Tuesday, 1 January 2019

My Year in Books: 2018

I'd say it's been a pretty good reading year. I read a lot of "light" books because there were many times when that was all I could manage. Some of them I really enjoyed, some of them not so much, and it kind of showed what a lot of chick lit and thriller writers think they can get away with. Anyway, I'm still gonna continue to read these sorts of books, but now I know what I like and what I don't.

I decided not to set an actual reading target, but I'm pretty proud of myself for managing 61! This is to say nothing of the many books I started and eventually gave up on because I just couldn't get into them or found them excruciating to read (Call Me By Your Name and Fates & Furies being respective examples). I simply have too many on my to-read list, so if I'm truly not feeling it, I will not continue. My threshold depends on the book, though; sometimes I am curious how things turn out even if my first impressions are negative, so I'll keep reading. That mostly accounts for the low ratings you see here.

By the way, does anyone else find it harder to give up on e-books than print books? I think it's because if I don't like a print book I can just fob it off on someone else, but with e-books I sort of feel it's my duty to give it a good go, seeing as I paid money for it and it's no use to anyone apart from me.

As always, links lead to my Goodreads review/comment. My bookshelf and Kindle are both literally and figuratively groaning with the weight of books I've yet to read. Hyped for 2019! Maybe more non-fiction?

1. Paul Scraton - Ghosts on the Shore: Travels Along Germany's Baltic Coast (4/5)
2. Maude Veilleux - Prague (3/5)
3. Kate Tempest - The Bricks That Built the Houses (4/5)
4. Han Kang - The Vegetarian (3/5)
5. Kerry Hudson - Thirst (4/5)
6. Guillaume Morissette - The Original Face (3/5)
7. Alex Manley - We Are All Just Animals and Plants (4/5)
8. Simone Lappert - Wurfschatten (3/5)
9. Elif Shafak - Three Daughters of Eve (2/5)
11. Colm Toíbín - Brooklyn (3/5)
12. Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen - The Wife Between Us (1/5)
13. Maggie Nelson - Bluets (4/5)
14. Kelly Quindlen - Her Name in the Sky (4/5)
15. Jhumpa Lahiri - The Lowland (3/5)
16. Jonathan Dimbleby - Russia: A Journey to the Heart of a Land and Its People (3/5)
17. Cason Sharpe - Our Lady of Perpetual Realness and Other Stories (3/5)
18. Vea Kaiser - Makarionissi oder die Insel der Seligen (4/5)
19. A. Light Zachary - The End, By Anna (4/5)
20. Marianne Jungmaier - Sommernomaden (1/5)
21. Elif Batuman - The Idiot (3/5)
22. Patti Smith - Devotion (3/5)
23. Sally Rooney - Conversations with Friends (4/5)
24. Roxanne Bouchard - We Were the Salt of the Sea (2/5)
25. Eley Williams - Attrib. and Other Stories (2/5)
26. A.M. Homes - May We Be Forgiven (4/5)
27. Thomas Harding - The House by the Lake: A Story of Germany (4/5)
28. Rosemary Harris - Summers of the Wild Rose (2/5)
29. Jana Seelig - Minusgefühle: Mein Leben zwischen Hell und Dunkel (4/5)
30. Marian Keyes - The Break (2/5)
31. Ruby Tandoh - Eat Up!: Food, Appetite, and Eating What You Want (4/5)
32. Chloe Caldwell - Women (4/5)
33. Rosie Walsh - The Man Who Didn't Call (2/5)
34. Melissa Broder - The Pisces (4/5)
35. Timothy Snyder - On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (5/5)
36. Mascha Kaléko - Sei klug und halte dich an Wunder (4/5)
37. Rachel Kelly - Black Rainbow: How Words Healed Me — My Journey Through Depression (3/5)
38. Hera Lindsay Bird - Hera Lindsay Bird (3/5)
39. Greg Hickey - The Friar's Lantern (3/5)
40. Julia Jarman - Peace Weavers (3/5) (re-read)
41. Angie Thomas - The Hate U Give (4/5)
42. Ashleigh Young - Can You Tolerate This? (3/5)
43. Geneviève Pettersen - La Déesse des mouches à feu (2/5)
44. Sigal Samuel - The Mystics of Mile End (3/5)
45. Cat Clarke - Girlhood (4/5)
46. Maya Angelou - I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (3/5)
47. Helen Hoang - The Kiss Quotient (3/5)
48. Olivia Laing - Crudo (2/5)
49. Maggy van Eijk - Remember This When You're Sad: A Book for Mad, Sad and Glad Days (From Someone Who's Right There) (3/5)
50. Durga Chew-Bose - Too Much and Not the Mood (4/5)
51. John Darnielle - 33⅓: Black Sabbath's 'Master of Reality' (4/5)
52. Kim Cooper - 33⅓: Neutral Milk Hotel's 'In the Aeroplane Over the Sea' (3/5)
53. Nora Ephron - Heartburn (2/5)
54. Jessica J. Lee - Turning: Lessons from Swimming Berlin's Lakes (3/5)
55. Deniz Utlu - Die Ungehaltenen (2/5)
56. Mark Oliver Everett - Things the Grandchildren Should Know (4/5) (re-read)
57. Ayisha Malik - Sofia Khan is Not Obliged (2/5)
58. Curtis Sittenfeld - American Wife (4/5)
59. Jane Gardam - A Long Way from Verona (3/5)
60. Sarah Stovell - Exquisite (4/5)
61. Malachy Tallack - 60 Degrees North: Around the World in Search of Home (3/5)

