little summary drafting and a touch more prep-thought on stories prior to writing. It links up very well with some of the editing books I’ve read, and I think maybe–just maybe–I’ve got a bead on how to improve in some key storytelling areas that I have been battling with for years. Hope springs eternal, right? But hope I have! Looking forward to applying some of these lessons in my next project.

Gideon the Ninth – I’m about four chapters into this, and I’m very much enjoying it. The world-building is insane, and very unique. Gideon and Harrowhawk are both characters I definitely want to know more about, and the sense of place is fantastic. The one, itty-bitty little complaint I have–and it’s super minor, and may just be me right now because I’m neck-deep in writing theory–is that sometimes (sometimes) it feels a little…writer-y? Constructed? Like, I become aware of the author pulling the strings and making up this world and the characters. There are just times the story feels so dense (dense = intensely detailed, not dense = stupid), that it’s hard to get into the flow of the story, you know? I dunno, it’s hard to describe. I want to just be completely swept away, but at times I feel like I’m clawing my way upstream to stay submerged in the story. Like I said, I’m not sure that’d hit everyone, and I’m not even sure if it’d hit me at a different point in time the same way, so I’m not giving the complaint much weight at this point. Overall, I’m blown away, so I’m looking forward to digging into it more.

Designology – I’ve gotten a bit stuck on this one. I was so excited to start it, and it didn’t disappoint, I just… I probably slipped out of the prime moment for it (I’m not actively trying to design our front-room like I was when I picked it up initially). But it’s probably just an issue of needing to devote some time to it. It’s a straight-forward read, so once I get rolling again, it should be an easy one to finish.

The Power Broker – I….haven’t made any progress on this. But it’s not for lack of interest! It’s because of physical challenge. It’s HUGE. You guys, it’s like five pounds and soft-cover, and it’s almost impossible to prop-up in any manner to read sideways like I do in bed, and it’s impossible to hold single-handedly, and it’s impossible to LIFT from any weird angle I may get stuck in when Goldbug falls asleep on me, assuming I had anywhere I could PUT it on my lap that wouldn’t wake him up from the weight, which means–IN SHORT–I haven’t touched this book in a while. I’ve been contemplating getting it as an ebook, which in theory I could read on my phone buuuuuuuut… I dunno. I wish I had more time to do audiobooks, because this would be a great one, I feel. Maybe I could get it on audiobook and listen to it before bed? Hmmm…. the idea has merit…

The City of Gold and Lead – Just started this one with B-Bug (at his request!!! AHHHHH! I’ve got him hooked on John Christopher! WEE!), and it’s all good fun. Christopher’s style is very easy to read aloud, and he’s got some great hard sci-fi feels about his work that I feel like are a great primer for other SF writers B-Bug may like later on. I mean, who doesn’t love evil Tripod robots?

Gardening Without Work – Ruth Stout may be my new best friend, even though she died five years before I was born, BUT I DON’T CARE. We’re kindred spirits! I’ve always loved her brother’s writing (author the Nero Wolfe mystery series, Rex Stout), but she’s so lively and snarky as hell and just…wow. I wish I could have met her in real life, because if she was anything like her writing, she’d have been an absolute hoot. Really enjoying her advice on gardening, as myself an indolent gardener and avid vegetable lover, and I’m hoping to put a lot of her advice to work this spring when Mom and I set up our own garden. But even if you don’t garden, you should probably read this, because Ruth Stout is HILARIOUS.

***

Boy, I don’t think Nerve by Dick Francis even lingered on my list long enough to appear on my “currently reading” list. I picked it up earlier this month and blazed through it. It was a wonderful study in plot structure–both in great ways and bad ways, but I quite enjoy Francis’ work. I’ve got a couple others, but I think I’ll read something else for a bit, then cycle back around for another one.

I also really need to start SAGA: Volume 3, which I got for Christmas, but which I haven’t had a chance to crack open yet. (Same issue as The Power Broker: huge book-size and not enough hands/uninterrupted reading time.)