Sam over at Taking on a World of Words recently revived the weekly WWW, and I love it. Of course, when you’re reading literally four or five books at any given time (no, really, check my Goodreads feed), it can be hard to pick which one to highlight. But I’ll do my best.
WWW works by readers either writing a response to the three questions on their blog and posting the link in Sam’s post comments or simply answering the questions in the comments. Either way, it’s fun and a great way to get book recommendations.
The three questions are:
What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?
I’m currently reading Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker. I haven’t read a solid, informative nonfiction book in a while, and this one is fascinating. I’ve picked up and put down Pinker’s books in the past, never finding enough time to get through one, and we’ll see how long it takes me on this tome.
In a nutshell, Enlightenment Now considers the world from the point of view of the Enlightenment era values, such as reason, science, and humanism. It decries the popular modern myth of moral and environmental decline in detail, with plenty of charts and graphs to back up Pinker’s arguments.
It’s quite an uplifting book, even to a die-hard optimist like me, who sometimes felt that I was pushing the world uphill with no one to help. Obviously I haven’t finished yet, so I don’t know if he issues any ultimatums while concluding his arguments, but so far it’s been a lot of “hang on, the world isn’t as bad as you, the news, and your parents fear it is.”
Recently, I’ve been on a long Hamish Macbeth spree. Although, not that long, seeing as most of the books are less than two hundred pages. But I’ve read the first twenty in less than a month, which is probably excessive. Ah, who am I kidding. It is definitely not.
I love these books. I started them for a couple reasons. Firstly, I’m writing a mystery (surprise, surprise) and wanted to get a feel for how clues and red herrings were handled. Also, being so short, the story is really just the mystery, which is great for research.
Secondly, I remember watching the TV show way back when, and though, to me, they aren’t anything like the books, they were still cozy and delightful and quirky. And anything set in the Highlands is going to interest me. And no, M.C. Beaton, you do not deter me from wanting to live there with your tales of dark winters and bitterness and strife.
Aside from finishing all the following Macbeth books, I think the next book I’m going to read will be Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. I heard someone comment on reading both Harari and Pinker and comparing the two philosophies on life, because apparently Harari is less optimistic than Pinker and a hard determinist. I don’t know at all if that’s true or to what extent, so I’ll be interested to read what he has to say on the human race.
But, knowing me, I’ll probably be reading five more books after this five, so…who knows.
There’s my three! I would love to hear what you’re reading, so drop a comment here or reply to my comment over at Sam’s blog. I’ll be posting a link there as well.
A while back I mentioned I took a break from reading self-help/self-improvement/productivity books.
I did that because it was becoming quite the problem in my life, but I think there’s a wider problem in the world today as well.
The Self-Improvement Problem
…is that we know we aren’t where we want to be. We know how many people feel they aren’t living their ideal life, or even a very good life. Too many people are desperately unhappy, and it’s evident in the rise (or rise in public awareness, anyway) of depression and anxiety.
Having struggled with both due to a total fear of the future, I turned to self-help books, like many others, in a desperate attempt to figure out how to make my life better, and myself more peaceful. I felt happy often; when I was with friends or reading a good book or making something, but my life itself never gave me a sense of security or the feeling that I wanted it to continue how it was.
I was not content. I am not content. I’m trying to be, because contentment is very important no matter what stage of life you’re at. And it’s hard to live out the fact that contentment and complacency are two different things, meaning you can be content in your life as it is but still actively grow and change it.
I just can’t seem to wrap my head around being happy now and still want a different life. It just doesn’t seem to work for me.
I’ve read Mark Manson‘s work over and over again. I read The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***twice in the space of a few months, because it was so good. And he’s right – self-help and the self-improvement movement is a trap. You get sucked into that heady feeling of being on the right track.
I love being comfortable. I love baggy clothes and soft fabrics and old blankets the most because they’re comfortable. My number one dating and shopping criteria is if someone or something is comfortable. I crave comfort. So being uncomfortable is…well…uncomfortable.
I’ve always found it difficult to put myself out there in certain ways. I can play D&D with the best of them, wear what I want even when it’s not cool, and not take crap from people (if I don’t know them too well), but there are some things that still put me into freeze or flight mode (I’m pretty sure I don’t have a fight mode, unless you dis Matthew Mercer and then I WILL come after you).
It’s just so much easier to keep reading, right? Read about writing your unique story. Read about building that cool thing. Read about living your best life, while that life passes on.
As that other total badass, Jen Sincero, says in You are a Badass, staying in the track of almost doing something means you’re safe. I could do so much if only I try, you say, and so you’re never tested, never have to taste failure, and never have to do anything uncomfortable.
Almost no one enjoys being uncomfortable, but there are those to whom pushing it comes easier, and I feel like I’m not one of them.
I’ve been called brave. When I went to Korea, everyone said I was so brave. I don’t have a fear of public speaking, and I’m pretty good at making a fool out of myself and not minding. And so people call me brave. But they don’t see the abject fear instilled so deep it only surfaces in debilitating beliefs about money and career and love and happiness.
My question that I’ll never cease asking is how to make peace with being uncomfortable, because in order to move on, you have to be. How do they do it? How does someone make that hustle-schedule and keep at it when TV and games and friends and sleep call so endearingly?
The Self-Improvement Solution
…is not easy. It’s simple, yes, as most solutions are, but never easy.
Self-help books that tell you you’re on the right track, and the sort of new anti-self-help books like Sincero’s and Manson’s tell you that what you thought was the right track might not be the right track, but they’re all balms and buffers against the fact that nothing but pure action will get you anywhere, and whether you’re reading the fluff or the facts, you’re still reading about having a great life instead of living one.
As the Disreputable Dog* says, “It’s always better to be doing.”
Only action moves you in any direction. Reading is dreaming with your eyes open, as Yoyo says, and dreaming is a nice way to pass the time, but that’s about it.
Stop reading, start doing. Stop dreaming, start acting. And always go gently. It’s simple, but it’s not easy.
One of the reasons I hate living in an apartment is that as soon as you walk out of your nice, cozy, PRIVATE home, you’re in PUBLIC. The door is the only buffer. Contrast that to a house, where you have this nice buffer zone of a garage and a yard, and a street, more or less. Unless you live in a bizzaro place, you don’t have people outside your house to see you should you need to get something you left in your car or take out the trash or whatever.
Not so in an apartment. Now, used to be I’d worry about my presentation all the damn time. I’d put makeup on if I knew I was getting food delivered, and put on real clothes instead of sweat pants, and generally look like I hadn’t rolled out of bed. Because, after all, everyone CARES so MUCH what I LOOK LIKE.
The nice thing about getting older (and wiser… *sips coffee*) is that you begin to care less and less about what other people think. Taking a leaf from Sarah Knight and her F*cks Budget, I’ve realized that I want to spend my F*cks wisely and less liberally. And giving a F*ck about what I look like just isn’t as high a priority as, say, writing.
And let’s be clear, not putting on makeup is a big deal, when you’ve worn it every day since you were sixteen and then had a real bad flare up of adult acne when you were in Taiwan and now have the scars and shame to prove it. So makeup = armor = me being okay. But not anymore.
The other day, I’d left something in my car, to get back to the title story, and my car was parked a level above me in the parking garage. I did not put on makeup to go get the stuff. I did put on pants, because decency, but wore slippers and didn’t brush my hair, either. Yes, I was one of those people. Pretty soon I’ll be wearing pjs to Walmart. No, I won’t. It was a step in the self-love department, not the giving-up-self-hood department.
I even saw someone coming down the staircase, and they said hi. Not, oh god how could you show that face to the world, but hi. How nice. *snark intensifies*
Being an adult sucks on a lot of levels, but today it sucked a little less as I accepted myself for myself a little more. Thanks, self.
About a year ago, I did a post about the Multipotentialite Writer, and while it was kind of useful and kind of cathartic, I was young and in the grip of a feverish writing phase. Since then I’ve…grown. I’ve fallen in an out of writing a couple of times since then, so I thought I’d share some of the new things I’ve learned in an almost year.
Writing as a multipotentialite can be difficult. It comes with a host of what most writing teachers and advice-givers would call problems. Namely, that if you’re a multipotentialite, you won’t want to write all the time. I don’t mean every day – few people really feel like writing every day – but there will be week- or month-long periods of time where you’re interested in something else.
It could be another writing project or something else entirely, like knitting or sailing or cliff diving.
And according to writing experts, in order to be prolific and write well, you need to a) write every day and, b) finish what you start before moving on to a new writing project.
I’m here to dispell the idea that we need to conform to general advice, because general advice for us in careers doesn’t apply, so why should this?
We don’t believe in sticking to one career, one passion, on interest, or one hobby forever, so why do we find ourselves feeling guilty when we dragged away from writing?
