(Maybe) Getting Better, Slowly: Depression Naps & Progress

I’ll be blunt: Yesterday sucked.

A lot.

My alarm went off at seven but I was so exhausted and desperate for more sleep that I reset it for nine. At nine I promptly got up, got dressed, and got back in bed, where I took a four-hour Depression NapTM because I was sad and tired and more than a little mad at myself for sleeping in by two hours in the first place. Yes, I know that solving my frustration at being sleepy by sleeping yet some more doesn’t make any sense – but then again, neither does depression.

I tried a new schedule this semester, one that involved taking one day off per week. I’ve set aside each Sunday as a time to read, write, and just generally relax. I don’t worry about school on that day, or at least I try not to.

And I botched that schedule yesterday. I didn’t write at all, although I tried. Didn’t work. I sat and stared at my laptop screen for several hours but no words came.

I read, like, one page of the book I’d planned to read from cover to cover that day. (I’ve made it a goal to read one entire book each Sunday! Since I’m generally too busy to read anything for fun during the rest of the week, Sundays are my special reading day.)

I spent most of the day feeling miserable. I wasn’t very productive. I felt groggy and disoriented from waking up so late. I was mad at myself. I didn’t eat enough and so felt listless later on.

But honestly? Yesterday wasn’t a complete waste, because towards the end of it I realized something: I haven’t had many days like this this semester.

In a surprise plot twist, this photo IS actually related to the rest of this post! I went for a walk on Sunday afternoon to clear my head and get some fresh air. I took some pictures of the first snowfall of the winter (more photos coming soon, in a separate post!) and of course I had to take some cat pictures too, because - well, you know me. That soft focus! That head tilt! Why are all cats more photogenic than me?

In a surprise plot twist, this photo IS actually related to the rest of this post! I went for a walk on Sunday afternoon to clear my head and get some fresh air. I took some pictures of the first snowfall of the winter (more photos coming soon, in a separate post!) and of course I had to take some cat pictures too, because – well, you know me. That soft focus! That head tilt! Why are all cats more photogenic than me?

Last school year, as well as this entire past summer, I spent at least half (if not more) of the days in any given week feeling like this, acting like this. That may be why I don’t actually remember as much of freshman year – not to mention this summer, which seems blurrier and blurrier the more I try to remember it – as I’d like to. I was SUPER out of it. All the time.

It really, really sucked.

One of the reasons yesterday messed with me so badly is that, well, I’m not used to it. I hated always feeling groggy and disoriented last year – last year, when I’d wake up for my single Wednesday class, held at 3:30, at approximately 3:15. But… well, like I said, I was used to it.

And this year I’m not. This year I’ve been much better at taking care of myself, much more successful in terms of forcing myself to push through the haze of depression and anxiety and OCD. It doesn’t always work, but damn do I try. I’m used to getting up at seven in the morning every day, even on weekends, and pushing through mountains of classes and homework and extracurriculars until I go to bed at eleven sharp each night.

So in a way, yesterday actually kind of made me feel better… by first making me feel worse. Once I realized that I felt bad not only because I was super depressed but because I wasn’t used to having days where it was this hard to get myself out of bed, I felt immensely relieved. (I also felt a bit proud of myself for dealing with this day slightly better than I probably would have a few months ago, since I made the small effort to cheer myself up and distract myself with things like going for a walk, talking to friends, watching happy TV shows with my roommate, et cetera.)

I’m still a little annoyed about yesterday. But hey, what can I do about it? I can’t go back in time to do it over. I can’t change anything about that day.

What I can do is look back at it, then look back even further to days from last fall, spring, and summer and see that in reality, I’ve improved so much. Sometimes, though, in those moments of depression, it’s hard to notice that. And even harder to believe it. I guess it’s a case of not being able to see the forest for the trees?

And it made me super mindful of my plans for next semester, too. I’m at the point in this semester where I want a fresh start, so I’ve been making lots of lists, plans, goals. That’s perfectly fine, but I do need to remember to build in time for days like yesterday.

I hope that next semester will go even more smoothly than this one has, but I’m not perfect and I need to remember that not every single one of my days will be perfect, either. They can be better, though – but even then, I must do my best to take days like Sunday in stride. It’s frustrating to have days like that, but if I can remember even on those difficult days that I’m having fewer days like that than ever, then I think I’ll be all right.

