The Pressures of TBR Lists and Reading Goals

Looking at my GoodReads TBR (to be read) list verses my owned TBR, there’s a lot of stress – and pressure – to read through everything. I know one of the biggest reasons my TBR on GoodReads is so long because it’s full of books I see people being hyped about that might not even be my thing, but hey, someone I follow said it’s amazing so I have to read it right? Right?

Wrong.

There are so many releases every week it’s impossible to keep up with everything even though series (and sometimes stand-alones) become so hyped and so popular that the pressure to come aboard the hype train is very real. It doesn’t help when subscription boxes do special edition kits and that FOMO vibe kicks in because exclusive always means worth it.

Also wrong. (But 100% no shade towards some of the amazing exclusive boxes I’ve seen out there.)

Now you’ve probably noticed I’ve been using the word “pressure” a lot already in this little post, and there’s a reason for that. Maybe I’m the only one, or one of a few, but when series become hyped up on social media, it’s hard not to feel like you’re missing out on something. An example of this is Caraval, Throne of Glass, The Raven Boys, The Grisha Series, or even Harry Potter. Some of these I read and loved and was able to join in on the fun online, but others I felt like I was missing something and therefore didn’t feel like a “real” book blogger because I hadn’t read something or had but didn’t like it.

A lot of my TBR has been built up of books that have been hyped either on GoodReads, Instagram, or Twitter, and it’s a similar thing to what I touched on last week about impulsively buying books because they looks pretty on Instagram. It’s much less self-destructive to simply add things to an online list that doesn’t affect my wallet, but it does affect how I see my downtime. Constantly feeling like you should be doing something isn’t always a good thing, and can be really stressful. Seeing my TBR list at 400+, 500+, and recently 600+ makes me feel not only like I should be read at all free moments, but it also makes me feel like I should be reading quickly.

Much like the imaginary pressure to complete double or triple digit reading challenges on GoodReads can be counterproductive (hence why a lot of people have recently only set their challenges to one), having huge TBR lists can start to feel the same.

This year I set my goal to 100, but then dropped it down to 80 recently because it felt like a less stressful number. I will probably drop it again because the size of books I’m reading right now is significantly higher than what I was reading earlier in the year.

It’s okay to read slower and/or read fewer books in a year. It’s okay not to add every single book you see to your TBR lists.

Something I’ve started doing, is going through my GoodReads TBR and deleting first every book that I can’t remember the synopsis to, and then deleting books added years ago (that I don’t currently own) but still haven’t read yet. As of right now my TBR of 608 books has been reduced to 420. I’m also setting a rule for myself that until the book is in my possession or on hold at the library, I’m not adding it to my TBR on GoodReads.

It’s so easy to get sucked into that rabbit hole of adding everything to your lists, but life is too short for books you don’t absolutely want to read. My motto has always been that life is too short for books you also don’t like.

What are some things you do to stay pressure-free while reading? Let me know in the comments!


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The [Instagram] Envy Is Real

Today marks the first time I’ll be doing Tuesday Truths, a weekly blog series that discusses some truths that I have learned as a blogger and instagrammer.

This week I want to discuss Instagram Envy. Specifically, in my case, Bookstagram Envy.

It’s tax season, and my finances are honestly not all that great. I work part time and definitely need to start looking for more work to start actually reducing debts and saving money. But this isn’t about that. This is about how my finances aren’t great and that’s a mixture of impulsiveness caused by mental illness, retail therapy, and constantly oggling all the pretty things I see on Instagram.

The thing with social media is that we are constantly bombarded by new shiny things to throw money at or else it will go away forever. The exclusives, the pre-orders, the bonus, the giveaways. It’s thrown at all any time we look at our screens and it can be hard to fight those shopping urges. It’s all fun and games to do impulse shopping unhauls, and it doesn’t matter if it’s books, or make-up, or clothes. It can really be anything these days. And I know for me it only seems to increase my habits when I see the habits of others.

