Permission to DNF

I like to finish things.

I’m the type of person who vastly prefers to complete one task before moving on to the next; otherwise, the unfinished thing lurks in the back of my mind, raising its hand periodically to go “Hey, still not finished, over here.” And I’m like “ARGH I know! I’ll get to you soon! Sorry!” Unfinished tasks piling up causes me more anxiety than anything else.

I hate putting aside a book I’m reading without finishing it. Not only is it another thing my brain never crosses off its list, but I feel like I’m abandoning a friend. Leaving the hero hanging off the cliff as he calls after me: “Um, okay, I’ll just wait here a while, I guess.” Meanwhile, I walk away with an apologetic wave, going “Too busy, sorry, maybe later.”

But I’m realizing now that I need to change how I look at not finishing books. I’ve got two kids, a day job, writing, a household to manage, deadlines… and, if I can manage it, maybe even things like eating, sleeping, and a social life! (HA HA HA but no, seriously, that would be nice.) I can’t read three books a week like when I was a teen. There will never be more than 24 hours in a day, no matter how much I wish I had a time turner.

If I want to ever make it through my TBR pile—if I want to be able to walk into the bookstore and come home with a couple books without feeling guilty about the others I haven’t read yet—I need to let go of the idea that I start books to finish them. I need to abandon the Clean Plate Club idea of reading, and approach it with more of a buffet mentality: I’m going to try all kinds of stuff that looks good, but stop after just a nibble with a lot of it to give myself room to get a second helping of those really amazing potatoes (with me, it’s always the potatoes).

The last two books I finished were UPROOTED by Naomi Novik and THE FIFTH SEASON by N. K. Jemisin, and HOLY CRAP, those were both AMAZING. So, so, SO good. Not finishing them was never an option. I HAD to. Part of my brain is still living in each of those books. They were everything I wanted and more than I could have imagined.

I’m a bit late to the party with both, and the reason for that is I didn’t want to let go of the idea I was going to finish Marie Rutoski’s THE WINNER’S CURSE (which I in turn was late to the party for because I didn’t want to DNF something else, and so on, and so on). And the only reason I made it to the party at all was because I finally convinced myself it was okay to put aside TWC when I was maybe 2/3 through, because while I genuinely liked it and was enjoying it, I didn’t feel that compelling drive to finish it. And that meant I kept prioritizing the 500 other things on my Must Do list above reading.

Well, no more. Now I’m going to give myself permission to start novels and not finish them. I’d rather read the first 5 chapters of 10 books than dutifully finish just one book I’m only kinda into.

That way I get to support more authors (by buying more books), learn more as a writer (by at least sampling more books), and have a greater chance of finding those precious books which are so good they don’t give me the option to set them aside, and leave me yearning for more when they’re done. Like really good roasted potatoes, or cheese fondue. (Mmmm, fondue.)

I feel liberated already! Better run out and buy more books to celebrate.

Published by Melissa Caruso

Fantasy author of the Swords & Fire trilogy: THE TETHERED MAGE (Orbit, 2017), THE DEFIANT HEIR (Orbit, 2018), and THE UNBOUND EMPIRE (Orbit, 2019), as well as the Rooks and Ruin trilogy, beginning with THE OBSIDIAN TOWER (Orbit, 2020). Melissa's debut, THE TETHERED MAGE, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Morningstar Award in 2017. Melissa loves tea, adventure, and the great outdoors, and has been known to swordfight in ballgowns. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, two superlative daughters, and assorted pets. Represented by Naomi Davis of BookEnds.

9 thoughts on “Permission to DNF

  1. Sounds like a good plan. I don’t like leaving books aside either, but when the supply of fantastic books is so vast, why waste your limited time on anything other than brilliant? If there were only, say, 100 books in the entire world, maybe it’d be worth paying them all full attention, but as there is a lot of choice, too right you should find something that grips you all the way through.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I struggle with this too, especially when the book isn’t actually bad– just not grabbing me. But life is too short, and there are too many good books. And struggling with a book I am not fully into is often the catalyst to send me into a full-out reading slump. So good for you in embracing DNF!

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    1. Yes! Exactly this. A book that is actually GOOD but not gripping me enough to propel me to the end despite everything else going on in my life is the most dangerous (and the hardest to put down, because it’s GOOD!). Now I just have to pull off this plan… But reminding me that the actual books don’t have feelings and I still bought the author’s book and they’ll never know I didn’t finish it helps.

      Like

      1. You’re welcome. Among other things I wanted to point other readers in your direction, since I think there’s a lot here that I’ve found helpful as an aspiring author.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. It definitely shows. Who knows, could lead to a side career as a runner of writing workshops, or a published text consolidating your understanding of writing, both the craft and the business.

        Liked by 1 person

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