2017 Resolutions

memory-jars

At this time of year, a lot of us are looking back on the resolutions we made for 2016, and either congratulating ourselves for having accomplished them, or beating ourselves up for failing to live up to our own expectations.

Most of my goals for 2016 were centred around reading, writing and the publishing world. Although I managed to accomplish some of them, my year was derailed pretty early on and I never quite got back on track.

2016 was a really tough year for me and my family, and most of my emotional energy was focused on dealing with losing my granny and supporting my mum through cancer, so my goals fell by the wayside. Normally, I’m the kind of person who is very goal-orientated and doesn’t cope well with failure (even if it’s only self-perceived failure), but, now that the relentless wave of 2016 has finally washed ashore, I’m trying to look at things differently.

Rather than being angry with myself for not achieving everything I wanted to, I’m choosing to be proud of myself for making it through 2016 with my sanity, self-confidence and sense of humour intact. I wouldn’t have managed that when I was younger, so I’m counting it as a solid achievement.

I’m also choosing to believe that 2017 will be better than last year, so I’m setting myself some new goals for the year ahead:

  • I’ve signed up to participate in the Goodreads Reading Challenge for the second time. Last year, I set myself a goal of 45 books, which turned out not to be attainable, so this year I’m aiming for 30 books. I have a great stack to get started with and I’m looking forward to delving into them. book-stack
  • Last year, I decided to participate in the Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 2016 Reading Challenge to read 12 books in 12 different categories in 12 months. It was a fun idea, but I only managed to read about half of the books on my challenge list (to be honest, I completely forgot about it and just read whatever I felt like). This year, I’m not going to try to stick to a specific list, but rather just aim to read a mix of genres in both fiction and non-fiction.
  • Getting my first short story published last year was a great experience and one I would love to repeat, but my main goal this year is just to write, whether or not I feel like sharing it with others. I didn’t write any fiction at all in 2016, since all my ideas stubbornly refused to make their way from my mind to the page, so I’m hoping to change that this year. There are so many characters running around in my head, a few of them are bound to break free!
  • This blog didn’t get much attention from me last year either, so writing more posts is another goal. The ones that have meant the most to me have been centred around mental health issues, which I’ve been dealing with a lot in the last year. A number of people have told me that those posts have helped them and that they’ve shared them with others, which is fantastic to hear, and it’s given me the confidence to write more along the same lines.

I feel good about these goals and I think they’re realistic and interesting enough for me to achieve, so I’m going to leave it there for now. I hope you all enjoyed bringing in the new year, and I wish you all the best for 2017!

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Anxiety and Editing – The Perfect Combination

Editing Marks

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while, but a few things have happened this week that have made me decide to write it now.

Some background before I get to the main point.

I grew up with a severely autistic brother, whose violent outbursts and unpredictable behaviour made my childhood home a frightening and dangerous place to be. He’s my only sibling and I’m the eldest, and my parents unwittingly placed a great burden of responsibility on me that I was too young to bear. I became fearful, withdrawn and terrified of telling my parents how I felt because I thought they couldn’t cope. I wanted to be the strong one, because, from where I was standing at 11 years old and ignorant of the strength of my parents’ marriage, I believed that if I showed any weakness, my family would fall apart.

A few years later, after my brother had been moved to a specialist residential care facility, I developed health problems. It’s a complicated story but, in a nutshell, an undiagnosed autoimmune disease left me with permanent damage to my digestive system and significant problems with my nervous system. When it all began the physical pain only added to the emotional pain and eventually it all got too much. I became depressed, horribly anxious, and, eventually, suicidal.

I got the treatment I needed, and, 13 years later, I’m a completely different person than I was then. My physical health has gotten worse, but my mental health has improved enormously. Unfortunately, although I have beaten back the depression and suicidal thoughts, I still have an anxiety disorder.

Because of this, I worried for years that, despite my academic achievements and ambition, I would never find a profession that would suit me. Then I found publishing, specifically, editing.

To my great surprise, this turned out to be the perfect job for someone with an anxious mind.

I work as a Publishing Quality Controller, and my main responsibility is to ensure that our books are as consistent and error-free as possible before they go to print. I LOVE my job, and I have found that it has allowed me to turn my anxiety into an asset.

It sharpens my focus and causes me to hone in on errors by instinct as well as by skill and experience. I’ll run my eyes over a page and think, something is wrong here, and I won’t stop until I find and correct it (or grudgingly convince myself to leave it alone if necessary – some authors are very stubborn!). It also makes me highly organised, and I use spreadsheets, checklists, folders and a ridiculous number of post-it notes to make sure nothing is missed or forgotten.

I don’t have a very laidback attitude when it comes to my work. When I send a top priority job to our typesetters, I’m slightly on edge until they acknowledge receipt of it. When an important deadline is unexpectedly brought forward, I’ll work as much overtime as it takes so that I don’t sacrifice quality for the sake of getting it done on time. My anxiety has a hard time letting me cut corners, even if I know the readers would likely never notice the errors I don’t fix. I know they’re there, and that’s all the motivation I need to keep working.