I said in my March Goals post that I was going on a book buying ban, and I’ve broken that four times over already. And for what? For some pictures on Instagram and even less space in my tiny room already full to the brim with unread books.

It can be hard to keep your real life in line when your online life is thriving with others who may or may not be better off than you. I know that the bookstagrammers I follow are almost all married/engaged with full-time jobs and homes of their own. That’s a situation plenty of us would love to be in (even if you’re not looking to get married), and it’s something that is easily forgotten when you’re walking to the bookstore or even Sephora or online shopping at your fav Etsy stores when you work part time and want nothing more than to move out.

The reality is, trying to emulate those we look up to might only dig us farther down. Myself included. I know I would love to travel, to get more tattoos, to have an apartment and a cat of my very own again. But if I keep buying up every pretty book I see on Instagram, absolutely none of that is going to happen.

So what I am going to do about it? What can you do about it?

First, I’m going to be keeping a list in my phone of all the things I want to do with my life, and how much those things cost. New tattoo? $200-$800. New clothes? $50-$100 depending. Trip to New York? $1000. My own cat? $60-100 plus ongoing expenses. My own apartment? $1100 monthly before utilities.

With this list I’m going to really make myself think about how much longer I’ll need to wait to do all of these things.

Second, I’m going to start limiting my own screen time. Am I repeatedly seeing things that I want and feeling those impulsive urges to buy/order them? Put the phone away for at least 25 minutes. I’ve already cut down my show/movie watching time by cancelling my Netflix account (see more on this next week when I talk about being more focused), so why not try to limit my Instagram time if all it’s doing is causing me to spend money I don’t even have?

And lastly, I’m going to track my spending. Along with books, I am also a compulsive notebook hoarder, and with these dozens of notebooks I’m going to do things the old fashioned way and physically keep track of every penny I spend so I can see where it’s going and try to adjust myself accordingly.

It’s not easy to curb a retail therapy addiction, but there are ways to do it. Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever had to really put a tight leash on your spending and what you did to help!


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Writer’s Block

As any creative person can tell you, having a block in your inspiration is probably one of the worst things ever. But over coming a block and making things work in art or writing is probably one of the best things ever.

Currently I’m working on something of a semi-secret fantasy series with the incredibly talented Laura Lee as my illustrator. Having this collaboration along with being able to use my editor and friend, Mel Paisley, as a sounding board makes getting over writer’s block just that much easier. A lot of the time – with this project and previous projects – I have found talking through the plot holes or pacing issues with someone I can trust and this actually works more times than not when I’m working through issues and actually prevents getting stuck in a rut. It isn’t always instantaneous. Often times I’ll talk through the same problem over the course of several days before I figure out what I want to do; which in itself can also be frustrating as I feel even less productive.

Another thing that helps when I’m stuck in a rut, is just let the words run. I have written many scene I have hated so I can get to the scenes I want to write (I’m sadly incapable of skipping scenes while I’m writing). The joy of drafts is really where this technique comes in handy. I hand write all of my work and then type it up as I go. It helps me rethink what is wrong with my original scene and sometimes I end up just cutting it out all together, adding any important information into other sections of the story. Part of this, also, is just getting the writing done. It’s being productive and forcing you to keep writing instead of abandoning the project part way.

For me, though, the ultimate way to get over writer’s block is scrap the scene entirely and start over. Re-do your outline for the key events that take place and work your way up from there. Sometimes the scene itself isn’t the problem, but how it unfolds into the rest of the story is. This has been what I’ve been finding myself doing more and more lately with my writing as a story very rarely beings as the same story it ends as.

That’s my two cents on the matter. What helps you over come writer’s block? Let me know in the comments!