You need to make peace. Make peace with the fact that your writing process and journey is going to look different than the podcasts, author interviews, and craft books you’ve ingested. Make peace with the fact that it will take you longer to finish some projects, especially longer ones if you’re the type of multipotentialite whose interests vary quickly. Make peace with the fact that you will feel guilty for leaving projects undone, and it’s up to you to move with the guilt and the fear and the uncertainty.
You don’t walk away from fear, you walk with it.
Figure out your system. This could be a rotating priorities board, specifically set up for writing projects, or even a simple calendar. It could be that you can hack your own interest system and schedule enough varied things to keep yourself from getting burned out on any one thing.
Let’s say you know you like blogging, writing stories, and working on RPG design (ahem, me). So you schedule certain days for one thing and certain days for another and allow some wiggle room so you don’t feel constrained. So this week, I scheduled at least twenty minutes a day on writing my story, which comes out to around 500-1000 words a day. That’s a good pace for a novel. Then three times a week I schedule time to write a blog post or work on a longer one that needs some research or just time for the ideas to percolate. Then I make sure I work at least once a week on RPG design, to keep my creative skills flexible.
But let’s say that one week I get really invested in my RPG stuff while my story has hit a snag and needs some time in the ol’ subconscious factory to work itself out. Do I rigidly stick to my schedule? Nah. I could, and it might be an excellent plug for willpower and self-discipline and all that, but I’m going to capitalize on the fact of my interests and make as much headway with the RPG stuff as I can.
This all comes from one very simple idea.
Know yourself and know your interests.
I know that I love story writing more than any other kind of writing. RPG is definitely third on the list of my writing projects. But it’s still on there, and every now and then that bug will hit harder than the others. It won’t stick around forever; eventually, story-writing will come out on top again as usual. That’s how I operate, and I know I operate that way because I’ve been living in my head for so long. Living and observing. If I wasn’t aware of my own modus operandi, I wouldn’t know how to make this schedule. So if you’re just starting out, try out the rotating board before you make a schedule, and maybe keep track of how often you rotate.
Keep writing, every day. This one I keep going back and forth on whether it’s really a good idea or not, and I’ve heard so many opinions from so many people I think there just won’t ever be a good answer. Yes, as a multipotentialite we need to be allowed to let projects go and work on other things, but as a writer, I also know that leaving my writing for more than a few weeks makes me a really bad writer when I do start again. The time spent not writing is proportionate to the time spent getting back into a good writing state. My voice gets rusty, and it usually takes quite a while for me to find it again when I go too long without writing. It happened last year before NaNoWriMo; I hadn’t written anything between the Flash Fiction and October when I started prepping, and it showed. I tried writing a few things to warm up and they objectively sucked. I was out of practice and flabby.
And the way to avoid that is to write as often as possible. So I’m going to say this, with certainty. If you want to become a professional* writer, you do need to write every day or at least every other day. Just as in any other profession. Athletes, singers, heck, probably even business people need to practice their skills all the time or they a) lose their jobs or b) lose their edge. How many Olympic swimmers take month-long holidays?
People will still argue, so I say that you know yourself best, and you can decide (duh). But if you want to be prolific and write a lot of amazing books and hone your craft and edit like a champ…well, you need to be prolific.
But never feel guilty for taking time off. Balance in all things.
If you’re a multipotentialite writer, where do you find yourself struggling? Like me, do you have both outside interests and other writing projects that distract you?
*I realize that there’s a lot of debate going around about writing to make art and writing to make money, and how they should or should not cross. It’s an interesting discussion, and one I’m eager to get in to. Soon, friends. Soon.
Have you read Designing Your Life by Dave Evans and Bill Burnett? If you haven’t, you should. Yes, it’s another plan your life and that life will be good self-help montage, more or less, but this one was written by actual designers. Like, Stanford Engineer designers, so they know a thing or two about designing…everything. Being me, of course, I had to add another self-help book to my list and got it immediately.
Life design is something I’ve been doing unconsciously for absolutely years. I mean, what else has all the productivity-blogging and self-help-book-reading and passion-planning and goal-setting been for?
What cracked me up is the part in the book where they ask you to plan out three parallel lives that you could see yourself doing, and then figure out what resources, time commitment, and investment you’d need to make to have that life.