I have been known to be in bed about to fall asleep, suddenly remember a detail about a book I’m working on, then get up again and write it on one of my ever-present post-it note pads so that I can follow it up the next day. Crazy? Maybe. But it means that I don’t have to worry about it and I can get to sleep. The same goes for checking my emails out of office hours. I’m a ‘forewarned is forearmed’ kind of person, and if having knowledge of a new job the night before means I can hit the ground running the next morning, then I’m happy to keep an eye on them.

To a lot of people, this way of doing things might seem very unhealthy, but it works for me, and has the added benefit of taking my mind off the physical pain I deal with every day.

I am incredibly fortunate to work in a very supportive and sociable environment with seriously awesome colleagues, and I have the best manager I could possibly ask for. So many people face stigma in the workplace because of their mental health issues, and, while I don’t go about discussing mine at work, it doesn’t bother me that there’s a chance a few of my colleagues might read this. I trust them not to judge me for it or look at me any differently, and that’s a rare gift that I’m very grateful for.

Earlier this week, I had an upsetting conversation with someone close to me, and while I lay awake that night unable to sleep for worrying about it, all I wanted was for it to be morning so that I could go to work and plough my nervous energy into something worthwhile that would focus my mind and help me feel better. It worked, and that day I managed to send a series of 5 books to our typesetters and beat the deadline I had set for myself.

Sure, having an anxiety disorder means that I spend a lot of time worrying about small things (or what other people might consider to be small things), and even things that never actually happen. My anxious mind can conjure up the worst case scenario from any situation faster than my rational mind can stop it. That’s hard sometimes, but it also allows me to anticipate potential problems at work and head them off before they jeopardise the quality or deadline of a book.

After being treated by 5 psychologists in 15 years, I’ve come to the conclusion that my state of mind as it is now may be as good as it’s going to get. Rather than being upset by that, I’ve finally reached the point where I’ve accepted it. There are times that it still gets the better of me, but those times get less and less as the years go by, and, for the most part, I am able to control it enough to allow me to live the life I want to.

Rather than fighting with my anxiety and trying to change the person it has led me to become, I’m using it to my advantage. I haven’t figured out yet how that’s going to work in other areas of my life (where it still tends to cause problems), but I’ve certainly figured out how to use it to make me the best Publishing Quality Controller I can be.

I would never have wished to go through the things I have and to have been left with this anxiety, but it’s a part of me now, and it doesn’t have to be a weakness. For me, it has become a strength, and I think, if he could be, my brother would be proud of me for that.

Spine-benders vs. Spine-preservers: How do you treat your books?

Books can be truly beautiful objects. Having recently completed a postgraduate degree in publishing studies and learned a lot about the design and production process, I appreciate this all the more. Take the Penguin Classics hardback series, for example. Designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith, these linen covers have been stamped with beautiful, vibrant and colourful depictions of images representing the novels they enclose. They will make a wonderful edition to any book lover’s collection.

I want all of them. No, really. ALL of them. Even Pride and Prejudice. (Sorry, Austen fans, I’m a Brontë girl). © Penguin Books.

I want all of them. No, really. ALL of them. Even Pride and Prejudice. (Sorry, Austen fans, I’m a Brontë girl). © Penguin Books.

Paperbacks can also be beautifully designed, and many of them are. As a great example, you should check out the book trailer for the illustrated version of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, which provides an awesome preview of the artwork in both the hardback and paperback editions.

In my experience, people who love reading paperbacks often fall into two distinct categories: the spine-benders and the spine-preservers. The former bend the spines of their books while reading them; the latter make sure to keep their book spines intact and looking like new. I have a confession to make. My name is Jo, and I’m a spine-bender. It seems to be an inherited trait. My mother is a spine-bender too, and, since I got my love of reading from her, it seems only natural that I would follow her manner of reading as well. This habit of mine has horrified some of my spine-preserver friends. Whenever I borrow a book from one of them, I make sure to leave the spine untouched. If I accidentally slip back into my spine-bending ways, which has happened once or twice, I buy them a brand new copy. After all, to us bibliophiles our books are precious objects, and, when borrowed, should be treated with respect. Or else.

So, if I love books so much, why would I intentionally damage them? One reason is I genuinely find them easier and more comfortable to read if I can open them out properly; but there is a more meaningful reason than that. When I first pick up a book in a bookshop, I see a world of possibilities. Will I love this book? Will I hate it? Will it have a profound effect on me, or will it leave no impression at all? When you pick up a book from my collection, you’ll probably be able to answer those questions. Like most book lovers, I can’t fit all of them onto one shelf, or even into one bookcase. Instead, a small selection of my favourites sit on a special shelf in my bedroom where I can see them every day.