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Feeling Rejected

© Rebecca Renner

I write. Occasionally I get published, but most of the time I don't. People who don't write (at least not with the aim of getting published) sometimes ask me how that works. I usually answer that it's a case of being in the right place at the right moment — and that you have to invest a lot of time and effort into something that might not take off, or worse, might get stolen.

The outlets that many people know and read will often have a general submissions page, or a standard editorial@... on the contact page. However, as anyone who's fired off a pitch into one of these voids knows, in order to at least increase the likelihood of being noticed, it's best to get personal. Many editors have their email address listed in their Twitter bio; otherwise, like me, you'll scour masthead pages for hints on who the right contact could be (if nothing else, doing your research usually doesn't go unappreciated).

In certain circles, editorial contacts and rates are passed around like a joint at a house party. I make a note of these, feeling smug in the knowledge that I've done some legwork, and certain that one day I'll have the perfect idea for this editor and be able to make use of this contact. However, as you may have noticed, publishing is an increasingly volatile environment. Editors get laid off, they move around, or that website that seemed perfect for your piece no longer exists — take Rookie and Racked from the past quarter alone!

That's one reason why, as a writer, you are haunted by a feeling of immense pressure. Not only have you probably got have things like imposter syndrome to contend with, but if, like me, you don't always find it easy to find the focus required to advocate for your work, and you struggle to get into the right headspace to even feel like putting yourself out there, you might just feel like giving up.

The other reason is... ugh, yep, comparison to others. You know it's pointless and that it's the biggest thief of energy, time, and motivation, but it's still something you might find yourself indulging in. Quite often, I have to just plain sign out of Twitter (if I then try to go on it, being faced with the login page is usually enough to remind me why). This thread says it all:

This isn't intended as a whinge about how writers have it sooo hard. It's more to express the fact that since I've changed my mindset to embrace rejection, I've kind of made peace with it.

I'm in a Facebook community for women, trans, and gender non-conforming writers around the world (it's a "first rule of [community] is don't talk about [community]" kind of deal). One sub-group of this is for people to talk about rejections, to commiserate over unfair circumstances, to share advice, but most often to celebrate being rejected by editors, by agents, for residencies, and so on. Some members are self-proclaimed "rejects", and to me, this is as healthy as self-deprecation can get.

Yes, of course rejection is disappointing. At my worst, I wonder if I'm ever going to get anything published again. I know I will — I have to! — but that's only going to happen if I keep trying. Rejection shows me I'm doing something right; that I'm putting in the work.

Here's a selection of places I've pitched in 2018, and the types of rejections I've received:

The New York Times (swift rejection, but personal and funny!)
Catapult (detailed and encouraging rejection)
Broadly (detailed rejection)
The Atlantic (standard rejection)
Vox (standard rejection)
The New Inquiry (standard rejection)
New Statesman (no answer)
Cosmopolitan (no answer)
Marie Claire (no answer)

And just in case you can't get enough of rejection, NYT happened to publish yet another person's experience with it yesterday.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

A Tale of Two To-Do Lists

Earlier this week, I was feeling a little rough and did not really have the mental capacity to do anything except scroll back down my Twitter timeline to remind myself of other times when I was sad. Oddly enough, it cheered me up. (Sorry in advance for the #germanpun.)

