Confession: My biggest shame in life is that I’m a writer who doesn’t read

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This is my absolute deepest, most secret shame… I don’t read.

I know that might be a funny or surprising thing to say considering that I am in recovery and could probably shock even the closest of friends with some of my worst drinking stories (only my partner Adam knows them all), but it’s true.

You see, I love books.

No, seriously, I love love LOVE books. I love the way they smell, I love the way they look, I love holding them, I love collecting them, I love the way they decorate my bookcase, I love that buying them supports another writer, and I love owning them. Seriously, I *love* books!

So what the heck is wrong with me that I don’t read?

I can tell you right now that I have probably owned at least a thousand books in my lifetime. Working as a journalist has allowed me to buy books for cheap, to give them away when I was done with them, to get books for free even, and so much more. When I was really into cooking, I would buy every cookbook I could find (often for $1), and eventually donated them. The same happened when I was really into writing chick lit and YA, books which I eventually gave to my friend who is a teacher.

These days I have stopped buying physical books, and instead switched to ebooks. I thought this was a great switch for me, and even loved it for quite a while. But now I own at least 200 books on my Kindle, most of which I have not actually read.

In fact, as I was doing my taxes last year, I discovered that I spent $1,500 on books. Thanks goodness it’s a tax write-off!

Do you know how many of those books that I bought last year I actually read?

None.

That’s right. Last year, I bought a shitton of books and read absolutely none of them from start to finish… And I feel absolutely horrible about that. I feel guilty, like a loser, like a failed writer, and like a fake.

A common piece of advice that we writers get is that we should be READING ALL THE TIME. It’s a well-known way to learn “the craft” of writing, by simply reading what others do, learning from those that came before you, absorbing their stories and their prose and their sentence structure and… Yeah, all of that.

I don’t disagree with this piece of advice. It’s just I don’t exactly follow it.

Here’s the thing: I don’t get why I don’t follow it considering just how much I truly, truly love books. I love learning about people’s stories, I love fiction and non-fiction and absorbing things about other’s lives. I’ve fallen in love with memoir, and I try to read as much of it as I can while also working on my own memoir, Moscow Chica.

Or at least I want to, in theory. But I don’t read.

Instead, I buy books and then feel guilty because they stay sitting on my shelf, lying on my nightstand, or waiting on my Kindle.

In fact, even my Kindle is a brand-new purchase. Last year, in hopes of reading more, I switched from an iPad to a Kindle. I bought it around the Thanksgiving Day sale on Amazon for a cool $50. I almost bought a fancier, pricier version in hopes that would motivate me further (but I’m really glad I didn’t, because it hasn’t).

I spent hours setting up my Kindle and making it perfect.

All of my books are now in categories, and that makes me SO happy. All of the books I have ever bought in digital form are just happily waiting for me to finally open them, and yet I never do it.

Why is that? What the hell is wrong with me, a writer for the entirety of my 10+ year career and beforehand, that I don’t actually read?

I think I have finally figured it out, actually. The reason behind my oh-so-secret shame as a writer is that I am an extrovert.

Yes, that’s what I said: I am an extrovert and that is why I, a writer who absolutely LOVES books, doesn’t read.

Here’s what typically happens when I sit down to read a book: I read a chapter or two, sometimes more, and then I get antsy and bored. The last time I read a good chunk of my current bookclub book (Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed, a writer I love and follow), I got through to the next section and then decided to go get a manicure and pedicure.

Sometimes, I start reading and decide that I have to take care of the dishes RIGHT NOW, or that I should be cleaning out the litter box, or that I want to draw, or that I want to catch up with Facebook, or whatever. There’s just always something. Something else I want to be doing that isn’t sitting there and reading. A lot of the times I want to be doing something else that involves other people, which is why I often run off to get a mani-pedi or even put in a movie instead.

In a weird way, reading is too isolating to me.

And I know what you’re going to say: Reading is all about using your imagination! You live in the world of the books! You’re involved with those characters!

Hey, I get that, and I don’t disagree. But at the same time, I am realizing that what reading is missing for me is a more personal connection. When I read, I just hear my own voice in my head and somehow… that’s boring.

I don’t know what to make of this, but I just am not good at reading books.

