Finding What Works

We're 15 days into the year, and it appears that this will be a big reading year for me. I've finished three books and am well into the fourth, and it brings to mind one of my bigger New Year's resolutions failures from a few years ago.

Back in 2009 or 2010 (somewhere in there), I kicked off the year with the goal to read a book a week. I've always been a big reader, and with my daily train commute, 52 books in the year seemed well within my reach. Successful writers read, and I wanted nothing more than to set myself up for success.

Quite the opposite.

By the end of February, I was already three books behind. By the end of April, eight books behind. Worse, I wasn't enjoying any of what I read. I felt frantic, racing through books without much thought for the content. By the end of May, I had the good sense to declare the experiment a failure. Pushing to meet a numerical goal ruined the joyful experience of reading.

But they say we learn more from our failures than we do our successes, and I certainly did learn a valuable lesson. I had picked the number, one book a week, after reading Stephen King's On Writing. I was in that tentative, beginner writer phase where I bought and obsessively consumed as many books on writing as I could, not because I thought they held some secret shortcut to becoming a better writer—thank heaven I had more sense then that—but with the hope that their wisdom would provide the activation energy I needed to pick up a pen every night.

Some books were amazingly helpful. On Writing, for me, was incredibly destructive.

As a memoir, On Writing is fascinating, and I loved it for that, but as a tome of writing advice, it really sunk my battleship. King states in several places that he believes that good writing is an inborn skill—either you have it or you don't—and you should have figured out if you have it at a young age. I hadn't written much in high school (I certainly wasn't submitting work for publication like King had) and this admonishment left me feeling utterly deflated. It conjured up the same feelings of despair I felt as an eighth grade gymnast watching the Olympics; I was past my prime. I'd wasted my life. Best to forget my dreams and sit on the couch eating Lay's Loaded Baked Potato flavor chips.

I tell you, I live a pretty clean paleo lifestyle, but if my brother walked into the room with a bag of those chips, I'd tackle him to the ground, no mercy. God in heaven, they taste as near to perfect as I think is possible.

In the book, King also wrote about reading several books a week. "I'm a slow reader," he writes, "but I usually get through seventy or eighty books a year, mostly fiction." I got it into my head that I would be a failure if I couldn't keep up at least 2/3 that pace. 80 x 2/3 = 53 books in a year. And so I gave up every scrap of my free time to failing. I felt defeated, and I knew I would never, ever be a writer.

But then I picked up Elizabeth George's Write Away and I was back in the game.

It was a worthy lesson for me to learn. Books offer great advice, but advice does not universally apply. To some, that may be an obvious concept, but as someone who has always been incredibly trusting of authority, it has been a painful lesson I have had to learn many times over.

And so my thoughts on Rework will have to wait another day, as I appear to have gotten lost in a tangent.

Here is my list of personal projects that I have finished since Wednesday:

  • I finished reading The Sherlockian, a book I've been starting and stopping since Christmas 2011.
  • I cleaned out my bedroom closet and straightened my office bookcase. It's not a complete finish of my office cleaning, but I'm celebrating small wins.
  • I made another batch of chili and the pulled pork from Make It Paleo, as well as cooking a beef roast (my recipe needs work) and a double batch of PaleOMG's pumpkin granola.

By Wednesday, I'm committing to: