January 2020: A Month In Review
After my long, really personal set of blog posts at the start of the month where I did a lot of reflecting and outlined my new approaches to the blog, and life in general, I thought I'd follow it up with this post (links at the end). Today, I'm going to check in with my blogging goals, talk about the new ideas I've been working on for new content, and discuss my new posts! I used to write posts similar to this where I discussed my posts from the last month and then went into the posts to expect for the next month. I used to be a lot more organized back then. In this version, it's going to be a lot more personally focused (I was surprised to find that you liked these kinds of posts when I did the survey) and about specific goals I'm working towards and that I'm achieving.
First off, what did I read in January? I wasn't sure how reading this month would go because I've been in such a slump lately, but, luckily, I started off the month by reading a book I really enjoyed called Serving the Servant. I'm going to make all the titles clickable so you can go to any reviews you missed easily. That jumpstarted a month where I read four books which comes out to a book a week if you want to average. Realistically, there were books like Reckless Daughter, which I'm reviewing next month, that took over ten days of consistent reading while One of Us Is Next was finished in two days. Of the four, I had two that I absolutely loved and two that I was so-so on. I'd made a promise to myself that I'd DNF any book I wasn't completely enjoying, but I found my problem was that I genuinely was liking those two books until the last 200 or so pages when things started to drag. If I've learned anything as a writer from my experience blogging it's to question if every single moment is necessary. And that doesn't mean you can't have fun and have scenes that are just fun, but pacing and keeping the word count to only where it needs to be is critical.
One thing I was proud of about the books I did finish was that I managed a genre split that I like. Preferably, because I know that there's a portion of you that prefer YA content, I'd like to keep it even between the nonfiction I read and the YA. I feel better about the books I'm choosing to read because they more honestly represent my interests now, and I'm so happy to not feel pressured to have to pick up any new YA just because it's new and talked about (even though I did end up reading the most hyped book of the month). Last year I put a huge focus on reading mostly new books, this year I'm just picking up whatever catches my eye. Also, as my taste for YA has narrowed, I want to make sure I'm only picking up those that feel current and exciting. It's the only fair way for me to share my opinion anymore.
When I glanced back at my spreadsheet and saw that I read 17 books last January, I was a little demoralized and slightly less proud that I'd managed to finish one a week, but I think that's just life. Sometimes, you just have a capacity to do and consume more and sometimes that capacity is less. There's nothing wrong either way. That being said, it does make me worry I won't hit 100 books this year. I have a feeling that a lot of these monthly wrap ups will include learning to be okay with that.
One reason I might have slowed down on the reading from last year is because I'm writing a lot more, and, like many authors, I tend to read less when I'm actively writing. I've been putting a lot of time both into drafting and to learning more about craft. I've also started experimenting with form again. I'm a good way through the book I've been working on since August (has it really been that long???) and I've been learning a lot about how every writing experience is different with every book. Of the five (I think) I'm working on or finished, I've drafted and edited them in wildly different amounts of time with different approaches. I've started to realize that I can't set strict expectations for how the process will play out with each project, which sounds stupid but is just what happens. Writing sessions aren't things that I personally can write on the list of things I have to do and check it off at the appropriate time like a workout. I'm the kind of person who just randomly opens the document while I'm standing in the kitchen, writes 5,000 words out of nowhere and then won't touch it for days. But I think that comes from something that a lot of people who don't write don't understand. So much of writing is thinking, sitting, wondering, doing chores and playing out scenarios in your head until you can put words to it. I can force myself to write, but it never comes out exactly how it is in my head because it's not formed yet. I even see it with these blog posts. Even with reviews, if I haven't had enough time to think it over and sorta outline it in my head, I'll write the whole post and delete it over and over again till I've given it enough time to come out right. Maybe I'm a perfectionist to a fault, but it's my process, and, if there's anything I want to learn this year, in all aspects of my life, it's to learn to honor my process and remember that it doesn't have to look like anyone else's. By finally recognizing that fully in the last few weeks, I've been far more productive than in the last few months where I spent a ridiculous about of time beating myself up for not writing.
That's what I've taken from the drafting process, but I've also been actively studying writing- something I haven't done in a while. Before I started writing novels, I did so much research about other people process, how many words different parts needed to be, how to write the perfect outline. I got in my way until I realized the best way to learn was to do what I'd been doing for years, reading and reading critically. While I think it's good to stay up to date and gain new opinions and views on craft, I haven't really read anything dedicated to it in a while. I'd found a formula that worked well enough for me, I focused on growing in that instead of trying to collect the pieces to start one in the first place.
But then I realized that maybe I didn't just want to write prose anymore. I've had a lot of phases with writing. I started with short stories, fell for flash fiction, dabbled in poetry, and then got to books. I love books and will probably always write them even if no one wants to read them, but, for some reason, I got it in my head that I wanted to write a song. I went through a phase of telling myself I couldn't possibly do that, then I started reading about it online and reading my favorite songs more closely, and then I bought a book. Over the last few years, I've learned to run through phases of my own deep self doubt a little faster to get where I needed to go. I've also gotten far better at accepting what I'm going to create on my first try isn't going to be good. Once I got the basics, I just started writing on a legal pad that I told myself I could throw away if something went horribly. I struggled with it. I wrote bad lines and cheesy lines and stuff that didn't make a ton of sense. My experience with poetry and my obsession with songs certainly helped, but I think giving myself room to breath was key. The first maybe 20 I wrote, I didn't even tell anyone what I was doing. I'd absorbed enough general writing advice and words of wisdom from real songwriters from my favorite podcast And the Writer Is to know I just needed to get them out even if I felt like I was running through inky darkness. I also did buy two sorta craft books which even surprised me after plenty of meticulous research. The first was Writing Better Lyrics by Pat Pattison which I've been slowly plodding through, skimming and doing maybe half the exercises. I wouldn't really be me if I fully listened to the instructions. I also got Songwriters on Songwriting because I wanted to read about not only the technical craft but also all the different ways some of the greatest writers do it. If nothing else than to prove there's no wrong way. I aim to read one of those a week. They've been really helpful, but I think the best thing is that I didn't let myself claim that I had to know everything before I started. I could learn and practice simultaneously.
Mid-month, I let myself graduate to an actual notebook with a cute cover. I let go of the fear of "wasting" it, and it felt really good. I was legitimizing my work in a way by letting it live in something not quite so disposable. Honestly, I think I needed to use both approaches- the disposable and the pretty, exciting real book. I've used it to combine ideas and exercises from the teaching book and random bits and pieces of verses or choruses so when I feel like it, I can sit down and piece it all together. There's a fine line between getting too serious about learning something and not giving yourself enough credit. I've been having a problem navigating that. I'm still learning. I still send my friend the new things I come up with prefaced by "this might suck but...". I think a lot of writers do that. It takes a little shame away if it is bad, it's like a safety net, but we don't give ourselves enough credit. If I really thought that, I would work on them until I thought they weren't and then I'd send it. I've seen a lot of writers on twitter talking about it lately, and it's made me realize I should make a concerted effort to not be that way. But it is scary. I've been writing prose long enough, I can judge what people are going to think of it decently well. With this, I feel out of my depth. But I've managed to keep with it enough that have have four or five poem/song/lyric/Frankenstein things that I'm legitimately proud of. They're new and different and risks. At the moment, they're also just for me. I can tell that I am truly improving with every one I write, and that's exiciting. So that's my win for the month on the writing front.
Another exciting thing that happened this month was my crossover blog post-podcast episode that I did with Serving the Servant. I don't think they'll happen too often, but it was so fun to get to produce. I also thought it was a great way to help introduce new people to The Empathy Factor who might be curious! It was so much fun to write a book and then have a true discussion about its subjects. Also, since the poll, I've started promoting the podcast on Twitter (@readwriteandme) so it'll be easier to find. If you're curious, I've put out quite a few episodes this month including Ep. 21 "Wrong Direction" and "Changes" Song Analysis, Ep. 22 Looking Back at Selena Gomez, Halsey, and Louis Tomlinson, Ep. 23 Rare Album Review, "you should be sad", and "The Story", Ep. 24 Manic Album Discussion, Ep. 25 "Walls", "What a Man Gotta Do", and "Tattoos Together" Song Analysis, and Ep. 26 Book Club- "Serving the Servant". Those links go straight to the website so you can find the platform that works best for you to listen including Spotify and Apple Podcasts. I enjoy making the podcast so much, and I hope you have fun listening to it, so I'm super excited to be combining the two platforms more. If you really enjoyed the crossover episode, let me know in the comments so I know to do more.
