Recently, I was reading a hot erotica paperback that I picked up at The Ripped Bodice, a bookstore dedicated to romance and erotica titles. The writing was great. The sex scenes were hot. I was invested in the characters, but as the timeline flashed forward and readers were filled in with what had happened to the characters in the years since we last saw them.
Like a great writer, the author didn't give the readers an info dump on what had happened in those 10 years. Instead, she was feeding us cookie crumbs of information. From the first little bit, I had an uneasy feeling. She mentioned that the character had nursed a baby, but there was no baby in the story yet. That was around page 20. Around page 35, we learn that she has bullet wound scars. Oh, no. That doesn't bode well. Around page 45, we found out that the female main character had panic attacks and four locks on her door. Okay.... Around page 50, I had to put the book down. I realized that the heroine had lost a very young child or baby in some sort of gun fight/crossfire situation.
I couldn't do it. No fault to the author. It was all on my emotional mentality. I'm not in a good headspace to handle reading something like that at the moment. My anxiety is too great.
It's Me, Not You
It's okay to break up with books that you aren't feeling. Maybe you don't connect with the characters, maybe the word choice is driving you bonkers, maybe the subject hits too close to home. It's okay to stop watching tv shows that are boring to you. (I'm look at you Fear the Walking Dead.) It's fine to donate clothes that no longer suit your style. Stop eating food that makes you feel crappy or tastes bad. Stop listening to music that you don't actually like just because an old boyfriend tried to convince you that the Violent Femmes were, like, the best band ever. You don't owe anything to anyone.
Maybe I'll pick this book up again. Maybe I won't. It won't stop me from reading. It might not even stop me from reading something by this author again. But, I am not obligated to finish something that doesn't serve me.
Know Your Why
If you stop doing something, it's always healthy to know why. As a writer, it is important to me to know why I stopped reading a book or why it feels like such a burden to bear when I should be excited and entertained by a book. It informs my own work. If I am bored as a reader, chances are that if I do something similar to my readers, they will also be bored.
Know why you're doing something. If you are finding yourself grinding your jaw and powering through something (ahem. Season 7 of Gilmore Girls), you should also know why you can't give it up. I find that I keep hoping that something will turn a corner. That it will finally get better. But, most of the time, ain't nobody got time for that.
We Can Do Better
I find myself coming back to this thought since I put down that book. As writer, as story creators, we can do better than to give our heroines an overused, lame storyline. We can do better than to rest on the violence against women trope to give our characters conflict (I'm calling you out: Outlander the TV series). As women, we have more internal conflicts than child loss/miscarriage, sexual assault, abuse in relationships, or infertility. Black Widow is rich and dynamic character. We don't really care about the active state of her uterus and she didn't seem to either until that disaster of a movie.
Yes, those issues are intense and demand a lot out of a person. But, we lean on them too hard. Women have other issues. People have other issues and conflict and desires. Let's look at those. Let's tell those stories. The story of the accidental mother who regrets having children would be a harder story to tell. The story of abusive (but not abused) female is harder to tell. The story of the sociopathic female is harder to tell. The story of the career driven, child free by choice, female is harder to tell. The asexual or transgender or pan sexual or gender fluid or.... Those stories are harder to tell and can be rich and dynamic in their own right.
I know that I'm going to challenge myself to write better stories, to read better stories. We should expect more.
What is something that you have started but never finished? Why? Let me know in the comments.