Here’s the other thing I realized, though: I actually do read. I read constantly. I am also an editor, so I am always reading other people’s writing. And because I am a journalist, I am constantly reading other people’s published articles. I am in a few Facebook groups, where people post their most recent stories, and I am often either saving them to read later (sorry, must be more of the not reading issues) because they’re too long for me at the moment or I’m reading them right then and there.

I am constantly consuming media, really, because I am also always either watching television or listening to Spotify or, my newest thing, listening to podcasts.

I talked about it briefly recently when I confessed that I had some middle-of-the-night issues as a writer, but I have fallen in love HARD with podcasts.

Currently, I’m listening primarily to Dear Sugar Radio (that’s Cheryl Strayed’s podcast), Happier with Gretchen Rubin (another writer I love), Modern Love, Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert (ditto as Cheryl and Gretchen), Quiet: The Power of Introverts with Susan Cain (learning something about my partner, Adam, who is an introvert), and many more.

What I’m finding out as I learn more about myself as a writer and as a person in general is that I need to connect with others in order to “recharge”. That’s the whole extrovert thing. And I guess that reading just isn’t recharging enough for me, but somehow watching television or listening to a podcast is recharging.

Even though in those cases I’m not actually spending time with people, I’m still somehow around people in a weird way. If I’m watching a television show or movie that I like, I’m still learning something or feeling close to someone else (even if they’re a fictional character). And with podcasts… Well, even better!

The reason why I’ve fallen in love with podcasts is because one of the reasons I enjoy reading (and do read a lot of articles, honestly) is to learn things, and podcasts are a great way for me to learn.

I also realized that I enjoy audiobooks, after many, many, MANY years of poking fun at one of my best friends (who also happens to be a journalist) who doesn’t read but instead has been listening to audiobooks for years now. I used to think it was kind of funny that he didn’t read (I even gave him the hashtag #jessedoesntread), but now I realize that audiobooks are AWESOME.

I discovered those a couple of months ago, during my April book club, when I listened to Jurassic Park. Then in May, I listened to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Now, in June, I am struggling through reading Wild (because I don’t have the audiobook), and it shows.

Perhaps the other reason I’ve fallen in love with audiobooks and podcasts is because I love multi-tasking, and simply “listening” to something (while learning or absorbing whatever it is that I am hearing) is fulfilling… because I can also be doing something else.

I absolutely loved listening to Jurassic Park all day on a Sunday, for instance, while organizing the second bedroom of my house (which has long been on my To Do List). Lately, I’ve been listening to various podcasts while doing laundry and cooking for the week on Sundays. It helps me pass the time and makes me less bored, honestly.

As I grow and mature as a writer and as a person, I am trying to let go of the expectations that I have for myself and the things that make me needlessly guilty.

So today I am confessing that I am a writer who doesn’t read… Or rather, a writer who has found that sitting down and reading a book for hours just isn’t for me because I need more activity and movement and noise in my life. So instead, I am a writer who loves to read… audiobooks and podcasts and articles that don’t take me too long.

I think that this new realization about myself will actually make me a better writer because I will spend less time obsessing or feeling bad that I’m not reading something, and instead do more “reading” with my audiobooks.

I can’t even begin to tell you how great it feels to wake up, turn on my podcasts (or Audible app), and take my shower while “reading”… Maybe more serious writers will completely judge me for this and tell me that I’m not a real writer if I’m not reading at least a book a week, but that just isn’t me. And I’m tired of living up to the expectations of what a writer should be, and instead am just going to be myself. #irinadoesntread

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April 2017 Writer’s Life: My new blog & new gig at Romper [#yearofwriting]

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Well, here we are! It’s April in my #yearofwriting adventures and I have not one but TWO big announcements, so let me start with those…

1. I started a new blog, The Cookie Dough Life!

The first week of April was not good for me. I hadn’t slept very well and I was increasingly frustrated about, to tell you the truth, I can’t even remember what. But out of my frustration was born a new blog that I have called The Cookie Dough Life.

While you’re totally welcome to read the full story of why I started the blog (and I hope you do!), here’s the main thing you need to know: Being cookie dough is the realization that I’m not done baking yet… Meaning that I haven’t figured it all out, and maybe that’s okay. Living The Cookie Dough Life is about embracing the fact that life is constantly changing and evolving, and so am I.

And, of course, I am going to take you on that journey. Really, it’s going to replace me writing random stuff on this site, which I am keeping as more of a portfolio site going forward. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, here is my favorite post so far: A year ago, I was single, unemployed, homeless, broke, fat and drunk.