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Thoughts On The 2016 Goodreads Choice Awards (Kind Of)

Thanks to Facebook’s On This Day feature, I was reminded this morning that one year ago today I published a post titled Thoughts On The 2015 Goodreads Choice Awards. Which made me remember that I’ve been meaning to do a post about the 2016 awards. Well, kind of a post.

As I’ve mentioned before, 2015 was a particularly lackluster reading year for me, but in that post from a year ago I was purposely super vague about the reasons behind that bookish apathy. If you read that just now and guessed that it had something to do with mental health, then you’re absolutely right.

I feel like I’ve talked about mental health stuff a lot lately but hey, it’s my blog. And writing helps me to process things. Always has. So I’m going to keep doing it. You see, I’m a little frustrated with myself for not really being able to vote for many books this year but I’m trying to be kind to myself and not get too fed up with myself over something like this.

Obviously, as a Goodreads member I am allowed to vote in these end-of-the-year Choice Awards just like all the other members. So what was stopping me?

I hadn’t read most of the books. Like, even within some of my favorite genres. One of the reasons I read so many comic books and graphic novels is that I find them easier to concentrate on even on my worst, most unfocused depression-y days. (Hey, that would be an interesting subject to write a blog post about! I should do that someday.)

I read a ton of graphic novels and comic books in 2014 for that reason. (…and for many other reasons as well, such as I LOVE THE GENRE. But ease of concentration did have a lot to do with it.) I didn’t read nearly as many in either 2015 or 2016 because I simply did not read much at all.

I still add books to my TBR almost daily, but it’s hard to whittle down that pile of books you’ve been meaning to read when you’re so mentally drained that you can barely get out of bed, let alone focus on a story.

I did end up voting for a handful of books, but mostly I looked through all the nominations and felt bad about how many books there were on my TBR. Last week, I received an email telling me that Black Panther, Vol. 1: A Nation Under Our Feet by Ta-Nehisi Coates – which I’d waited ages for, and which had also been nominated (and made it to the semifinal round the last time I checked!) – was finally available at the public library, so I dutifully went there to pick it up.

It has sat, unread, on my desk for the past week while I think that I should read it because, after all, shouldn’t I have to choose between more than two or three books when voting for the best book in a certain category?

I know it’s just a book, but I’m hard on myself about literally EVERYTHING and so it feels like more than just a book to me. I’ve been making some plans, which I will talk more about later, to read a little more earnestly next year and I really really really hope they come to fruition. Which is not at all guaranteed because, as much as I wish I did, I don’t have 100% control over my brain and it might tell me that I’m too tired and sad to read a lot.

BUT. I’m hoping that by this time next year I’m more into reading. It certainly won’t be easy, but I want to use this moment as motivation to get back into one of my oldest hobbies. To look at a list of nominated books and actually recognize more than half of them. To have read multiple books in multiple categories and to know the stories that are found in the books that were published this year.

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Here Is A Post In List Format Because I Am Sick

Hey, everyone. This is just a quick update-post-thing to let you know that I haven’t fallen off the face of the Earth. I’m still here, although I haven’t posted in a few days – and since I normally post every other day, I thought I should put up a post tonight before anyone freaks out. I don’t know.

Anyway, here are some things that happened lately:

