Chatting · Reading Recs

2023 TBR (And Reminding Myself of the Obvious)

I hit burnout last year, and I hit it hard. Over the summer, I desperately wanted to finish the 3rd draft of runaways, but struggled to muster the energy and focus needed to even read through the document. During NaNoWriMo, I got back into editing, but I treated it like another assignment. Words got done more because of willpower than because of inspiration because I was already in that crunch time mental state. In the process of writing the largest of the developmental changes, I realized this book probably needs two more POVs than I originally anticipated, turning it into a much larger and more complex project, and bringing with it a sense of dread that I will never finish, never publish, and never have anything to show for this work. Looking ahead at the year, seeing so much traveling, moving, graduating, starting a new job, and other major life upheavals, I’m already exhausted just glancing over the calendar.

I’ve hit writer’s block now, too. Travelling to visit my grandparents over break, I had to be in the car for a grand total of 10 hours round trip. I should have been fully awake, undistracted by the internet, and immensely productive, as I’ve been in years past. The objective: finish, edit, and post a new short story for my mailing list about a sorceress who stole the sun, and the seamstress that brought it back. Despite having a rough outline for the story, and inspiration aplenty, I hit a wall of creative block trying to make the lore consistent, then the words wouldn’t come when I tried to force myself to focus on the blank page, and I managed a total of 90 words. Pathetic.

The worst part is: I know exactly what caused this problem, and how to fix it, but I haven’t let myself do what I need to fix the problem.

Burnout happens when you over-commit and work yourself too hard for too long without breaks. It’s very easy to trap yourself in a cycle of “Oh, I’m so behind, if I only work harder, I can take a break.” But working harder only makes you more burnt out, more inefficient, and more behind, and so the vicious cycle continues. For me, this build-up occurs most frequently during the semester, and then I promptly get sick as soon as finals are over. But a side effect is this: in my shreds of free time, I refuse to rest. I spend so much time being an engineer that when I have the opportunity to work on my creative pursuits, I prioritize creating, instead of sitting down to do the things that refresh my creative well. I brag about how I go months without turning on the TV. I only read by listening to audiobooks on my commute to work, or while doing tedious lab tests, which means I work through my TBR at an astonishingly slow pace. And even there – I naturally refer to reading as “work” and talk about my “pace” as if I’m on an assembly line, and not as if its an activity I love, that inspires me, and makes up part of my identity.

You need to breathe in to breathe out.

I got so caught up in telling stories that I forgot what inspired me to write in the first place. I was a bookworm as a kid. Mom punished me, not by restricting access to the TV or video games, but by hiding my books out of reach and confiscating the flashlight. I’m struggling to put words to page because I’ve forgotten how to string together eloquent prose in the torrent of academic papers written in past test passive voice. I used to scoff at boring adults who never frequented the library, but as an adult, I’ve found myself daunted by the idea of setting aside so much time to finish the books I check out between visits. But I miss that and I need to make it a priority again—not only because reading books is something I *should* do, but because it’s something I *want* to do.

I’ve been holding my breath, and this year, I ran out of air.

The first year I ran this blog, I was pretty good about having a reading rec post on a monthly basis, which meant I read or reread at least 12 things a year, but I’ve fallen out of the habit. This year, I’ll be bringing back that post format, as well as author biographies, because as writers, I think it’s important to know about the people behind our favorite stories. History is a special interest of mine, and so I think it would be an interesting exercise to research more about the literary movements and influences that came before, and how learning more about the past can help us contextualize our fiction in terms of the present, and the future. If there are any English majors out there laughing at me, please understand my brain has been thoroughly fried by four years of differential equations and I’m sure you’ve noticed the atrocious amount of passive voice past tense grammar leaking into my prose from the lab reports.

Let’s talk about prose too. I’ve never been one to worry much about my writing style. As a beginner, I read that there’s no way to force a particular style into your writing and that one would develop with time and practice. In my experience, this is true, and when you’re just trying to reach The End on your first manuscript, getting words down is more important that fretting about eloquence. I’m not on first drafts anymore, though. All my projects are in various stages of editing, and in line editing, sentences matter. They’re the brushstrokes that make up the whole painting. The ingredients that make up the layers in a decadent cake, or the richness of the flavor in a savory meal. The prose you consume will bleed into your style, and the publishing industry holds genres to certain standards. This is why it’s important to read both a broad variety of topics and authors to expose yourself to many styles and voices, and why it’s important to read in your target genre, to understand the conventional expectations.

