craft · Uncategorized

Annual reading challenges – why I won’t be setting targets for 2019.

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A reflection on annual reading challenges

Last December, book-bloggers everywhere set their annual challenges. The GoodReads counter felt obligatory. Beyond that, there were challenges based on Diversity, challenges for fantasy book lovers and challenges for people who wanted to broaden their literary horizons., challenges everywhere. Like every other book blogger, I set my targets and made a page, copying out my bingo-list of books to read in 2018.

Six weeks into the New Year and that page was forgotten.

If you like and enjoy challenges, please understand I think there is space for them. This is not a page to knock book challenges. It is a personal reflection and a post to explore the reason I won’t be signing up for reading challenges in 2019.

What are reading challenges anyway? 

 

I set three challenges last year – to read 100 books, to read eight or more books by an Australian YA author and the Modern Mrs Darcy Challenge. I gave some more consideration than others – the Australian YA came from my enjoyment of Begin, End, Begin, an anthology which showcased the brilliant work of Australian YA authors. One hundred books, now that was arbitrary. It was the figure-I-would-reach-but-not-too-quickly. The Modern Mrs Darcy just ticked a broad range of literary styles. I certainly wanted to include poetry, essays, work in translation etc in my reading diet, although on reflection they were also targets I was going to hit without serious consideration.

This isn’t a space to reflect on my success or failure – this is a space to question whether we should hold ourselves accountable to goals we set at the start of the year.

Every bookworm knows that feeling. The one we get when we walk into a bookshop or a library. I know it – I see a room full of bookshelves and change from woman to book-sniffer. My hunting instincts kick in. With no conscious decision, my walk slows, my eyes become alert and I prowl the shelves. Titles are sized-up and discarded. Covers are scanned, pages read until … something clicks. Certainly, there are times when I go in search of a specific book but on those occasions when I am browsing, I know the right book by instinct.

Subconscious plays an important role in reading. When I say I’ve found the right book, when I say it feels right, I mean I subconsciously know the sort of book I’m looking to read next. This is one of the most magical parts of being a bookworm and I don’t want to ignore it for the sake of a list.

Notice how many ghost stories are published in the autumn? How many light YA romances in the summer? Our reading tastes are shaped by our day-to-day experience and publishers know it. Come the autumn, come the need to cuddle up under a blanket and read by torchlight into the small hours. That’s not to say everyone reads seasonally or we only read ghost stories in the autumn, but seasonal conditions are one of the things which affect our choices without us giving the matter any thought. Likewise a popular documentary or film could put us in the mood for a certain type of story. Hands-up who read lots of fairytale spin-offs when Beauty and The Beast was released?

We absorb the world around us and go in search of more. This is magical and special, like a current flowing through our minds, and I want to ride it.

That’s not to say I won’t be reflective or go in search of particular things. I would certainly like to read more books which represent minorities – books which represent BAME characters, LGBTQA characters, characters from different socio-economic backgrounds and characters with a long-term health condition or disability. Less than one percent of all books published in 2017 featured a BAME main-character, but those which are out there? They are windows into life-experiences and I will pick those books up. I will pick them up because I want every story told and every life represented on the bookshelves, not to tick off a box on an annual challenge.  

What about the social side of challenges? There’s nothing better than talking to other bookish people about specific bookish topics. Maybe I picked the wrong selection of challenges, or maybe I should have kept track of my challenges on social media. Certainly, I didn’t have any additional interaction beyond the comments when I initially wrote the page. I would love more interaction in 2019 and want to talk to all kinds of people – book bloggers, lifestyle bloggers, people who have never written in their lives. I want to take part in chats and receive recommendations. I’m just not certain annual challenges bring that.

With events, readathons and tags throughout the year, there will be opportunities to engage with the blogging community and try out something new. As the New Year approaches I may write a post looking to the year ahead and my commitment to read a wide range of voices. After that I’ll see where 2019 takes me and I will be here to blog about it. 

 

Are you setting challenges this year? How did you find the experience in 2018? Let me know in the comments below. 

 

 

Chat · Lifestyle

What’s affecting your productivity?