  • I’ve been sick (with the flu? I think?) this past week or so.
  • Hence I have not been able to do much this week which means that I am STRESSING OUT about finals and final projects and whatnot. I know I need to work on them, and I have been, just very very slowly because I am tired and sick and do not want to do much of anything right now.
  • Hence why there have been no blog posts recently. I’ve had neither the time nor the energy to write anything that wasn’t related to school and therefore had a grade attached to it.
  • On a happier note, my final project for Prose Style is almost done! It’s a portfolio of sentences I’ve written (as well as sentences I’ve found) throughout this semester and I’m so so so happy I took the time to work on it over Thanksgiving break because now it’s just one less thing I have to worry about.
  • I’ve completed the course evaluations for about half of my classes and I’m honestly having so much fun because either I’m praising my professors and TAs for doing such a good job of teaching or I’m using this opportunity to anonymously complain about how awful they are. I LIVE FOR THIS MOMENT AT THE END OF THE SEMESTER.
  • I’m currently kind of in shock because there is one more week of school left and then it’s finals week and I don’t quite know where this semester even went.
  • I’ve been making plans for next semester in terms of study schedules and stuff like that. On one hand it’s got me all excited for new classes and new opportunities, but on the other hand I’ve seen my schedule for this fall slowly go off the rails these past few weeks so it’s a little disheartening to think about that possibly happening to these new plans. BUT ALSO a lot of my poor mental health was related to the election and also to how dark and cold it is outside so I’m hoping that I will feel different next semester? Like, hopefully not too down even as the orange monster is being inaugurated?
  • I went to another open mic night a few days ago and it was really good! It was organized by one of my friends who recently started a magazine all about feminism/LGBTQ+ issues/racial justice and it cheered me up immensely. One of the participants read an essay she wrote about growing up as a lesbian in the eighties that was partially about music and partially about AIDS. Ahhhh it was so good! I love meeting older LGBTQ+ people because it reassures me that I can actually have a decent future.
  • I had to make an Instagram account today in order to use the site for a final project in one of my journalism classes so I may end up actually posting photos there eventually? Anyway, I’ll let you know if that actually becomes a Thing.

I feel like there’s one very major thing that I’m forgetting? Oh well, if I remember it later I’ll be sure to add it. What have you been up to? Whatever it is that you’ve been doing, I hope you’re not sick like me because that would suck…

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A Bookish Update #6

Hey, everyone! Thought I’d do another reading update even though I did one not too long ago because, as I mentioned a few posts ago, one of my goals for this Thanksgiving break was to binge-read since I hadn’t read much for fun in a while. I spent almost all day Wednesday reading and it was super enjoyable!

Anyway, here’s my update. Enjoy!

the-end-of-summerFinished A Little While Ago

One of the stories I read during my book binge was The End of Summer by Tillie Walden, a beautiful and mysterious graphic novel about a twin boy and girl from a royal family. Winter lasts years where they live and that makes the sister go mad, so the boy has to deal with that on top of his own illness. I feel like the way I just described it makes it sound really derivative of Game of Thrones, but trust me: It’s not all. You should try it!

I also enjoyed Bone, Vol. 2: Out From Boneville by Jeff Smith, I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, Carry This Book by Abbi Jacobson, and Dare To Disappoint: Growing Up In Turkey by Özge Samanci, among others, during the same binge-reading session.

Just Finished

Well, TECHNICALLY the last book I finished is Ghost World by Daniel Clowes, but I didn’t enjoy it and don’t really want to talk about it, soooo… I’m going to discuss the book I read before that instead, which is Princess Leia by Mark Waid! YAYYYY FOR MY SPACE WIFE. I haven’t read very many Star Wars comics and every time I do I think I should do so more often. I need to find more comic books about her!

carry-this-bookCurrently Reading

I am currently reading Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov because I have to lead a presentation on it for my Prose Style class. It’s slow going right now, but I’m hoping that it will pick up later. I do like the premise – it’s based on a fictional poem by a fictional author – and his use of language is pretty cool too.

Another book I am reading is Art Made from Books: Altered, Sculpted, Carved, Transformed by Laura Heyenga, which I started during my book binge but did not finish. I love the idea of book art, although I’ve never made any of my own!

Reading Next

I’m really excited to start Art Before Breakfast: A Zillion Ways To Be More Creative No Matter How Busy You Are by Danny Gregory, mainly because I feel my levels of creativity have gone way down and I need a jump-start.

art-before-breakfastReading Soon

In addition to reading more of the Bone series mentioned earlier, I’m planning to start reading some of the Maigret books by Georges Simenon! One of my friends recommended them to me because I love mysteries… especially long mystery series, and there are seventy-five novels about his detective Maigret! I don’t think the library has all of them, though, so I think I’ll start with Maigret Bides His Time because it has the highest rating on Goodreads out of all of the Maigret books I borrowed.