 

Fun with Ahsoka Tano

Yesterday was a wonderful day here in Toronto. The weather was cool, I spent the day with my best friend, and – better yet – I got to meet one of my favourite Star Wars characters, Ahsoka Tano!!

her-universe-lego-dress.jpgI have adored the Her Universe clothes line from the moment I first heard of it, and during a fashion show livestream I watched from SDCC, I died when I learned that the one making all the sure cool Ahsoka clothing was Ahsoka herself!! Ashley Eckstein is such a bundle of joy and nerdiness I’ve wanted her to come to Toronto for ages now. Any Clones Wars or even Rebels fans know how important Ahsoka is and how strong she is as a character. Her development through five seasons of one show and then her several appearances in the other mean the world to me. So when Ashley posted on Instagram she was coming to the Eaton Centre, I couldn’t say no.

The reason she was coming was to promote her new book, It’s Your Universe: You Have The Power To Make It Happen. Flipping through it in line, the book is part autobiography and part inspirational guide to making your dreams come true. It’s about showing how someone who has been told nothing but “No” or “You can’t do that” can still be a success and achieve dreams others felt impossible. It can be for children or for adults because at the end of the day, we could all use being told to never give up no matter how impossible our dreams my seem.

The signing itself was held in the Eaton Centre’s Hot Topic (a dark place I haven’t set foot in in ages) and felt to take forever, but for once I didn’t mind waiting in line in a store that was a thousand degrees. No, I’m serious. Ashley – and surprise guest E.K. Johnston – were taking their time and talking to every single fan that was there. She was asking people who their favourite character was, why they came to see her, if they liked Rebels or Clone Wars better, and then thanking every single fan for taking time out of their day to come down. Not only that, but E.K. and Ashley were also taking pictures with everyone.

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It was probably one of the best book signing experiences of my life and I am still so happy I got to meet Ashley Eckstein while decked out in Star Wars everything. (She even complimented my Mud Trooper hat from the Smuggler’s Bounty Solo box)

PS. – I had already had the honour of meeting E.K. Johnston when I was at March Toronto Comic Con, but it was so nice to see her again. She’s a lovely person and I always love hearing authors and celebrities geek the hell out over things. I love her.

Slumps

There are different kinds of slumps we can get into in our lives. Physical slumps, emotional slumps, creative slumps. They all suck and they all can be hard to get out of.

What’s important about slumps is not getting stuck despite our tight of a hold they may have on us. The worst thing to hear sometimes is “It’ll get better” because often times, it doesn’t really get better, only easier to deal with. But it is an important mindset to stay in because the second you stop thinking things will look up, you’ll never get back to being your normal self.

Your health is important. Take care of yourself. Your books will still be there. Your notebooks and sketchbooks will still be there. Just keep pushing through and you’ll always be better off than you would be if you just gave up.

Lost in Several Books at Once

A question I’m very often asked by friends is “How many books are you reading now?” and they always roll their eyes when I say three or four. Now I don’t do this often, but every now and again I have as many as seven books on the go. Even currently, I’m reading three different books. So here’s some explanation and follow up for those wondering how people can read so many books at the same time.

Why?

When it comes to reading more than one book at a time, it depends on where I’m at in life. I listen to audiobooks at work, and read physical or digital books while I commute or while I’m at home. Sometimes I start one book and it relates to another book so I’ll read them at the same time. Sometimes it’s to break up my headspace if I’m reading something with heavy content and I need to something light to clear out my thoughts. And sometimes I just feel like it. You ever go to the library and get out a ton of books at the same time and just want to read all of them? Well that’s exactly what I do.

I can also find that reading more than one book at a time helps with reading slumps. You can stick your toes in and see if any of them are what you’re feeling after a certain book or series puts you into a book hangover.

How?

It’s always a question of “How” in the book community. My key is just managing my time the same way I would any other task. I designate certain times or certain days to the books I’m reading. For example: at the moment I’m reading The Devil’s Revolver by V.S. McGrath, BRAVE by Rose McGowan, and Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews.

