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.

About Melissa Caruso

I'm the author of THE TETHERED MAGE, first in the Swords & Fire trilogy, coming from Orbit Books in October 2017. I write fantasy novels. I love tea, adventure, and the great outdoors. I live in Massachusetts with my husband, two amazing daughters, three cats, and a Labrador. Represented by Naomi Davis of Inklings Literary. View all posts by Melissa Caruso

9 responses to “Permission to DNF

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