The Curse of My TBR List

TBR (To Be Read) lists are bad for me. I keep adding titles to them faster than I can read the books, and the list becomes a convenient excuse. I may want to read something but other priorities intervene, so I simply add it to my list of books to read ‘one day’.  I tell myself it’s okay if the list grows; it’s an indication of my good intentions.

Last fall I posted “Reading instead of – or in addition to – writing” and admitted that, “although I read every moment I can, the pile waiting on my TBR shelf is constantly growing instead of diminishing. There’s never enough time to read everything I’d like to, but I keep trying.”

In another post three years before that I had moaned about the same problem and included a link to Jessica Morrell’s column, “Reading and the Writing Life” in which she said, “Reading is part of your job; in fact, it’s a huge part of your job.” I even offered four time management strategies that might help us cope with the time dilemma, focusing on Organization, Prioritization, Commitment and Persistence.

So here I am, still muttering about my TBR list. Why? Because I’ve begun to realize that unless I can actually make time to read the books on that list, it has a negative rather than positive effect. It creates guilt.

Guilt? Ackkk! Who needs any more of that depressing, energy-draining, muse-thwarting stuff? It detracts rather than contributes, and I need reading to complement my writing, not complicate it. I’m thinking my best course of action is to reverse my TBR pile’s growth trend.

I doubt I’ll ever get over my obsession with books, but if I try a little self-discipline maybe I can take control. I’m thinking of using an adaptation of the recovering hoarder’s mantra, “For every item added, one must be eliminated” and say, “For every book added, at least two must be read.” That’s probably the only way I am ever going to banish the curse of my TBR list. It sounds like a good plan, at least in theory. I’ll tell you how well it works next time I’m standing in a bookstore ogling new titles.

How do you balance what you want to read with the time available?

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Graphic by Digitalart

Saying the Occasional “No” Without Guilt

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Daylight dwindles into darkness, and Wildwood Acres settle for the night.  Birds hush in their hidden sanctuaries and the only sound is a lonely tree frog somewhere in the marsh. Before falling into stillness, the breeze opened up the clouds and left tomorrow’s promise in the sky.

This is usually my time to settle in for a couple hours of writing, but I’m weary… too weary to be creative. It’s not that I did a lot today. It’s more what I didn’t do that weighs on me. There is a troublesome website that needs significant upgrading, a garden that at the rate I’m progressing may take me all summer just to get un-winterized, writing projects that are lagging… and then this evening’s request for sandwiches or cookies to donate to an upcoming church ‘do’. Nothing outrageous.

Sometimes it’s the little things that overwhelm. The bendy ‘last straw’ that winds the mind into tangled chaos, and shuts down ambition.

Writers know all about the Inner Critic who tries to sabotage our best written efforts, but I’m convinced that his twin brother takes up residence somewhere in my calendar. A voice nags that I really ought to do this, I really should do that, I absolutely must, must, must perform to perfection. And if – heaven forbid – there’s a blank space in my daybook, I’m obliged to fill it with some worthy chore.

When I can’t convince myself to move into overdrive and push through the ‘To Do’ list, I’ve found it’s best to just stop. I give myself permission for an hour of daydreaming, or an entire do nothing, guilt free day. Guilt free is the Rx!

Last week on The Pastor’s Wife Speaks blog Jeanette Levellie posted on the topic, “No is not a four letter word.” It reminded me of a day long ago when a concerned friend gave me a recording by David Viscott, MD, entitled, “Learning to Say No Without Feeling Guilty.” A couple years later its message was reinforced by another friend who pointed out that we are creations of God and as such ought to treat ourselves with care and respect.

With that thought in mind I’m closing the laptop and heading off to bed. The website will wait. The writing will, too. This creation of God needs sleep!

How do you handle a schedule or responsibilities that push you to the brink?


To Network or Not

Two videos came my way this morning, both filled with statistics indicating that “Social Media isn’t a fad, it’s a fundamental shift in the way we communicate,” to put it in the words of Erik Qualman.

I have no doubt it is. We writers are bombarded with messages encouraging us to take control of our careers, get out into cyberspace and build a following, market our work via blogs, Facebook, Twitter and some of the other 170+ social networking sites.

But – you knew there’d have to be a ‘but’, didn’t you? – but I’ve noticed so many online comments from people bemoaning their lack of time to balance jobs, homemaking/parenting responsibilities, church/community commitments, writing time and marketing efforts within the constraints of a 24-hour day.

Jody Hedlund has an excellent post today in which she asks, “How essential is an online presence to a writer’s career?

I think it’s very important. What may be more important, however, is knowing when to be doing what online, and how much time to be spending there doing it.

If we’re in front of our computers making new friends to avoid engaging in face-to-face conversations with old ones or networking within our real life community, if we’re nose-to-monitor for hours at a time blog-hopping at the expense of interacting with our families or taking part in necessary activities like bathing, eating and sleeping, if we excuse our online explorations as ‘research’ but we’re visiting sites with no connection to our writing… well, you get the idea.