Recently Added To TBR List

Some of the books I recently found and/or were recommended to me are:

  • I added The Other Boy by M.G. Hennessey to my TBR because I was excited to find a middle grade novel with a trans boy as the main character!
  • I love surrounding myself with arty books so it makes total sense that I would want to read Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon!
  • I didn’t even know Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling was going to be a thing, but apparently it is! And now I’m rather torn on whether or not I actually want to read it because I surprisingly loved the movie and don’t know if I really want to experience the story in another medium just quite yet.
  • The blurb for Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening by Marjorie M. Liu describes this graphic novel as a story of steampunk horror illustrated in art deco style…. AHHH SIGN ME THE HECK UP THAT SOUNDS AMAZING.
  • Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi is a middle grade novel inspired by Alice in Wonderland and the Chronicles of Narnia. It looks super colorful and cute!

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Feel free to steal this idea for your own blog, or answer the questions in the comments! Actually, PLEASE answer the questions in the comments, because I would love to know more about your reading habits! (And what is the best book you’ve read lately? Do you have any recs for me?!)

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The Be Thankful Challenge

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Today I’m doing the Be Thankful Challenge, which I borrowed from Cristina @ My Tiny Obsessions. She did this tag last Thanksgiving and I’ve been saving it for an entire year because I loved the idea so much!

Enjoy!

Five People I’m Thankful For In 2016

1. 

I’m so thankful for my online best friend, Orphu @ A Mirror Made of Words! We live in different countries and are almost two thousand miles apart, which can be difficult at times, but we make the best of it and are hoping to meet up someday soon!

Orphu is THE BEST at cheering me up when I’m sad. She always listens, no matter what I’m rambling on about at the moment. Also, she mails me packets of tea (!!!) and drawings of the two of us as pirates/mermaids/dragon tamers (!!!!!!). In return, I send her books, cat pictures, and memes. YOU WISH YOU HAD A FRIENDSHIP LIKE THIS.

2.

I’m also thankful for my IRL best friend, Jill! The last time I had a best friend in real life was probably in second grade, so I definitely don’t take relationships like this for granted. I love all my online friends, but the distance between us is very hard to handle sometimes. Therefore, I love being able to spend time with Jill. I love taking classes with her and I love attempting to cook things with her and I love watching movies with her. And I love that we’re so supportive of each other in everything we do!

3.

I’m thankful for Anna Barker, my favorite professor here at the University of Iowa. She is the most enthusiastic, outgoing, and helpful professor I have ever had! I have taken two courses with her – Superheroes Unleashed: 3,000 Years of Heroes, Villains, & A Mad Race for Immortality and Wonder Woman Unleashed: A Hero for Our Times.

Despite their lighthearted, easy-sounding titles, I worked harder in those classes than I have in any other. She constantly pushes her students to make connections between modern stories and the classics, and to come to new and exciting conclusions about them.

Even better, we’re working on a scholarly paper about pedagogy and pop culture together, based on the experience we’ve had both learning and teaching about comic books in the classroom. I’m so excited to see where our project goes from here and I greatly appreciate the opportunity to continue working with her.

4.

I’m thankful for my roommate, Bridget. I wasn’t very close to my freshman year roommate and, although I got along well with my summer roommate, we simply didn’t spend as much time together as we would have liked since the summer semester is only twelve weeks long.

Within the first week or so after moving in together, we were already good friends. My first ever roommate and I barely spoke to one another, but Bridget and I do a lot together: Studying, eating dinner, watching TV and movies. We even joined a cooking club together. There are times when we hardly see each other because our schedules are so different, but we’re always happy to see one another after a long day. I’ve been really good about going to bed at reasonable hours this semester but on the rare occasions when I stay up late, it’s because Bridget and I just can’t stop talking and laughing about something.

5.

I’m thankful for Nick & Shelby & Talitha, AKA the meme squad. I met Nick and Talitha during the fall of my freshman year, in Superheroes Unleashed, and Shelby the following semester, in Wonder Woman Unleashed.

I’ve never had a friend group until now unless you count, like, preschool. Which I don’t. While our schedules this semester have made finding the time to hang out very difficult, we still keep in touch via a group chat filled with memes and inside jokes. WHICH IS THE IMPORTANT THING. I love these nerds.