My faithful robin friend watches over my collection. He’ll peck you if you try to steal one.

My faithful robin friend watches over my collection. He’ll peck you if you try to steal one.

With a glance, you can tell which ones I’ve read the most – their spines are seriously creased. If you pick one of them up, Book One of the Banned and the Banished series by James Clemens, for example, it will look a little worn, the pages a little ragged. You might even find a piece of paper or two tucked between the pages containing my thoughts and feelings about particular passages. Maybe some old index tab stickers leftover from my university days will draw your attention to a quote that I thought was important or meaningful. The book itself might help you learn still more about my reading habits by simply falling open at a particular page; one I’ve read so many times that the spine has completely cracked.

Deep breaths, spine-preservers, stay with me here.

If you’re looking for the book that means the most to me, you won’t find it on this shelf. It has lived in the top drawer of my bedside table ever since I first got it in 1996, at the tender age of nine. As you can see, it’s pretty beaten up. It looks like it’s been read dozens of times and travelled with me to many places. It has. When I look at its curling pages, its creased cover and worn spine, I don’t see a book which has been poorly cared for. I see a book that has a history, a unique character that sets it apart from the untouched copies in a bookshop. I see the times it has given me comfort. Made me laugh. Made me think. Made me cry. Even just holding it makes me feel better.

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My eighteen-year long love affair with Star Trek and why it means so much to me is a whole other story. I might write about that another time.

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I have nothing against the development of e-books. I understand their advantages and that they can lead more people to a love of reading. To me, though, they’re nothing more than data files. Other than the words they contain, they have no character. They remain the same no matter how many times they are read. They can’t absorb the ink of an author’s autograph or a message from a loved one. You can’t hold them in your hands, only the device they have been downloaded onto.  And, the most important drawback for me – you can’t put them on a bookshelf. These limitations don’t matter to everyone, but they matter to me.

That being said, if a book I really wanted to read was only available in digital format, I would still read it. I wouldn’t deny myself that book just because it was in a format other than paper and ink. I don’t agree with the idea I’ve heard flaunted by some literature snobs that those who only read e-books are not ‘real readers’. That’s nonsense. Of course they are. Whether for convenience, financial reasons or the attraction of interactive features, for some people e-books are their preferred way of reading. For me, though, the way I interact with a book is inextricably linked to the format in which I read it. In my case, that means paper and ink all the way. I don’t mind if that means my suitcase is a little heavier when I travel. I don’t care that the book costs a bit more or that it might take longer to get to me. Those extra little hassles are more than worth it for the reading experience I love.

I’m actually dealing with one of those hassles right now. The release date for a Star Trek novel I’ve been waiting fifteen months for has been pushed back by two weeks. The release date for the paperback, that is. The e-book is readily available now. I could have it in about five minutes via my Google Books app for £4.99 if I was so inclined. I’m not. Sure, it’s frustrating to have to wait for longer, but I’ve already waited fifteen months, so what’s another few weeks if I know I’ll enjoy the reading experience more if I just have a little patience?

In the Star Trek universe, set in the 23rd and 24th centuries, for all their advanced technology, the characters are often seen reading from physical books as well as from data pads. The two exist side by side. That’s how it should be. Unfortunately, publishing in both print and digital formats isn’t always financially feasible these days.

Captain Picard often had his nose in a traditional book, particularly the works of Shakespeare. © Paramount Studios.

Captain Picard often had his nose in a traditional book, particularly the works of Shakespeare. © Paramount Studios.

Some might say that I haven’t given e-books a fair chance. That may be true. I’ve never read an e-book from start to finish. I got about halfway through one of the free downloads that came with my Google Books app before I gave up. I just wasn’t enjoying the reading experience; which in turn meant I wasn’t enjoying the book as much either. The app came already installed on my smart phone, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have bothered with it. I borrowed my uncle’s Kindle last year and tried to read a book on that. Same problem. E-books just aren’t my thing.

Does this mean that I’m a hopelessly out of touch fuddy-duddy who has no business going after a job in the increasingly digitised world of publishing? No, I don’t think so. The field I’m most interested in is academic/educational publishing, and I’m really enthusiastic about new forms of scholarly publication like open access journals. I may not like e-books when I’m reading for pleasure, but online resources and digitally published research articles were invaluable to me while I was at university. I would love to be involved with academic publishing and help to promote information sharing in the digital age. Similarly, if I was able to work with a fiction publisher, I would be just as dedicated to producing high quality e-books as I would be to physical books. Just because I’m personally not keen on reading them, doesn’t mean I have anything against others doing so, especially if access to e-books encourages people to read more.

Whichever branch of the publishing industry I find myself in, I will gladly go to work each day ready to enthusiastically launch myself into any project I’m asked to. But when I go home, and curl up by the fire in an old armchair in the house I hope to have one day, it’ll be with a physical book. Be it one of my old creased companions, or a new friend waiting to be etched with my memories.