2. I’m a Lifestyle Writer at Romper as of May 1st! 

In even MORE exciting news, I am happy to (finally) announce that I am joining Romper as a PT Lifestyle Writer starting Monday, May 1st! WOO HOO!

I will be covering various topics but, for those that don’t know Romper: They are a parenting site for millennial moms and are the sister site of Bustle (which is for millennial women in general). I’ve been a huge fan and follower of both since their launch, and am absolutely thrilled to be joining the team.

I realize that’s not really an April writing thing, but I did apply, interview for and get the job in the month of April, so I think it should count. Oh, and in case you’re wondering: No, I’m not a mom (yet, in fact, I write about that here) but I know I will be someday and I have plenty of experience writing about mom topics previously. So, needless to say, I am just OH SO EXCITED!

And now on to the rest of the month…

What was published: 

Breaking into three new publications has been pretty fun this month, especially because they were all posts that were very personal to me: The first about being bisexual (even though I plan to marry a man), the second about my fertility fears (a subject near and dear to my heart) and the third about how to party sober (since I’m in recovery).

All of those stories were written last month, with the fertility fears story actually being written in January. Can you believe how long I had to wait for it to publish?! But this happens, and it was still thrilling to see the story live… FINALLY!

How much I wrote: 23,487 words

How much I made: $1750

This has been my most successful writing month BY FAR, I have to say. I basically wrote double of what I had in February and March, and made as much money as I did in January (except that two stories back then were on spec, which didn’t get picked up).

Part of the reason that I wrote so much was also because I am counting my words for The Cookie Dough Life. Maybe that’s a little bit unfair because I’m not getting paid for that so, at first glance, it seems as if I am getting paid less to write more… but that’s not the case, because this writing is personal and just for me.

Pitches sent out in April: 5
Pitch rejections: 0
Pitch non-replies: 3
Pitch acceptances: 2 (sort of)
Pitch reply with question: 0

Follow-ups with previous pitches: 6
Pitch rejections: 1
Pitch non-replies: 5
Pitch acceptances: 0

Of course, the story gets a little bit more complicated when you look at the pitches I sent out this past month. Basically, let’s face it: they suck. I barely pitched, and most of it wasn’t until the very end of the month (last week, in fact) and that’s that.

I don’t love the way that looks, to be honest, but part of the reason is because I’ve been busy this month, my organization has recently gone to shit and I was actually doing a lot more writing than usual (as you saw above) which obviously meant a lot less time for pitching.

I don’t love this, but I will say that I wrote four brand-new-to-me freelance pieces in January, two in February, two in March and six in April. I’m pretty proud of those numbers and I guess I just have to live with the fact that in a month where you freelance more than before, are in the middle of a job application (as I was for a while) AND also start a new blog, you just won’t be able to fit everything in. And that’s okay.

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February 2017 Writer’s Life: What I wrote, how I pitched & money I made [#yearofwriting]

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Last month, I decided to write about what it is really like to be a freelance writer these days… As part of my commitment to the #yearofwriting, my January 2017 Writer’s Life post included all of the hard numbers (meaning how many words I actually wrote and how much money I actually made).

I also posted links to everything of mine that was published, and talked a little bit about how everything is going. This month, I have a confession to make: February did NOT go nearly as well as January.

You see, I started the new year by working with a fabulous writing coach, Mridu Khullar Relph (who runs The International Freelancer) and she helped me get my career to this next level: Pitching more, making more money and spending more time on my personal projects too. This month, however, I have been largely on my own.

So what happened? Well, as you will see… Less work! I am still trying to find the motivation I had when I was responsible to telling someone else just how much I got done very day, and it’s not easy. I learned a few extra things about myself this month than I had last month.

But anyway… Let’s get to it, shall we?

What was published: 

I still have a couple stories in the works from last month, but I will say that WITHOUT A DOUBT the proudest story I wrote and had published was Ravishly’s I Didn’t Need A Partner Or A ‘Perfect’ Body For Boudoir Photos — And Neither Do You. This is one that I have been thinking about ever since I took the photos almost a year ago, so I am beyond thrilled to finally have it all out there.

The other exciting thing I did this month was that I decided to start a Medium publication (aka blog) titled Moscow Chica – the same title as my memoir and newsletter. In fact, not only did I do an intro post on this site but I also wrote about how My “A Day Without Immigrants” Protest Is To Be Louder Than Ever.