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I saw this idea over at The Everygirl and wanted to write my own thoughts about productivity. Which habits make us less productive? Let me stress – this is not a lecture. The most difficult thing about Social Media is seeing other people’s apparently impossible standards. Comparing yourself to a curated image will never make you feel better.  This post is designed for people who would like to get more out of their creative sessions but who don’t know how to turn their procrastination into work time.

Lots of posts exist about procrastination. Most of them will tell you that horrible truth. The golden rule: only you can put that work in. Some advice posts leave you there. You’ve had the lecture, you know the score and the rest is up to you. OK … but I think we all encounter these difficulties and we learn along the way. One person’s solution will be different from another. The key is to identify which behaviour is currently detrimental to your work ethic. 

Which habits stop you from getting the most out of your work time? Here is my list of ideas: birdPetty distractions:

  • Set a time or a work-goal for tea breaks and stick to it. If this is a regular time it will become habit, and you will find it easier to stick to.
  • Limit what you eat and drink during working time. Which foods distract you? Is it choosing a sugary snack or munching your way through the nut selection? Cut it from your working time or limit it to one portion a day. I will eat chocolate to procrastinate, but only eat healthy stuff if I am hungry.
  • Set social media times. Keep your phone out of reach and work with the internet off if you possibly can.
  • Get real – is it a job or another distraction? It is easy to convince yourself you need to type that email, respond to that comment and do your online shopping but if you are serious about your goals you need to give them time.
  • Don’t panic if you get distracted! Don’t berate yourself. Again, please let me stress these are not rules. Nobody can be perfect all the time. The worst thing you could do is go back to work in a negative frame of mind.

 

Vague goals and unrealistic objectives:

My rule of thumb: if I am flicking on to social media on a regular basis, my writing goal is probably too vague. Every writer – published and unpublished, fiction writer, blogger or journalist – learns that there is only one way to fill the blank screen. That doesn’t mean you should sit staring aimlessly at it for hours. If you aren’t typing, ask yourself why. Is it because you need a clearer plan for the next paragraphs? Because you haven’t made enough notes? If so take it back to the drawing board.

Make your plans realistic within the time available. The desperation to be better and achieve more has killed many creatives before they have started. If you have an hour you will not be producing half a novel. Or a beautiful new blog. You might write a draft a decent blog post or write 1000 words. Know from experience how much you are likely to achieve.

 

Not taking time for yourself:

We have six books to review. We want that novel drafted. We want to improve our photography or our web-design skills. We need to respond to our social media. Sometimes this thing called real life gets in the way too. Guys … there will never be enough time in the day, but if you work work work you will burn out.

  • Set a finish time. Excepting Fridays, my internet is supposed to go off at 8pm. I need some hours in the day where I am not in contact with the giant web of information.
  • Allow you-time. Blogging and writing are hobbies, but if you aspire to turn them into a career, odds are you’re working hard at them. Make sure you factor in down-time.
  • You-time is not for planning. I’ve spoken to lots of bloggers who are like me. INFJ-types. Over-thinkers. You have to allow yourself head space. If you find this difficult try some meditation techniques or ‘active rest’ (engage your brain in something repetitive like cross-stitch or Sudoku.)
  • Get enough sleep. I can’t stress this enough. You need sleep to function. You need sleep to think. Sleep is not a luxury, it is a necessity.

 

Which are your worst habits? How do you overcome them? Let me know in the comments below.

 

top ten tuesday

TTT – Bookish Resolutions

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It’s a quick one today because I’ve written resolutions, anti-resolutions, goals and reflections, but I love to join in with Top Ten Tuesday. It is one of the best-loved memes of the bookish community and I meet so many different bloggers by taking part. I have reflected on the past year, and written a couple of goals for 2018. It is by no means ten, but these were my top thoughts. Do share your links and tell me how your reading changed across the past year. 

2017

Start a blog – BookMurmuration was born in February 2017 (it moved to WordPress in May). Writing about books taught me to read in more depth, and it gave me a network of bookish people to talk to about my reading. 