Five Things I’m Thankful For in 2016 

1. 

I’m thankful for The Haunted Bookshop! I’ve mentioned my love of it several times on this blog but in case you somehow missed that: The Bookshop is an indie bookstore that holds more than 50,000 used books and two cats and is my favorite place to be in Iowa City. (I spend soooo much time browsing the shelves. It’s a really calming place, too!)

Originally I kept coming back because I missed my cat! I learned the cats’ names right away but didn’t know the employees’ names for, like, a year. #priorities Then I got over my shyness and actually started talking to the people who worked there and discovered that they’re all really weird and really kind… which is something they have in common with all of my other favorite people in my life.

2.

I’m thankful for UCS, or the University Counseling Service, at my school. I started going there this spring and it’s honestly helped me so much. Between individual appointments and group counseling it’s enabled me to deal with my mental illnesses more effectively and taught me not to be so hard on myself.

Thanks to UCS, I was finally able to begin looking for meds to help with my anxiety, depression, and OCD. While nothing I’ve tried so far has actually worked, I’m further along in the recovery process than I was before, so that has to count for something.

3.

I’m thankful for the Iowa Writers’ House! This is a community organization that hosts both weekly meetings and special events designed to educate and support writers in and around the Iowa City area. I’d never been part of an IRL writing group until I joined the IWH and now I only wish I’d begun attending their meetings sooner! I love talking to and bouncing ideas off of the other members.

4.

I’m thankful for the study side of tumblr, otherwise known as studyblr. Ironically, I haven’t had time to set up my own studyblr yet because I’ve been so busy with school, but I hope to do that before the new semester begins. It’s a very supportive, positive place where you can find all sorts of advice, inspiration, motivation, et cetera to keep you excited about working hard in school.

5.

I’m thankful for my own willingness to be bolder and try some new things this year! These things include chopping my hair off, staying in Iowa City to take more classes instead of going home for the summer, seeking mental health help and admitting to my friends and family that I’ve been struggling, asking my favorite authors for writing advice even though I was so nervous I thought I was going to pass out, et cetera… all these things and more are VERY VERY GOOD THINGS. Yay, me, for not being so afraid this year. Or at least trying not to be.

Five Bloggers I’m Tagging

And as always, feel free to participate whether or not I tagged you. (Or ignore this tag, if you so choose.) Also, please don’t feel as thought you have to fill out this tag and post it today, especially if you don’t have the time and/or motivation: Like I said, I saved this tag for a whole entire year, so you’re more than welcome to do the same! No pressure.

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What are you grateful for today? I’d love to know, no matter what country you’re from!

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Reading, Depression, & That One 5-Star Book I Found In 2016

Over the past few years I’ve come to realize that you handle depression differently as time goes on. Hopefully this – by “this” I mean both the handling and the realization – sounds familiar to anyone else who has also struggled with mental illness, because it’s something I didn’t know anything about a few years ago and now I think about it a lot.

For instance, depression has affected my reading.

I don’t want to go into too much personal history here since A) I’d like to concentrate on something specific to this year and B) I plan to write a more comprehensive post about depression and reading later, but I will give a little bit of context because I think this post warrants it: As I’ve mentioned before, I can trace this current bout of depression back to about November 2012, which means I’ve been depressed for four years, give or take.

a game of thronesI didn’t read much in 2013. I read some books that I loved that year, such as The Miseducation of Cameron Post and A Game of Thrones, so that was nice. But honestly, I barely read anything that year.

I read A LOT in 2014. Like, so much. SO MUCH. I read 203 books! That’s an accomplishment anyone would be proud of, let alone someone with depression.

I read 100 books in 2015, which didn’t feel like very many books compared to how many I read the previous year. It was exactly the number I’d set as my Goodreads reading challenge goal, though. So I should be proud of myself for that.

And this year? I’ve read 65 books so far in 2016.

I honestly do think I’m on track to accomplish this year’s Goodreads goal, however. MOSTLY BECAUSE I’M VERY STUBBORN WHEN I WANT TO BE and there is no way I’ll let myself not reach this goal.

