25% For The Win

So, this is my To-Be-Read (affectionately known as the TBR) pile. Most of it. There is also a stack of books on my bedside table, with a few more in the drawers. This does not include the five pages worth of books on my Kindle.

The worst  part is, a lot of these books were in my TBR pile when we moved here 2 1/2 years ago.

You know how it is. You buy a book on a whim. Or you get it free at a conference. Or – the very worst – someone lends it to you, saying you must read it. And there they sit. Languishing. For Years.
 
You see where I’m going with this.
 
Yes, I’m thinking about the new year and what I want 2012 to be like. Now, yesterday on Word Whores, I said I’m not a fan of posting resolutions. I referred to previous rants on the topic, but a few people said they’d like to hear why. So, if you’ve heard this before, feel free to skip the next paragraph.
 
I think resolutions, like charity, should be kept private and anonymous. Otherwise you risk doing it only for ego, which is dangerous. See, the whole point of a resolution is to make a change in your own life, not to show off how neat you are to other people. Similarly, with charity, the point is to help someone else, not to dazzle everyone with your selflessness and generosity. If you make a resolution just to tell people your plan, then you run the risk that you’re doing it for the wrong reasons, which means it will never “stick.” Doing stuff to impress other people just doesn’t last. It’s a false reward, sweet tasting at first, but without nutrition.
 
Anyway.
 
That said, I am breaking my own rule today. (Self-aggrandizement is me! I laugh in the face of my distorted ego!) I’ve been feeling, not only the weight of my huge and moldering TBR pile, but that I really want to read more. I miss reading. Some of that energy goes into writing now, which is a deliberate choice. But a lot of it gets spun out elsewhere. I really want to reduce this pile of good intentions gone astray.
 
A huge part of the problem for me is that many of these books are ones I actually have started. I get a few pages in, don’t love it and put it down to try again. Then, when I try again, it’s been so long I have to back up to remember the story, I read a few pages, don’t love it and put it down to try again.
 
I know, right?
 
DEFINITION OF INSANITY, ANYONE???
 
*ahem*
 
So, I developed a plan and bounced it off a few other inveterate readers on Twitter, especially with the woman behind the pig at Pearls Cast Before a McPig. She confessed to having many barely started books in her TBR pile, too. Slowly accreting.
 
This is the plan.
 
Because I feel wrong setting a book aside after only a few pages, I will commit to reading 25% of each book. That should give the slow-starters plenty of time to draw me in. Because there have been many books that I didn’t love at first, but that grew on me. After that first 25%, though, if I’m still not loving it, I can get rid of it with a clear conscience.
 
25% FTW!
 
I think this could totally work. Anyone else want to play?

Sea Change

Our big storm finally released its grip, with roaring winds all night, leaving the sky clear and frigid this morning.

So, here we are, saying good-bye to 2010 already. Tomorrow the decorations come down. I’ll clean the house and start the year a new. Fresh slate, carrying forward the best of last year and none of the worst.

I’ll try, anyway.

I talked yesterday about the temptation to make plans for big changes in the new year. It feels like a natural demarcation between old and new. And, hell, everyone else is doing it, right?

I’m starting one new thing for the new year. Tomorrow will see the launch of a new blog I’m participating in, The Word Whores. Our credo comes from Moliere:

“Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, and then for a few close friends, and then for money.”

I’m delighted to be in such amazing company, with six other smart, witty, imaginative and supportive women – all of whom I count as friends, as well as sister writers. Believe me, we all want to do it for money.

But this is a small change in the pattern of my life. I’m adding one blog-post a week. Finite, simple. I cringe when I see people resolving to lose weight, exercise more, write more and fix their love life. Yes, these are all wonderful things to do, but it’s TOO MUCH. The goals are vague. What does more mean? How much weight? What does a good love life consist of?

The problem is, if the goals are vague, then they’re doomed to failure. Because you can never reach “more.” There’s always “more” out there. It’s like always jam tomorrow.

The success gurus will tell you to keep your goals specific and attainable. There are good reasons for that.

I’ve long been a fan of tesseract theory. No – you don’t have to know math for this. It’s the idea that the pattern of large things reflects the pattern of its components. Thus the shape of a mountain range echoes the shape of a piece of gravel. A grown person reflects the shape of an embryo. If I want my life to look a particular way, then I try to make each day reflect those priorities. It occurred to me a few years ago that if I wanted my life to be writer’s life, then I might need to spend more than five percent of my day writing.

(Of course, we all turn out to be champion sleepers in the end, but that’s to be expected.)