 

Read different genres – the genre which widened my perceptions was contemporary YA. Before I stared blogging, I thought it would only be relevant to teenagers. I thought it would be about love-triangles and giggly girls and lipstick. How wrong I was. Everybody was reading Wing Jones. I picked it up in a ‘3 for 2’ and read with my mouth open. I have learned more about writing by reading across a huge range of genres. bird2018

Picture Books – At long last, YA readers are discovering Middle Grade thanks to some brilliant promotion and community events on Twitter. There still seems to be an assumption that picture books are only read by children, and adults who pick them on behalf of children. Picture books are one of the greatest pleasures on this planet. They are quick-reads with hidden depth, and some outstanding artists work in this format. Lets see picture books loved by a wider audience! 

 

Literary Fiction – As a teenager, my staple diet was literary fiction. I rediscovered children’s literature when I sorted books in a charity shop aged 19/20, and it became my passion during the children’s literature module of my degree. I love literary fiction too, and the depth of understanding I have has increased ten-fold between my degree and blogging experience. It would be lovely to feature some on my blog, and I very much enjoyed The Devil’s Highway, which I read over Christmas. Check back for my review on Thursday. 

 

Get to more events – Introverts find it difficult to come out of their book pages, but I gained so much last year from an Arvon course, and a couple of events hosted by Seven Stories. I’ve already booked for the Northern YA Fest at Lancaster Uni, and a talk with Brian Connaghan and Sarah Crossan hosted by Seven Stories. Both of these events are *free* – if you’re in travelling distance, make sure you don’t miss out!

 

 

 

Chat

Anti-Resolutions

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This is not another post knocking resolutions. I have made my blogging goals. Whether or not you make them ahead of the new year, setting goals can help us move towards our ambitions. However, I did start a series of anti-resolutions about my blog. It was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek. Should I keep my GoodReads up to date, or is life too short? Do I really want to sit through every Twitter chat? Do you know what? By thinking about what I didn’t want, I started to get a clearer picture of what was important to me. bird

  • Goodreads: I do not want to spend hours copying and pasting into GoodReads

Actually, I remain unresolved on this one. What I don’t want to do is copy and paste every review into every site for hours on end. People who go to GoodReads look for short, snappy round-ups of books and a couple of reasons to read them. I might review a smaller number of books separately on GoodReads, or resume the copy and paste with a small number reviewed separately. The New Year might be a good point to log back on – I can let myself off the catch-up session which is putting me off, and start afresh with 2018 releases.

 

  • Twitter chats: I do not want to go to every Twitter Chat

Humbug? Not necessarily. There is a Twitter Chat on almost every night of the week, between blogging communities, writing communities and the bookish network (yes there is overlap between these!). As a new blogger, and one who was a hermit in a previous life, I thought you ‘did’ these or ‘didn’t’. Maybe new bloggers are just overenthusiastic. The result was I went to chat after chat, until I had nothing left to say. I joined in on nights when I was exhausted, nights when I wasn’t mad-keen on the book in discussion and nights when the topic wasn’t relevant to me. (This was a writing chat. I learned SO MUCH from these chats, and spoke to so many great people, but I joined in a couple of chats about issues so far past the publication point they were just not something an unpublished writer could talk about.) My point? I want to share the best of myself, look after my mental health and enjoy time offline too.

 

  • Social Media: I won’t make every comment sparkle

Sorry. Sometimes all I can say is ‘that looks amazing’. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? There are two or three bloggers who I admire very much. They have great blogs, and whenever I say this about a new release, they share information about the book. You know what? With more information and another enthusiastic reader to talk to, I often find more to say. 

 

  • I won’t write 7 pieces a week

Two reviews, Top Ten Tuesday, Waiting On Wednesday and a Chat. What if I have three things to say? Or could share one short anecdote? I don’t have a formula yet, but this year I would like to work on original content. I want to learn from bloggers in different spheres, and most of all I would like to hear from my readers. What do you like to read most? 

 

2018 will be the year I move away from having a blog to running one. 2018 will be the year I work on original content. 2018 will be the year where I socialise to move my blog into new networks. That doesn’t mean there won’t be books, book talk or time for the wonderful bookish chat I enjoyed through 2017. Far from it. The point is I have dipped my toes into the blogging waters. Now it is time to take the plunge. Happy New Year to you all, and remember – resolutions are elastic. They are made, stretched, and restretched when your efforts do not bring the desired results. 

 

Have you made any resolutions? What do you think about starting in reverse? Let me know in the comments below.