But it’s been hard. Very hard. I can’t focus as well as I used to. I don’t have the same interest in stories that I once did, as much as it pains me to say that. I’m too sad and/or tired to read. I’m too sad/or tired to do my homework and so when I finally do finish my homework, there’s no time left to read because I’ve wasted it all sleeping or sitting, immobile, feeling like I should do something.

It’s been kind of interesting, in a detached and vaguely scientific way, to see how I react and adapt to depression. Back in 2014 I was REALLY GOOD at pushing through sadness and worry and, oh god, those OCD thoughts that circle around and around and around and, just when you think they’ve left your mind for good, come back.

This year I’m not so good at that. I have a few ideas as to why but I won’t go into those since this post isn’t about them. This post is about how I’d read more than one hundred books by April or May in 2014 but am still struggling to pass the seventy-book mark in late November of 2016, with the new year less than a month and a half away.

It happens.

I’ll deal with it.

between the world and meActually, the real reason I’m writing this post is that I’ve only read one five-star book so far. I’ve been thinking about this the past few months: I probably won’t read a second one, although I certainly won’t rule out that possibility. Just doesn’t seem likely, considering how few books I’ve read this year and how stingy I am with my five-star ratings.

The book, if you’re wondering, is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ brilliant work of nonfiction Between the World and Me. I read it in February. GOD, THAT SEEMS SO LONG AGO. I’d love to find another five-star book sometime this year, but I’d be content with reading only three- and four- star books during these last few weeks of 2016 too. (Happily, I have read very few one- and two-star books! Yay!)

Depression sucks. I still have an interest in books, but it’s just not as strong – so I keep adding and adding and adding books to my TBR, but not actually reading them. I feel hopelessly behind at times and motivated at others. Right now I feel motivated, as a matter of fact, if a little regretful that I didn’t read more this year and whittle down my TBR.

Oh, well. I’m planning to read all day today. A bookish burst, if you will. Just push through. I have a stack of books picked out and I’ve already been working my way through it. (This is, in fact, a scheduled post, because I wanted to spend as much time reading as possible.) Happy reading, everyone!

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How To Think Like A Critic

A few Saturdays ago, I attended a creative writing class organized by the Nonfiction Writing Program at my school. The grad students hosted a bunch of free two-hour workshops, open to anyone and everyone, and I picked one called “Think Like A Critic,” although I would have happily attended all six workshops if I didn’t have so much homework to do! Here is the official description of the class:

Hated the latest Game of Thrones? Loved The Girl on the Train? Got questions for Kanye? Your opinions matter, but why should the world listen? Pitching critical reviews is one of the best ways to break into the world of professional writing – the problem is, everyone’s doing it. Here’s how to get heard.

I love writing (or trying to write) in this genre and have only grown more interested in it as time goes by. I have fairly serious plans to submit some of my writing to online publications such as Autostraddle, Book Riot, and The Mary Sue, and although not everything I would like to write for such publications is a critical review, a large chunk of my work would certainly consist of criticism. I discovered that I love this genre by experimenting and practicing with it on this blog and now I’m beginning to view it as just one of many types of writing I may do in my career.

I learned so much at this workshop, not just about how to become better at writing criticism but also how to pitch your ideas to publications, which is something I was clueless about before! I’ve decided to write a post based on my notes from the class because I thought some of you who read my blog might be interested in it.

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The best critics tend to also be excellent essayists in their own right. This is the first thing the instructors said in the workshop and it really stuck with me. Criticism is is an art form. It takes just as much skill, practice, and hard work to write good criticism as it does to craft whatever it is that you’re critiquing – be it a book, a movie, an episode of a TV show, a play, et cetera.

We also discussed how criticism merely means being analytical. Calling your work “a critical review” doesn’t necessarily mean that you think what you reviewed was bad! Criticism includes both positive and negative opinions and should aim to be as constructive as possible. A lot of people forget this! Some critics painstakingly look for anything bad in whatever it is that they’re critiquing, while others try to find as much good as possible. And plenty are in the middle.

The next thing we learned was that it’s important to write down your impressions as you go, not later. In other words, you should take notes as you read a book, watch a movie, listen to an album, or peruse an exhibit or gallery.