I can’t tell an entertaining story if the only thing I’m reading is academic papers. It’s impossible to prepare a banquet with the literary equivalents of hardtack. (I should also probably knock it off with the food metaphors and go make myself dinner.)

ANYHOW. Onto the part of the post you probably care about:

The TBR:

Unseelie by Ivelisse Housman: This book is one I preordered months ago and I’ve actually already finished it. I really enjoyed this story and it totally lived up to the hype, so stay tuned for a full review and an interview with the author!!!

Pyreflies by Lynette Bacon-Nguyen: This is an ARC from an author in one of my fandom discord servers and next up on the reading list! You can also expect a review on this blog soon.

Howl by Katie Koontz: This is a werewolf novel by one of my best friends on tumblr and I know she’s been working really hard on it so I’m excited to read the finished version after seeing so many snippets on her blog!

A Rival Most Vial and Aspens Guide to Growing Your Grove by R.K. Ashwick: Another writeblr bestie! I’ve read her debut novel The Stray Spirit as an ARC and you can find my review here (I loved it) and my interview with her here, so I’m super excited to see her next book come out. This is a new series, called Side Quest Row, and I’ve been following the development of this book since it was first-draft and spawning pirate and spy AUs, so I’m very excited to see it in all its finished splendor.

Other People’s Heartache by Vanessa Roades: This author is a friend of mine on Instagram and I’ve had it sitting around in my email for a WHILE now as I signed up for a bunch of newsletters all around the same time for the free stories. I’m intrigued by the premise and need to get around to catching up on the backlog of ebooks I have downloaded!

Whatever Happened to Madline Hail by Arista Holmes: Another Instagram author friend, and another newsletter freebie that I’ve got in my ebook library folder!

The Brandon Sanderson Secret Novels: If you follow publishing news in the fantasy spaces, you’re probably familiar with BrandoSandos insane quarantine hobby and mind-boggling Kickstarter from last year. If you don’t know the backstory, this prolific author of the Mistborn Trilogy and the Stormlight Archive used to travel 1/3 of the time pre-lockdown, which severely cut into his writing time, and when COVID struck in 2020, he just… casually wrote an extra five books in his newly acquired free time. He started a Kickstarter to have them published in A Year of Sanderson, putting out the books every quarter, along with lots of exclusive merch and subscription boxes, which immediately broke the record for the fastest funded campaign and the record for the most amount of money ever raised on Kickstarter EVER. He donated a lot of this money to other publishing kickstarters as a way of giving back to the community, and continued putting out the regularly scheduled books, like a glorious madman, and the first of these secret novels released on January 1st. I’m already behind on the rest of the Cosmere, but what’s another stack of books on the list I guess?

Short Stories from the Tor Newsletter: Brandon Sanderson’s publisher puts out a newsletter on a regular basis that always contains a number of interesting articles about the industry and fantasy news, as well as an original short story from one of their authors. I discovered that these are a fantastic easy way to fill up your Goodreads book goal with fast reads, and they’re in a genre that I really enjoy, so they’re a solid option for quick commutes on the bus, or between study breaks at school. I have links to them saved so I can go back to the ones I miss, and I want to keep up with them this year to discover new authors and continuously read short fiction so I learn more about how to write those types of stories!

Going Postal by Terry Pratchett: I’ve wanted to get into the Discworld series for ages, and I’ve read Mort already, but haven’t been able to find many of the books. One of my best friends was moving house earlier this year and didn’t want her copy, so she let me steal it, and I’m determined to get through some of the unread physical books sitting on my shelf lol

Way Too Many Email Substacks: Back when Dracula Daily was consistently trending #1 on tumblr, a bunch of lovely people set up email substacks for other classic works of literature, and I, full of hubris, subscribed to ALL of them. I’m now several weeks behind on Great Expecations, A Study in Scarlett, Moby Dick, Les Mis, and a modern fantasy story that’s also being done in a serialized format called “Last Light” by A. Lawrence. I’m determined to binge read the archive to catch up and then stay caught up, preferably before the substacks actually end.


Thanks for reading! What are your TBRs for the year? I want this blog to be more than me shouting into the void. If I can use this platform to help boost other creators, I’d love to see your work too. If you want to have your recommendations and/or your own writing featured in a Resource Rec post, or if you want to collaborate with me, you can leave a comment below for both, or contact me on either tumblr or IG! If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip or buying stickers on my Kofi. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!

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