One piece I do want to check on regularly are the goals I set for myself in my 2020 Blogging Goals post. I believe in that I set the posting schedule expectation to 1-2 a week because I realized I'd much rather set up a schedule I could actually deliver on and not feel guilty about. I also decided I'd stop positing on certain days. Trying that out for the month, I think I've continued refining that expectation. I've managed to deliver two posts a week or close to it in the last few weeks which I'm thrilled with. Two feels like a good number. It allows me to give you multiple posts a week while still having the time and energy to work ahead on posts and create more ambitious posts. I've also realized, though, that I need to have some amount of a schedule, at least running in my head. I'm not writing out each post on a calendar like I used to, but I trying to nicely space it so that you don't get posts two days in a row and then nothing forever. That's sorta turned into a Monday-Thursday or Friday type schedule. I'm not sure if it'll stick, but if you want to know when about to expect posts, I'd say that's what it'll probably be. The schedule, I've realized, is also more important as I look to make more ambitious posts. I want to stretch what I can do with my writing and what I can do with this platform both form and topic wise, and sometimes that takes a little time to get it to come together. I want to do more things like the podcast episode and deeper discussions. If you have suggestions, things you'd like to see me talk about, or books you want me to read, don't be afraid to message me on social media or email me. That also goes for bloggers and authors. If you'd like to do a collaboration post or something like that, please send me an email. I'd love to work with more people. My email for the blog is firstname.lastname@example.org, and that goes for collaborations on podcast episodes too!
For the podcast, I've been adding in mini episodes on Tuesday or Wednesday more frequently over the past month in edition to the Friday main episodes. It's been fun to get to cover more topics. Going forward, I'd like to make them as much of a regular thing as possible.
The other points I made in that post included committing more to bookstagram and the idea of a possible YouTube channel. As far as Instagram goes, I've tried to make a more concerted effort to post on stories because that was popular in the survey I did. They're fun to make, but I'm bad at remembering to do it. I'm just not a huge fan of Instagram as a platform in general even though I love taking photos. Through February, though, I want to try to be more interactive on there, though I make more promises. Twitter is where I feel much more at home on the Internet. If you do want to give it a follow though, you can find it at @readingwritingandme.
As for YouTube, I'm so genuinely excited by the idea of rolling out a channel! I've been doing a lot of research and planning over the last month to learn more about it and define what my mission with that really is since I don't technically need yet another platform. Honestly, it's something I've wanted to get into for the last three years maybe, so I think it will happen. I just want to give it the time to become exactly what I want it to be. That also means there's a lot of skills and tools I need to learn more about which is intimidating enough on its own. Right now, I'm going to say I should have firm details by April and maybe a launch in May? I really don't know a ton about how it's going to unfold logistically at the moment, but I've been reading a lot about writing down and sharing things you want to manifest them, so I'm giving it a try. Also, I'm now publicly accountable to at least keep you updated on it. Before I wrap this part up, I do want to say that I was super touched by how many of you showed an interest in watching videos I might create, and that was so encouraging. I love YouTube, so I want to make sure I've taken the time to make the most thoughtful, positive contribution I can.
Okay, I know this post is super long already, but I want to end all these Month In Review posts by checking in with my TBR, my book-buying ban goals, and any other things I want to accomplish this month. Ever since my shelf clean out post at the start of January, I've been making a serious effort to not come into anymore books. I did get a couple, though, at the start of January before the post came out, so I guess they make up my TBR now. I bought myself Dreaming the Beatles by my favorite music journalist, Rob Sheffield, and Outliers by Malcom Gladwell, and I'm not allowed to buy any more books till I finish those! I definitely want to get to them in February. Then Wednesday books sent me a copy fo Jane Anonymous which I'm planning to check out soon. I did make an effort to go to the library and get some books through there including Reckless Daughter and then the two I need to finish- The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell and How Music Works by David Byrne. I also have two holds that might come in in the next few weeks- Switched on Pop which is a new book from the podcast of the same name and Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs. If you follow the Instagram, you'll be the first to get updates and glimpses into what I'm reading at the moment and what I'll be reviewing soon. Overall, though, I've been proud of how much I've been able to utilize borrowing books and the library to read every the books I finished this month.
Thanks for sticking with me through today's post, I know it's long, but there was a lot of exciting stuff I wanted to share. I hope you were able to get something out of it! In case you missed a post, I'm going to link everything from this month below so you can easily check them out. Don't hesitate to email in or comment about what you'd like to see more of in the coming months.