While this may sound obvious, it was really helpful advice for me because I know I sometimes forget to do this: It seems like too much work or just another thing to worry about! Sometimes I’d rather read a book straight through instead of stopping to write down my ideas about it every few minutes. The instructors reminded us that sometimes you forget or misremember your first impressions, so you need to record them early in order to be accurate.

We then brainstormed a list of different types of criticism based on contexts and points of view. These included:

  • Political (including criticism based on and around issues of social justice)
  • Social (religious, scientific, et cetera)
  • Genre (which can be broken down into the subcategory of author/creator)
  • Cynical/contrarian
  • Personal
  • Historical

With this in mind, it’s also important to look for your blind spots. Examine your writing and see where you wander off topic. One of the instructors phrased it this way: “Ask yourself, ‘Where am I reveling in my style of criticism and not actually saying anything?'” Where does your writing become bogged down by the context or point of view? How can you edit those parts to refocus your writing on the subject of your critique? Like, providing historical context in a piece about an art exhibit is GREAT, but if you devote only two sentences to your thoughts on the exhibit itself, your readers will get bored.

Take the time to figure out your readers’ frame of reference so that you know which contexts and points of view are most applicable! If you write a critical review that contextualizes your subject according to your own personal experiences – for example, maybe your review of a movie about a particular country tells how that movie spoke to you as someone who grew up in that country – and submit it to, say, a magazine that tends to publish pieces grounded in a more historical context, then you just wasted your time. And theirs.

On that note, we were told that the second stupidest thing you can do when submitting your work is to send in your criticism without first researching the publication you hope to write for. Again, this may sound obvious, but one of the instructors told us a story about his time as one of the editors at Vox.

At the time, that website was about one and a half years old, and yet he got a lot of pitches from people who claimed to have been fans of Vox “for years.” He said he immediately stopped reading those pitches because it was obvious that those people had no idea what they were talking about. If you don’t know basic background info about the publication you’re submitting to, you’re not qualified enough to write for it.

And the #1 stupidest thing? Sending your pitches and/or work to a standard submission email. It’ll get lost, or it will end up in the virtual slush pile of unread material.

Instead, it was recommended that we send our work directly to the editor. Ahhh, just typing that makes me so nervous because I’m always worried about bothering people and know I’ll feel super uncomfortable when it comes time to send that email.

Anyway, if you can’t find the editor’s email, look around the site until you find contact information for someone several rungs below on the magazine ladder, such as an intern. Since the email addresses of members of any organization tend to follow the same format, all you have to do is figure out what that format is. For example, maybe it’s the first initial, followed by a period, and then the last name. Use this knowledge to email the editor.

Like I said, just the thought of doing this makes me anxious! Buuuut… we were told that most editors will actually view this positively, not negatively: It shows them that you’re dedicated and know how to use the Internet for research.

In your pitch, you should clearly state what qualifies you to address whatever it is that you’ll be critiquing. Will your review have a unique spin? Use this time to show off what you know about the publication by mentioning why your take on this subject is relevant to the publication’s readers. 

The last few items I want to discuss didn’t really fit anywhere else in this post, so I’m going to turn them into a list:

  • Try to get advance copies, showings, screenings, tours, et cetera for big-name books, TV shows, movies, plays, art galleries, and more + send in your pitches at least a month before that media is available to the general public!
  • On the other hand, some publications traditionally publish critical reviews a few weeks after something is published or released because once the initial buzz has died down somewhat they aren’t competing with as many other voices.
  • Be you. Be different. Don’t feel that you have to write about what everyone else is writing about. In the words of one of the workshop teachers, “If you want to become a TV critic, pick something other than Game of Thrones.”
  • While you should certainly never write something just to appear edgy, know that a lot of good criticism does cause anger. (And remember, criticism can be either positive or negative!) And anger = more views.

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Because I usually fill my Saturdays with homework, I very nearly skipped this workshop – but I’m so glad that I didn’t! I hear so many people asking for and giving advice on how to query short stories and novel manuscripts in the online writing communities to which I belong, but I rarely see anything about how to pitch nonfiction pieces. I loved this class and I hope you find my notes helpful!

P.S. What is your dream reviewing job? I already mentioned some online publications I’d love to write for at the top of this post, so now it’s your turn to tell me where you’d love to submit stuff!

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