BRAVE is a fascinating and heartbreaking autobiography from Rose McGowan of the #MeToo movement and the number one voice speaking out against Harvey Weinstein. As a survivor of assault, it’s an incredibly difficult book for me to read, and I have been trying to push my way through this no-hold-bared book for over a month. As something of a “palate cleanser” I’ve started reading Red Sparrow because not only do a love cold-war-esque spies, I’m curious to see if this is truly a wannabe Black Widow story or if it’s more original than that (so far the book seems more original than the movie trailers make it seem to be). Along with that I have NetGalley reviews to write so I’ve got Devil’s Revolver on my Kobo for before-bed reading (Red Sparrow being my commute reading and BRAVE being read in short moments).

By breaking down my day into the books I’m reading, I find it easier to read several books at once and it helps keep my thoughts in line when there’s a schedule. Since I also review everything I read, I keep a little notebook of major plot points as I go along, helping me remember things if my brain is still back in a different book.

So…

So how many books do you read at a time? Do you make sure they’re all different genres or formats? How do you keep things straight?

Tell me in the comments what you’re currently reading!

 

Don’t Discredit Fanfiction

The film adaptation of a third part of a series not to be named has come out, and with that people are once again blasting fanfiction, as it is a series based upon such.

I, personally, despise said nameless series, but am here to defend fanfiction with my honour. So sit back and let’s have a little lesson in writing, shall we?

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Everyone knows fanfiction can be the worst; My Immortal being the best of examples when it comes to how fanfiction can be the worst. It’s several different host sites giving a platform to some of the worst smut you’ve ever seen in your life. Grammar errors, typos, and mis-characterization galore, fanfiction is the home of many people learning how to right.

At one point in my life I had dozens of notebooks full of bad fanfic. I used to write nasty self-inserts for Yu-Gi-Oh, Naruto, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, and – best of all – Harry Potter. I had binders of bad smut I wrote or other people wrote that I just wanted to read over and over again (yes, children, this was a time before I could just read fanfic on my iPod Touch or my phone). Before I moved to Toronto, I found several of these cringe worthy notebooks and I laughed as I read over the pages of smudged pencil. They were all so bad!

But you know what?

Everyone starts somewhere.

Artists always talk about the need for practice and how practice is the only true key to improvement. Well, the same goes for writing. Whether you write fanfiction or not, I can just about guarantee that at some point in your life, you’ve written some garbage stories.

I found my voice through fanfiction and a ton of my friends who help edit my work and let me edit theirs are from Archive Of Our Own (aka. AO3). I still get the random email or two from FanFiction.Net about people liking the shitty anime fanfiction I wrote back in 7th grade. I’ve been writing for years and I am not ashamed to say that the majority of it is fanfiction.

But honestly, so much of the media is fanfiction anyway. A TV show adaptation you like has gone off book? Fanfiction. A movie differs from the source material? Fanfiction. Literally any Sherlock Holmes or James Bond stories published or filmed after the authors’ retirement/deaths? Fanfiction.

With so many young writers starting their writing in fanfic, we need to stop saying that it’s terrible. It’s a practice ground. It’s a challenge of learning out to think how characters act and get it right. It’s a fight to write something new that people want to read. And it helps us become better writers the more we do it.

So don’t rip on people who have fun writing what they want. It’s not all as bad as My Immortal (which is basically the War & Peace of fanfiction in terms of how classic it is).

 

 

 

Making the Day Job Work

The toughest part about being an introverted creative type is the need to have a “day job” to support myself when I would much rather be writing.

giphyIt’s hard to come to terms with and I’m sure there are others who can agree that it is not at all fun. But the truth is, it’s hard to make money off of creativity and we often need to bite the bullet and deal with working a position that holds us back. Working 9 – 5 (or 8 – 4 like myself) can make for a really long day and if you’re staring at the computer all day, it can be hard to be creative and write or draw or edit photos on the computer once you make it home. It’s draining and disappointing.

Yes, I have been able to read a lot over the last few weeks, but I find myself drowning in books because I’m so mentally exhausted, I can’t focus on writing my own. Trying to find a job that is less taxing is also a challenge in itself because it, too, requires logging more long hours on a computer searching and applying over and over again until you’re truly lost track of how many times you’ve done it. It can get to feeling hopeless and frustrating to the point where not only are you mentally exhausted, but you’re emotionally exhausted too. And all of this doesn’t even begin to account for energy lost if you’re also mentally ill and therefore possibly struggling against yet another force (hurray for depressive episodes, right guys?).