Last spring, prompted by a report I’d read that was written by a clinical psychologist who referred to our obsession as a syndrome she calls “computer addiction, internet addictive disorder or cyberaddiction  — a problem very similar to pathological gambling or compulsive shopping,” I posted about what I called a “Clicking Addiction.”

Like all addictions, I believe we’re in denial about the hold social media has on us. It’s a wonderful tool, widening our reach into corners of the world where we could never hope to go in person, providing instant information and communication, but if we don’t learn to use this tool with appropriate skill and precautions it could cause us serious problems. When we come upon advice suggesting we spend even more time online, we need to take note of the source. Books and websites created by people who make their living in marketing may provide useful information but they are not unbiased.

How dependent are you and your career on the World Wide Web? Consider where we’d be if it suddenly collapsed and disappeared taking with it our link to cyberspace. After all, it’s not a concrete presence in our lives despite its current availability on most of our computers.

Sobering thought, isn’t it?

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P.S. Here are the two videos if you’re interested in viewing them.



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Time Management Strategies for Writers

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about the problem of making time for writing. We’re inclined to think we face the same kind of time constraints as agents except the workload originates from a different source. Balancing demands against time seems to be a constant challenge.

The complaint that crops up most often is there isn’t enough time to devote to writing because things like jobs, housework, family needs, community and sport activities, or church commitments create unavoidable interruptions.IMGP8530_2

To which I toss out the unpopular response, hogwash! Okay, I know that’s an antiquated expression, but you get my point. I know from experience if it’s important enough to you, you can make time for it.

So how do full time writers get their writing done and still manage to balance the task with everything else? After all, those twenty-four hours only stretch so far.

Here are four time management strategies to consider:

1. Organization — If you left the nine-to-five job behind and are writing from home, you may have left your desk appointment calendar behind, too. You need that calendar! There is always going to be shopping to do, library books to return and soccer games (substitute concerts, PTA meetings, doctor’s appointments, fishing trips or whatever) to attend. Life doesn’t stop just because you’ve decided to write. To create extra time you have to organize those things that eat into it. Make a list of the week’s usual activities, broken down into daily objectives. Instead of running out every time you think of something, consolidate the trips. Shuffle the not-so-vital errands to fit in around the time sensitive ones so you can accomplish them all in one efficient circuit. If you still have a day job, plan to combine as many errands as possible with your drive to and from work or on a single weekend outing. And if housework is a bane, remember that dust won’t eat the finish off your furniture. If it bothers you, enlist the help of a family member or indulge in an occasional half-day of maid service.

2. Prioritization — My husband has a favourite saying: “No is an acceptable answer.” Although men aren’t immune to it, women seem particularly prone to the Super Person complex—the need to be the perfect mother, wife, housekeeper, neighbour and employee. You have to accept that you cannot be all things to all people. Occasionally no IS an acceptable answer. Passing up a nomination or request to be the secretary of the condo management board, little league coach, or Sunday School teacher to ensure you have an extra hour or two for your writing is something you can do without guilt if you’ve taken your turn at accepting such responsibilities in the past. You should be able to say, “I’m sorry, but I have an extra work commitment this year and I can’t take on anything else.”

3. Commitment — There are three things to remember here.

  • First, you won’t give yourself permission to make time for writing if you consider it a hobby that doesn’t deserve your full commitment. Making excuses for why you spend time writing stories indicates a self-esteem problem. The truth is if you don’t believe your writing is a worthwhile endeavour, nobody else is going to either. Your attitude will determine how you convey your need for time, space and privacy to friends and family and how well they respect that need. The effort you dedicate to your task, arranging for childcare if necessary, letting phone calls go to voice mail, refusing to respond to interruptions that aren’t emergencies, are all indications of how seriously you take your commitment.
  • Then there’s procrastination. You can plan to write, set up a dedicated work space, read how-to books, do online research and networking, spend hours creating contest contributions and blog posts, and end the week (or month, or year) having written little if anything on your intended manuscript. It all feels like necessary preparation for the project, but in reality it is procrastination in disguise. If commitment doesn’t lead to action it’s misdirected.
  • And third is the fact that once you are working with an agent or editor you will no longer have the luxury of making excuses. Establish good work habits now because when that day comes you will be writing on a schedule and to deadlines regardless of Aunt Dody’s annual visit or the baby’s colic.

4. Persistence — There will always be something that nudges you to put down your pen and abandon your projects. Whether it’s the much-maligned Muse with its infamous writer’s block, harsh critiques or enough rejection letters to paper the bottom of a lifetime of canary cages, it’s easy to let doubt creep in and wipe away publication dreams. When you are tempted to quit is the very time you must force yourself to persevere. Every published author will tell you that persistence is the key to success.

To fulfill your writing dreams you first have to decide not to let obstacles thwart you. You can’t wait until a more convenient time in your life. If you really want to write, utilize time management skills and get on with it.

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