Book Count

I’ve recently noticed that many people see the number of books read in single year as a badge of honor.  Instead of reading to enjoy the act, they rack up books how Michael Myers accumulates a body count.  When I’m reading a book, I feel this urge to rush through it to add it to my yearly list.

But I realized I hate this idea.  I am a slow reader and I was late to reading in general.  For years, I saw reading as a chore.  I rarely found pleasure in it.  Grad school made the idea of ever reading for pleasure again seem impossible.

It took many months before I read a book for fun after I graduated.  I’ve been allowing myself to read whatever interests me in the moment.  I’m avoiding a long list of books “To Read” nagging at me.  That would put me back in the mindset of being forced to read a book out of some unknown obligation to some imagined idea that a book list matters.

I find bragging about book counts to be misguided.  It isn’t’ quantity but quality that matters.  I feel the same way about other media like shows, movies, etc.  It needs to stop. Who care that you read 100 books in one year if you didn’t learn or grow from the experience?  Even academic reading should achieve some level of pleasure, of expanding one’s mind.

So I’m going to continue to read at my usual slow pace, allowing myself to savor a book like a fine wine instead of a cheap beer.

The Workspace Fallacy

During this pandemic (and even before), I’ve been severely struggling to create anything new.  Although this struggle cannot be pinned to only one factor, it doesn’t help that I have a fixation with creating the perfect workspace to produce my writing.  I have detailed opinions about lighting, chair height, and desks—I have so many nitpicks about the perfect desk.

After some deep thinking, I realized that my quest for the ultimate workspace is only causing me to put off writing.  It doesn’t help that I’m still, after 2 years, recovering from burnout after grad school.  But that aside, my focus is in the wrong place.

I confess, I hated my desk from grad school that sat in my home office.  It was worn and the edge was sharp where the two composite pieces met, tearing into my wrists as I typed.  I recently ordered a custom desk from a local woodworker after waiting months and not writing at my old desk or laying out my work at the wide dining table in my open concept dining/kitchen/living area.  My new desk is here, and I still find myself resisting sitting down in my office.  Why?  My lighting is great.  My new desk is exactly what I wanted, down to every detail.  My chair is at the right height.  Why did I resist the siren song of my favorite pen and a fresh sheet of yellow legal notepad paper?

Simply put, I was aiming for a goal that I would never achieve.  My perfectionism was blocking me from seeing my priorities clearly.  There is no perfect place or workspace to write if you can’t bring yourself to just sit down and do the work.

Today, I sat down at my new desk and I made myself focus on the act of writing.  I pulled out my old college tricks—Pomodoro timer, noise-cancelling headphones, background music—and I wrote.  In fact, I wrote this post.

A persistent myth about writing is the false idea of “waiting for my Muse.”  Instead of having a Muse, I aim for achieving the Flow State where time is meaningless, and ideas seem to flow freely.  It is very difficult for me to slip into the Flow State, especially after burning out.  Although I hate to admit it, I have better focus if I know I have a looming deadline.  The time crunch forces me to get down to work.  This fact helped all throughout college and grad school.  With a lack of deadlines, I don’t do my work.  I put it off.  Then, the pandemic hit and my mental health tanked, so I didn’t find solace in the idea of creating.  I felt only urges to move, to work with my hands, but not to create.  TO be fair to myself, this is a weird time for everyone; the normal rules do not apply.

In my restlessness, I sought to craft the exact workspace that would bring me quickly into the Flow State.  It was something physical and tangible for me to focus on.  I kept talking about writing, but I didn’t.  I set up an accountability system with a friend who is also a writer, and I still didn’t write.  I promised myself “tomorrow” when I deleted the day’s set hour for writing from my Google calendar. But today I somehow felt different.  I didn’t want to write, exactly, but I knew I needed to write.  Much like a tough workout, I always feel better after a good writing session.  I just have to set myself up—drink, headphones, lighting, etc.—and do the work.  If sweat is a sign of a good workout, a calm satisfaction is the sign of a good writing session.

No environment will ever be perfect.  Writers will always come up with some fault.  In college, I put off a task until the start of the hour.  If my clock read 10:05 am, I would tell myself I had 55 minutes to mess around before I definitely had to start the task at 11am on the dot.  Writing is a struggle against silence, and if we do not write, we are silencing ourselves.