Adulting is hard, y'all. I may only work part-time at my "day job" (there's such a stigma attached to that term?), and yes, I do also have freelance projects to keep my head above water. But to be honest, I would say most of my time outside the office is spent doing stuff that is boring and/or exhausting, like getting my prescriptions refilled, or clearing something up at the tax office.

Last week, a parcel had been left for me at a tiny stationery shop, which I'd attempted to pick up on Saturday afternoon... only it turned out they were only open in the morning. Yet on weekdays, their hours were 9:30-18:00. For many people — if not the majority — that's just not doable.
I unexpectedly came home from work at lunchtime on Tuesday, so I then had time to go and pick up my goodies that afternoon rather than on my day off. So that was a nice tonic to a murky day.
While not super far away, it was still quite a walk to get to the stationery shop. I was surprised to see that the place was stuffed with cardboard boxes and parcels. How do these things work? Did the shop owner actually volunteer to accept deliveries for ungrateful punters? I'm not convinced it wasn't all a ruse to get unlikely customers to patronise the shop; we may inhabit a digital age, but people still need pens, after all. But then why had no shops closer to my building snapped up this sweet deal?

I look back on when I worked 40-hour weeks on a rigid schedule. How on earth did I organise my health and life admin around work and terrible opening hours? With great difficulty, let me tell you. I was in a near-constant state of panic or paralysis.

Unfortunately, the stressful nature of these things can seep out into moments when you want to switch off, leaving you unable to truly relax. I recently read that unlike, say, a decade ago, we now feel compelled to fill in little moments of idleness with something, anything, and that makes adults overtired like toddlers (gulp — for me, that had sort of been the appeal of Pocket). And then when you suddenly remember you have so many things you'd like to spend your time on when there's no work looming, you feel a sense of dread. You feel like you're wasting your life.

That's why you gotta make an Obligations To-Do List and a Fun To-Do List!

Have a sneak peek at mine (I have redacted a couple of items, obvs):
  • Design tattoo
  • Write letter to friend
  • Watch Wach
  • Make blog more responsive and mobile-efficient
  • Download Spotify onto phone; get subscription 
  • Sell bike
  • Check Microsoft Office licence status
  • Get watch batteries
  • Update scrapbook

Alright, looking at a couple of those, my definition of "fun" might be a bit broad. But in this case, I've basically taken it to mean stuff that's not work and is not a slog. Stuff that isn't always discernibly a pleasure, but is still satisfying. Short-term stuff that, over time, will make tiny improvements to my day-to-day life and help me to fulfil my long-term goals. Isn't that what they call... self-care?

And at any rate: who can deny the ecstasy that is crossing something off a to-do list? (Definitely not Earth signs.)

I'm sure there are numerous apps that could help you out with this, but I actually really prefer using a physical diary to a phone calendar. (When my friends want to schedule me in for a Gcal date, though, I will humour them and click "Yes". Hi, Fiona!)
I use this diary to organise my Obligations To-Do List: work, appointments, reminders. I write stuff in for the specific day I want to get it accomplished on or by, usually prioritising by deadline or urgency. If ever a day — or at least an afternoon — is relatively blank, I try to then use that for one of my Fun To-Do List items.

I write down these "treat tasks" on a magnetic notepad that I got from Paperchase a while ago. As you can see on my list above, it tends to be low-priority life admin that isn't really that scary, creative stuff, or little things I can do when I'm hit by book fatigue (as opposed to forcing myself through a read that I'm not really feeling in that moment).

At the end of the day, these little tasks and fragments are the puzzle pieces that make up our lives. The act of putting something on my Fun To-Do List actually nudges me towards gratitude. It challenges me and gets me excited to do something that is actually relatively banal, which has to be good for my overall health, right?

Personally, in order to be happy, I need to have things going on in my life that aren't just going to work, messing about online, going to bed. Don't get me wrong; sometimes that's exactly what hits the spot! But in the bigger picture, I need to see personal progress. I want to have a full overview of all the tiny bits and bobs that come together to form my existence, whether they are dull, exciting, or somewhere in between. I want to be able to look back and say, "I got that done", without bowing to the modern model of constant, fruitless productivity.