I guess the trick is to just keep trying and just keep moving forward. We don’t all have the luxury of leaving a position because we feel like it or because it’s not a good fit. Some of us have to make it work to pay rent and bills and buy groceries. Some of us don’t have a choice but to keep pushing forward and keep trying to find something that suits us better.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t give up?

Yes I would rather be at home working on writing that I might get paid for. Or reading books to complete reviews for the author’s who I know appreciate them. But neither of those things will pay my phone bill so here I am pushing through and doing my best until the day comes where I am able to write for a living.

My goal for myself is to at least write a hundred words a night. That’s it. Because if I can keep writing, maybe I can break through the mind-numbing exhaustion a person such as myself deals with when I am not able to be creative in my work environment.

Fingers crossed.

How RuPaul’s Drag Race Helped Me Learn To Love Myself

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The first time I heard of a drag queen, I was maybe seven or eight years old. My mother had shown me and my younger brother the film Priscilla: Queen of the Desert and we were instantly obsessed with the final dance number in the film. I can remember loving everything about the makeup and the costumes, and never once questioning why these men were in dresses, lip syncing away to Abba and CeCe Peniston. Fast forward a few years later when I was in high school. My friends and I were anime fans, constantly cosplaying at conventions or at each other’s houses and often dressing as the opposite gender for the sake of being the characters we loved. Once again, I never questioned dressing or presenting as a boy when it came to cosplay. It was just what I did. What we did.

But then a cosplayer I highly admired (and still do) did something I had never heard of. He came out as trans, explaining that he had never truly felt comfortable as a woman and was going to begin his transition. That was the first time I felt anxious about who I was in regard to gender. I had never really thought about my casual flip-flopping between masculine and feminine presentation but knowing that being transgender was actually something people could do, put my whole concept of “crossplaying” into a different kind of perspective.

Keeping these feelings to myself was a lot to deal with, but after a while I stopped thinking about it. That is, until college when the anxiety flared again as I came to know more and more people who identified outside of the binary. The term genderfluid came into my life at that point, and much of the anxiety was lifted. It was okay to be somewhere in between cisgender and transgender that was still valid! I started to become more open about my own existence outside of the gender norm and was comfortable with that.

But what does any of this have to do with RuPaul’s Drag Race?

Lately, using they/them pronouns hits my ear wrong when it’s in regard to myself. She/her pronouns make my skin crawl as well, but explaining they/them to those who aren’t familiar (or even open) to their usage when it comes to a singular person gets exhausting. It’s hard to feel like a valid person when you don’t know how to completely come out of the closet and be yourself.

Anyone who watches Drag Race is very familiar with Ru’s end-of-episode mantra, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”. To this 23-year-old, gender-confused, bisexual who is riddled with anxiety disorders, that mantra means everything.

I was introduced to Drag Race during a particularly rough time in my life, as I was tumblr_nrgozqmrj31togmudo8_250told it might help cheer me up. As a fan of Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Paris is Burning, I thought I would give it a go. I was already familiar with some of Katya’s work, so I began with season 7. The queens were often catty and vicious with each other, but they also surprised me with their compassion for each other as they listened to the struggles their new drag sisters had gone through, bonding over homophobic encounters, mental illness, eating disorders, substance abuse, and even gender identities. It was these moments that got to me the more I watched, and after devouring the season, I binged watched all the other seasons as well, learning more and more about each of the queens and feeling more and more validated when it came to my anxieties in regard to my own issues with gender and sexuality.

cp9wjef12i5zIn the most recent season (Season 9), I found myself being drawn towards Peppermint and Sasha Velour the most. Peppermint was very open about being a transwoman, and Sasha never shied away from her thoughts on how “gender is a construct, tear it apart.” (as stated in the song C.L.A.T.). Thinking more and more about where my gender sat on the spectrum, I found my anxieties growing as well. It can be a very difficult thing to struggle with, especially when you don’t feel you have anyone to talk it through with. Explaining my genderfluidity was hard enough to do with friends, but to throw in the possibility of being trans on top of that? Not a chance. But I watched these queens strut their stuff week after week, and seeing their confidence helped give me confidence. They showed me that I don’t have to tell anyone right away, that I can take the time and think things through.