This kind of change didn’t happen between 12/31 and 1/1. The pattern of my days has morphed gradually over the years, a slow and creeping conversion. A sea change, if you will.

The term “sea change” comes from Shakespeare’s The Tempest (one of my favorites), from Ariel’s song to Ferdinand:

Full fathom five thy father lies
Of his bones are coral made
Those are pearls that were his eyes
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

For those not well-versed in translating Bard-speak, Ariel is describing Ferdinand’s father’s corpse lying on the bottom of the ocean, slowly accreting the minerals of the water, until his skeleton becomes part of the coral.

The sea changes things, takes them in and makes them its own over time.

I borrowed this rant on the phrase from The Word Detective:

Unfortunately, as “sea change” has gained more popularity lately, its meaning has often been diluted and trivialized (“Gavin believes that this update indicates a sea change for the software and web applications…,” TechRadar.com). In the ultimate insult to the Bard, “sea change” has been harnessed as bizspeak (“Business is in the midst of a sea change when it comes to staffing and retaining superior talent,” New York Times), and I’m sure that somewhere out there right now a trucking company is promising a “sea change in package delivery.” Full fathom five them all, I say.

To me, this reflects our modern philosophy of get it done yesterday. A “sea change” is no longer a long, slow conversion. It happens overnight, according to the business types. Thus we expect our lives to change as quickly.

I know this is one of my periodic rants and I won’t bring it up again for a while, but this is my plea. Yes, absolutely, make those positive changes in your life. You can do that. You can make your life what you want it to be.

But take your time. Make small changes. Take baby steps. Allow for things to happen in their own time. Cast your grains of sand into the ocean and let them become pearls.

Start small. The universe will make it big for you. That’s how it works.

Happy 2011!

New Life Resolutions

A brief clearing this morning in the storm. I love when part of the valley has sunshine while another is shadowed. Seems metaphorical to me.

Last night I caught up on blog-reading. I follow a lot of blogs – more than the ones I list on the blogroll to the side there. Those are my favorites. Some blogs I follow just to be supportive. I’ve never unfollowed, but I do stop reading if the blog doesn’t sing for me. Some I think are hit or miss.

Normally I use Blogger Dashboard to read recent posts. It shows me all the blogs I follow that have new posts, in chronological order. Most days I scroll through those to see what’s new. Some I read every new one. Others only if that particular post looks interesting. I confess – some that annoyed me, I hid from my feed.

Because I was catching up though, this time I clicked on each blog, which then shows me a list of their recent posts. It ended up being a good year-end clean-up because a surprising number hadn’t posted in 6 months, 9 months, even a full year. Several of those were blogs where the writer posted once or twice and never again.

This time of year, everyone is talking about New Year’s resolutions. People are making plans for 2011, citing what they’re determined to do. More than a few that I’ve seen mention posting to their blogs more often. I know a few more people than that who really angst over getting blog posts up.

It reminds me of the gym, really.

I’ve been a regular exerciser for about four years now. As in, going to the gym to work out, exercising. Before that I was in Kung Fu classes nearly every night, but that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. But a few years ago, several things came together – quitting Kung Fu, my middle age, a physical condition that was not, erm, lean. So I became Morning Gym Girl.

No, this was not natural to me by any stretch. I exercise first thing in the morning because I’m too sleepy to think up excuses not to. There it is.

At any rate, David and I noticed the classic New Year pattern. After January 1, the gym was filled to bursting with enthusiastic exercisers. There would be the overweight middle-aged guy, accustomed to success, determinedly jogging endless laps on his first visit, face crimson. He’d show once or twice and never again. There were the high school girls in their pajamas, who started showing later and later, then not at all. Some persisted, yes, but usually by March the gym was back to the normal numbers.

There’s this whole thing about “don’t start what you can’t finish” or, worse, “you must finish what you start.” I’m not saying that. Making a change, starting a new blog or a new exercise program is a big thing. We try all kinds of ways to make it not seem quite so daunting, but few of us have empty space in our lives just waiting to be filled by a new task. Usually something else has to go. Usually that’s the painful part.

When new exercisers ask me how long it’ll be until they stop hating going to the gym, I tell them it took me six months. Six very long months before I stopped hating it and started to enjoy it. Some days I still hate it.

But it’s important to me. So I keep doing it. Day after day.

I suspect those qualities – the ones that keep the person blogging day after day, writing their novels, sending their queries – those are what make the successful author.

Not a New Year’s Resolution, but a New Life Resolution.

We’re in it for the long term.

Good for You


I’m thinking that the reason New Year’s resolutions are so powerfully seductive has nothing to do with the new year, in so many words.

