For the last couple of years I’ve been suckered into partaking in a reading challenge through the goodreads website. The first year I was particularly gung-ho and signed up to read fifty books … and then I thought about it … and then I realized that I would have to average reading one book every 7.28 days! Yeah … no. I think I dropped it down to thirty books but still didn’t get even close. Last year I was more “reasoned” and challenged myself to twenty books. Twenty books seems like a fairly small number but you still have to average a book every two and a half weeks, and by this time my little sleep-stealer had come into our family so at the end of the day watching “shite tele” was typically the preferred option over concentrating on reading a book. So, did I do it? Well, no. But I did read 18.70 books! Though, in the spirit of full disclosure, ten of the books were compulsory reading for various classes.
Reading challenges appeal to many aspects of my personality: I’m competitive so I like to see if I’m doing “better” than others; I’m numerical (I did spend the years from age 16 to 34 only studying maths, physics and astrophysics) so to see the number count of read books increase makes me happy; I’m visual so I love to see my progress in the pretty infographics that goodreads produce (see above!).
Of course, the whole point of reading challenges is to make you read, or at the very least be conscience of making reading a priority even if the most recent episode of your guilty-pleasure-drama wins over the book sitting on your nightstand four out of five times. But do they make you read the “right” things. Over the last year I found myself not once but twice hunting the house for a thin book – a quick read that I could blast through in less than two hours in order to bump my flagging reading tally (notice Wonderstruck in my list above? Yup, that was one of those books). Now, to be fair to thin books, they need the love and attention of being read just as much as the thick-could-be-used-as-a-murder-weapon books of the world. But should I really only be hunting them out to up a reading count? Or do they not care as long as they are read?
Some reading challenges up the ante and take things beyond the simple “how many books you gonna read?” to here are suggestions of books you should read, or here are suggestions of the sorts of books you should read. This one caught my eye the other day from popsugar.com and I love some of the prompts such as a book with non-human characters, or a book that came out the year you were born. But I know which prompt the hubby will be hoping that I follow for all the books I read in the next year … a book that you own but have never read.
And so it is on to 2015. I’ll be sticking with goodreads to track my reading but I’ll dip into the popsugar list for inspiration. But for now I have 19% left of the book that I managed to read 69% of in 2014 and once I’ve hit the last page I will duly scuttle off to goodreads and make it my 1st of 20 for 2015. Happy reading!
To say my “career” in writing is in its infancy is an understatement in the extreme. So far my “body of work” consists of a smattering of short stories written for class, one semi-decent poem and a few more rubbish ones, and five unrefined chapters that I hope will one day will make a novel-length story. But since I’m trying to motivate myself to write more, and with it hope to become better, I keep one sleep-deprived eye, half-open for possible opportunities to submit pieces. But it is daunting. The sheer number of places you can submit work for publication and/or enter competitions is so overwhelming it is paralyzing. You also have to have the patience of a sloth (I’m assuming sloths embody patience?) as the speed at which submissions get reviewed for publication can feel glacier when you are new to the game. I’m learning it is best to submit something then just forget that you have done so until the rejection email pops into your inbox – saves you the energy of compulsively checking their submission managers. Competitions are a mixed beast for me – I’m pretty competitive in nature so the idea of winning a writing competition is extremely enticing, but then the realization that I’m unlikely to win any due to the greenness of my writing can feel deflating. But isn’t this the point of offering up your creative writing to an audience? So you can be scrutinized and judged and compared to others. And isn’t it just part of the process to become hardened to both the compliments and the criticism?
For me it is about lowering myself into the pool at a slow enough rate that the frigid water doesn’t take my breath away – at least that is how I like to approach cold bodies of water, others like to take a running dive-bomb in but I am convinced my heart will stop on impact if I try that. So I look for friendly places where I can expose my writing for digestion. One of those friendly places I have found is a local writing group where the people are constructive with their suggestions and are a lot of fun to spend time with. Sadly, due to some transportation issues (who would have thought living in America in your late thirties and not holding a driving license would be problematic!) I haven’t really been able to attend since my daughter was born. And so when I recently learned that they are running a competition for the first time I had the sense that I really couldn’t not enter! But there is a small catch that is slowing me down – there is a theme that the entries have to abide by, superheroes.
Typically when I start a new piece I start with an image. A single image that I then expand into a scenario, and then finally into a story. For example, the short story “News” started as an exercise in class where we had to write a less-than-three page story in 3rd person objective with the words “bomb threat”. I started with the image of a man sitting in bed reading a newspaper and the story unfolded from there. I have been throwing images around in my head for ‘superheroes’ and to even come up with an image I like has been a struggle, far less an image I can unravel into a story. I don’t know why this theme is proving difficult for me, is it too general, is it too specific, does it relate too much to a genre of books I typically don’t read and I can’t find a way to connect? I finally landed on an image … that of a young girl dressed in a gold and black superhero costume surrounded by grownups in their best finery awaiting to attend the New York City Ballet opening gala. Now what? Something has to happen, right? A gunman starts shooting into the crowd and the little girl’s mother throws herself onto the girl to save her – blerugh, too much. A car crashes into a food cart and the little girl’s father rescues the vendor who is pinned under the car with superhero strength – blerugh, too clichéd. A homeless man … yeah, just blerugh.
My writing is at its best when I’m detailing small events, everyday events that can happen to anyone. It is what typically interests me in my reading too, ordinary people dealing with ordinary life. So what can I find in this image that is “ordinary” but engaging for a short story? I guess all can I can say for the moment is: to be continued …