Every time I find myself anxious or panicky about my gender, I think of RuPaul and the RuGirls. I think of drag. Every time being femme makes me uncomfortable – at home or at work, where I’m still mostly closeted – I think of it as drag. Every time I feel like I want to be femme, but that it contradicts my wanting to be male, I think of drag. It validates my feelings and reminds me that gender is little more than a social construct (and before anyone brings genitals into the mix, sex and gender are different things).

RuPaul has built an empire based on drag, and empire that flips the bird at gender constructs and spreads positivity to a community that is constantly getting put down based on who they love. Queens like Katya, Alaska, Jinkx, Peppermint, and Sasha represent – to me – positive icons who rock who they are and don’t let the crap people can say get to them. I find myself looking to them to remind me to be confident, to not listen to negativity, to not give in to my insecurities. Without them or the other RuGirls or even Mama Ru herself, I wouldn’t be able to confidently voice my thoughts and feelings on the matter.

At this point in my life, I still experience anxiety when it comes to telling people about my pronouns or answering questions people have about gender identity, but I’m working on it and my confidence. Am I ready to transition? Not just yet, but maybe one day, when I’ve had more time to find myself.

My name is Rachel, my friends call me Rae, my readers call me RJ. One day, I might go by something else, but I have time to figure that out. One day I’ll be more confident about being a boy (despite all these lady parts). And I’ve realized all of this because of Drag Race.

So to anyone struggling with the same anxieties, the same insecurities, the same fears: you aren’t alone and you never will be. There will always be people who are there to listen, to help, and to support you throughout your life. Yes, there are people who won’t understand, and that is a scary thing to think about, but you deserve the lives you want to live with the people who support your decisions.

And most important of all:

If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?

Can I get an amen up in here?

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Against the Never Ending TBR Pile

There are hundreds of books published throughout the year. Thousands even. It’s a lot to take in when you aren’t an avid reader, and intimidating to those who are when it comes to staying on top of everything. But what’s important to remember is: You don’t have to read everything.

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When it comes to how to pick and chose what goes on your TBR (to be read) pile, only you can chose what you want or don’t want to read. There are many reviews that begin with “YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK NOW!” but if it isn’t your taste? Just don’t. There’s no point in feeling guilty over not reading the most popular book of the month or even of the year. Sometimes there are even books on your TBR pile that may go forever unread. Whether that’s because you just don’t get around to it, or you aren’t sure how you feel about it depending on reviews.

Honestly, when it comes to books, I think of them in the same way I think about movies. My to-watch list is endless and I’ll be lucky to get to half of the films and television shows on that list, but it’s also constantly changing. Some of my favourite movies have terrible reviews, and some movies with great reviews turned out to be terrible in my opinion. Just because someone is ranting and raving about a book doesn’t mean everyone will love it. And that’s okay!

This whole thing doubles back to what I was saying about reading bad books. Not every book is for everyone and I try to keep that in mind as my edit my lists. Life is too short to be worried about getting through every single book you’ve ever come across. Just read what makes you happy. Everyone has “those books” that they only want to read because everyone else has or because it’s been deemed a classic (I myself am determined to one day read the works of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy’s War & Peace) but it is so important to remember that just because you haven’t read something specific, it doesn’t mean you are a lesser reader.

So what’s my point?

Read what you can. Don’t stress about numbers or Goodreads challenge goals. Be realistic with yourself and read what makes you enjoy reading. Who cares how big or small your TBR pile is? No one. It’s not a list of things you have to do no matter what. It’s a list of things you might possibly want to do one day.

And that’s okay.