I think it’s because, in our culture, the early January return to “real life” demands that we change patterns anyway. No more with the sloth and gluttony. Here we are setting the alarms again, getting up for work, not eating Christmas cookies for breakfast. Since we have to deal with the offense of an electronic wake-up at an offensive hour, why not go for that extra half-hour that would allow me to cook a healthier breakfast? And if I’m cooking a healthy breakfast, why not try to plan healthier menus all around?

It’s been fun seeing everyone “return” from the holiday hiatus. FaceBook and Twitter are full of grumblings and resolve.

It was also interesting to see how many people took “vacation” from the internet also. As if that, too, is work. Which, I’m beginning to think, it really is.

I did it, too. On New Year’s Day, when I did nothing, I never turned on the computer. What I did was lay about and read. And it’s funny to me, that reading now falls under “doing nothing” in my mind. I really needed that relaxed time, however, to get back in the reading groove.

We’ve all noticed we’re not reading much. Smart Bitches, Trashy Books posted an article on the topic, triggered by an NPR article on how ebooks are changing us, which cites an article in the Atlantic Monthly by writer Nicholas Carr on whether the internet is making us stupid. If you can pick only one of the three, read Carr’s, even though it’s long. It will be good for you.

I don’t believe the internet is a bad thing. This kind of linking of essay to article, one provoking another’s thought is a wonderful tool. I also think that rewiring our brains to process more information in faster slices is okay, too.

And, like the readers Carr talked to, I agree that I’m losing something.

I, too, can feel my attention wander after a few paragraphs. I skim. I get a taste and move on. Even something I want to read, I sometimes find I just can’t. I made a deliberate choice many years ago not to watch TV, because I do believe it undermines the imagination and trains you to follow other people’s ideas. But I hadn’t realized how profoundly the internet is affecting me, until I spend the last year writing and reading blogs, posting to FaceBook and following Twitter. And not reading nearly as much.

So, this morning I’m back at it. Got up right at 6am, exercised, fixed my healthy breakfast and sat down to write this post at 7. In a few minutes, I’ll move to the novel I’m working on. Or the novella. I actually have six projects I’m drafting at this time, which might be a problem. And one novel I’m trying to sell that I may yet have to revisit.

When I finish my work day, I’m now inserting an hour previously spent noodling on the internet. I’m going to walk away from the computer and just read. By the end of my day of reading, I found I had it back. I relearned my old trick of sinking into a book.

And damn, it felt really good.

When I sell my novel and have to make edits, while writing the sequel and finishing the novella, I’ll want to be able to access my ability to move quickly from project to project. And then to stop it all and just read.

It’s good for me.

Winter Supplies


I’ve gone on record as saying I believe that New Year’s resolutions are doomed to failure by their very nature.

Occasionally I launch projects in the new year, but I do think the pressure and the expectations make keeping the resolve more difficult. Besides, January often feels like a bad time to start stuff. The holidays are all over, so you feel kind of let down. The light and seasons may be turning around, but it’s still a dead time of year, with a ways to go until actual rebirth.

I’m more likely to start — and stick with — new projects in the Fall. This is probably because I’ve spent most of my life either part of, or living in a town shaped by, the academic calendar. I met David in January, which ended up being a very successful project. It might be a good time to start a new book, since there’s not much else to do. Otherwise?

For Christmas, David received a gift certificate to Wild Birds Unlimited, which really is a wonderful franchise, and our local store is particularly pleasant. They encouraged David to get one of these jay wreaths, which you fill with peanuts. Jays eat peanuts — who knew?? Plus it keeps them off the other feeders, so the smaller birds have a shot.

You wouldn’t believe the jay party that resulted here. You can see one jay below, waiting on the yucca, while another proudly brandishes his newly acquired peanut. They were returning so quickly, it didn’t seem possible that they were taking time to eat them.

They had the entire wreath emptied inside of an hour.

David refilled it and it’s partially full still this morning, though they’ve been working at it. Either they were seriously hungry and now are eating more slowly, or they’ve realized that the peanut supply is here to stay and they don’t have to pack it all off to wherever they put all those peanuts.

That’s the trick, I think, to sticking with new projects: finding a way to make them a part of your life, rather than a big New Thing. The way you treat the New Thing is not how you treat a daily habit. I think that’s why I’m reluctant to do things like writing challenges or fast drafts or what have you. Every writer has to find a way to make writing a part of her daily life. And by that I don’t necessarily mean writing every day, though some swear by it.

It’s more like knowing where the peanuts are when you need them.