But I know what you REALLY want to hear about are the solid numbers, right?

How much I wrote: 12,038 words

How much I made: $1125

In comparison, I wrote 4,437 less words in February than I did in January. And that honestly wasn’t because I didn’t have as many days… It was fully because I just wasn’t feeling as motivated and was letting my mood get in the way of my writing.

Money-wise, I also made $300 less. Well, $600 less because two pieces in January were on-spec (but ultimately not accepted). No surprise there! It’s almost simple, isn’t it? I pitched less, I wrote less, and I made less money.

Pitches sent out in February: 11
Pitch rejections: 1
Pitch non-replies: 8
Pitch acceptances: 1
Pitch reply with question: 1

Follow-ups with previous pitches: 7
Pitch rejections: 3
Pitch non-replies: 4
Pitch acceptances: 0

Look at that! I sent 27 pitches in January, spurned by my writing coach, and this month has been a LOT less… In fact, I sent almost none in the middle of the month. Most of the pitches sent were at the beginning of the month when I was still working with Mridu, and then a few at the end of the month when I realized I was far from what I did before.

My goal is to be sending a pitch every day during the work week (except for Fridays), so I should be sending about 16-20 pitches every week.

Despite my less-than-stellar February, I did learn something: I learned that motivation can get in the way when I’m not working with someone who is pushing me. But I also learned that I *can* do it on my own, and I can push myself. The pitches I sent at the end of the month were all fun and exciting, and I feel pumped for March to start.

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January 2017 Writer’s Life: Published pieces, money talk, pitches & more [#yearofwriting]

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At the start of the year, I wrote about the 7 fearless things I am doing for my career in 2017 and exactly why I am signing up for the #52essays2017 challenge. I also committed to making 2017 my #yearofwriting… my theme for the year, if you will.

I’ve had a few small successes here and there: Mainly that I am now officially a contributor at Mom.me (yay!) and am getting serious about working on my memoir, Moscow Chica: How Growing Up Cuban and Russian Made Me an American.

But I also wanted to talk about what a writer’s life is really like… Mainly, I wanted to talk about the solid numbers.

So here’s the deal: Starting this month, I am going to get real and tell the truth about how my freelancing has gone this month. I’ll talk about what went well, what didn’t and what it all meant. So here goes!

What was published: 

Some of these pieces were written before this month, and some were written more recently. Obviously, all of my Mom.me work is news stories and the repeal of “wet foot, dry foot” was recent too. But all in all, I also wanted to show what freelancing I did. Other than my part-time food editor job at Brit.co, here are the solid numbers:

How much I wrote: 16,475 words

How much I made: $1725*

*I am including two pieces that were accepted on spec (meaning that the editor wanted to see a full draft before they could finally say “yes”) that have been submitted but I haven’t officially heard back on. Also: This ONLY includes my freelance writing income.

Besides that, there’s also pitching… It’s what us writer have to do in order to write, yes? This month has been by FAR my most successful month of pitching and reaching out to new editors. To be honest, in 2016 I was feeling pretty cushy with my PT food editor gig and my contributing writer roles, and never looked to expand my resume.

Well, one of the things that I am doing for my writing career in 2017 is that I hired a writing coach. Her name is Mridu Khullar Relph and she runs TheInternationalFreelancer.com, and is basically FANTASTIC. The truth is that I needed a big kick to get my career to the next level, which is precisely why I hired her. It’s gone incredibly well so far! Here’s all of the numbers:

Pitches sent out in January: 27
Pitch rejections: 9
Pitch non-replies: 12
Pitch acceptances: 4
Pitch acceptances on spec: 2

Follow-ups with previous pitches: 5
Pitch rejections: 1
Pitch non-replies: 1
Pitch acceptances: 1
Pitch acceptances on spec: 2

I admit: The 27 pitches isn’t an exact number, primarily because one pitch went out on 6 simultaneous submissions and a couple of editors received more than one pitch from me in one email. But that’s basically it.

To be honest, considering that this is the FIRST month of my #yearofwriting and also the first year that I have been seriously going out there and pitching editors, I am feeling pretty good.

The one lesson I learned, for sure, is that there comes a time when you just have to get out there and do it. And I’m happy that I’m finally doing that!

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