I laughed out loud because I’ve already done that, except I have about ten parallel lives, vastly different from each other, that I could see myself living. It is kind of nice, in a way, because I know I could be happy in each of those lives, but there again is the choice paralysis many of us face when presented with multiple options. I don’t know which one to pursue first. (This might be why the authors have you only pick three – choice paralysis happens less frequently with fewer options because opportunity cost will be lower.)
The whole point of the exercise is to expand your options and to help you realize that no matter which one you pursue first, it doesn’t matter. Just pick one, and that life will be good. We all have different lives available in us, and we’ll never know which one is “best” (hint hint; there is no best) so just pick one.
Ha. Easier said than done.
Let’s take a look.
My Five Plans
I see myself being a writer like my hero S.J Maas. I was reading her on fictionpress.com way back in the day before she became an NYT Bestselling Author. I remember reading Throne of Glass in its early days, and it was very different than the one that was published. The bones were there, but in the intervening years she edited and changed a lot. That’s how writing goes, and every time I think of her journey I get excited because I feel like I could do that too.
I see myself in my office, with journals of notes, a bulletin board with deadlines and events and tours and pictures; spending time writing, drinking tea, starting out my window as I ponder my story…
Yes, I can see myself doing that. I can also see myself writing short fiction, blogging, writing courses for empaths and other sensitive types, creating new RPGs and modules for D&D, and a whole bunch of other writing type things. I’ll never stop writing, but being a writer is a bit different. There are different investments required*.
The idea of being a life coach keeps creeping up on me. It started about a year ago, back in Korea, and has been in the back of my mind like a niggling worm ever since. I was really gung-ho about it at first, of course, and lost interest when my health declined, but I’ve been thinking about it again recently.
Even in my writing, I’ve always wanted to show people there’s a better world for them. Books showed me that, and my big why as a writer has always been about helping people realize their own magic. Coaching is another way to do this. I love it when my friends share their dreams with me, and I love the nitty-gritty of getting down to actions plans and steps and the how-to of dreams. So coaching has always seemed another natural option for me.
I could see myself doing that. Having an office with a filing cabinet for clients, having an appointment schedule book, emailing about packages and questions, skyping with clients and suggesting action plans and tools and books and exercises…
Non Profit RPG/GM Organizer
Another idea that’s bounced around in my head enough times for me to pay attention to it is starting my own non-profit that helps kids learn how to run RPGs. Or start my own chapter of 826 in my area.
This goes back to the whys mentioned earlier; helping people see their own magic. I give this choice of words carefully too, because I really believe that people are capable of their wildest dreams (the magic of life, right?), and I want everyone to be able to achieve that.
And hearing about kids getting into these creative endeavors, creating whole worlds, participating in stories together, learning serious life skills through fun…that just seems like a really important thing to be a part of.
Also I love kids and made a pretty awesome teacher, and I think leading a Game Master workshop would be epic.
(But the title needs some work. Organizer? Workshopper? Leader? Center? League?)
Going back to the writing front, I’ve also considered being a writer for games. I love D&D so much I think working at Wizards of the Coast (which is just around the corner from where I was born so, hello, fate) would be the most epic job of all.
I can imagine sitting down with a think tank of nerds and brainstorming the next big campaign book, the next batch of monsters, the next iteration of D&D itself…yeah, I dream about that a lot.
And if not D&D, then maybe another game company. I could write dialogue and quests, creating a dozen different threads for each player action, and twining them all sinuously until they meet perfectly at the final boss…
Equally as appealing as the other lifestyles, being a stay at home mom is at least a phase I’d like to experience, if not live out, sometime in my life. I plan on having kids, and I plan on raising them to the best of my knowledge and experience as a teacher, creator, empath, and nerd (oh yeah, my kids will be playing D&D as soon as they can talk, yo).
But, of course, alongside that I’ll still be writing, crafting, coaching, and doing everything else, it will just have the volume turned down on it.
You know, it was really interesting to write this post. It was really interesting to see how so many of the lives I could plan out, while vastly different, have this one underlying thread. Helping people see their own magic. And the thing is, there could be a hundred other jobs that satisfy that requirement that I don’t even know about! But five is enough to be getting on with, and as I mentioned in the beginning, choice paralysis is real, and the best advice is to take a step in any direction, rather than stand still.
So the first lilypad, then, is and will be writing.
And now I’ll toss the ball to you. What lives have you imagined? I urge you to do this exercise and see what comes up, especially if you find, like me, the same impetus behind each desired life.
Happy hunting, friends.
*On that front, I have some very exciting news coming up soon!