Finals week is over for the last time in my undergraduate career, so this seems to be a good time to discuss how I balanced (or did not) blogging with school. This post is by no means a guide to how someone should do it, and some of the actions I did are probably outright unhealthy for both reading and schoolwork, but it seems better to be honest than to just spout advice that has no backing.
A quick overview
For blogging, I run this blog, A Cup of Cyanide, where I post 2-3 times a week. Friday posts are always reviews, while posts on other days can be reviews from a backlog or other topics I find myself wanting to talk about. In my sophomore and junior years of undergrad, I also ran a booktube account under the same name, where I would post videos on Mondays weekly. My general reading speed is about a book/week, so in a month where I am reading, I’d read about 5-6 books a month.
On the school side, I am a mechanical engineering student. My university runs on a semesters system, so I usually take 15-18 credit hours a semester. I’m also part of a fencing club that meets for ~7 hours/week, a robotics team that takes about 6 hours/week, and I work as a research assistant for ~10 hours/week. Senior year I quit the robotics team, but I was also spending a lot of time applying for grad school, studying for the GREs, and in the second semester, working on my senior design project. So overall, busy busy.
So when did I read?
Looking back at my own schedule, I think its a miracle I could even glance at a book. That’s a long list of time commitments, on top of making sure I got As in all my classes. I’ve never scheduled myself a daily “read for 20 minutes” task because I know that I’d never follow it. My reading came either in snatches, five minutes on my Kindle in-between lectures, two minutes while I’m waiting for a test to run, etc, straight-up reading during classes and hiding my Kindle/phone when the lecturer came around the classroom, or just sitting down for a couple hours and accidentally reading an entire book, usually right before an important midterm.
Yes I read to cope with stress.
I think what enabled me to do this is the fact that I almost never read physical books. When you pick up a physical book, you see the size of the words, the thickness of the book and think, this will take me forever, I can’t read this right now. When you load a book onto a Kindle or read it on the phone, there isn’t really a similar metric. Published books very rarely provide a word count for you to measure yourself against, so there’s never really that sense of “I’ll never be able to finish this”. Which is both a good and bad thing.
And how about blogging?
Unlike reading, blogging is fairly regimented. I’ve never taken to blogging like I see some bloggers do, where they sit down and can just pump out ideas and reviews on the fly. I started blogging because I wanted to force myself to write more and to some degree, that mentality has never left. When I was doing the Top5Wednesday posts, I’d sit down in the quiet area of my school’s machine shop and outline the entire month’s set of posts in one sitting. Reviews I wrote because I scheduled them into my Google Calendar and told myself, you will spend this next hour writing a review.
Yet, under enough workload, or enough stress, even this plan goes to pieces. I’ve missed plenty of T5W posts because I didn’t think I had the time. I’ve tried countless attempts at keeping myself organized, from Google Calendar tasks to blogging spreadsheets to bullet journal bullets, but I quickly learned to get around them. That is, if I don’t see the task, I don’t have to do the task. It turns out, the most effective way for me to write a blog post was more and more aggressive sticky notes on my desk and laptop.
Even with my personal life, I’m bad at dealing with social media. A few select friends aside, I have no interest in sharing my personal life. A few select friends aside, I have no interest in other people’s personal lives. I took to Twitter with much hesitation (you want me to be an influencer? Like those people on Instagram and YT with fake voices advertising products they don’t like?) It took me a long long time to figure out that I needed pretty visual (and even longer to learn how to make said visuals). Interacting with the community is difficult for me, even now (I’m introverted okay?). And I often feel like by constantly talking about a book, I’m annoying my followers and annoying the authors whose books I’m trying to promote.
However, the addicting algorithms that is Twitter definitely makes it one of the easier components to maintain during school. Even if I don’t have blog posts to talk about myself, it’s easy to retweet a meme or two, some bookish-related tweets, and occasionally someone’s tweet gushing about a book you read last month or news from a favorite author. I should also say I have basically no followers on Twitter so maybe I’m doing it wrong.
You can probably tell that my mental state throughout the past two sections is not the most ideal. In fact, it quite frequently led to burnout. There are long stretches of blankness in my WordPress stats, times where I just couldn’t bring myself to open a book, months I couldn’t bring myself to write a damn post. There are only so many activities that my mental psyche could juggle in one go, and the activity that’s fun but unuseful for my professional development (robotics), not paying me (research), and not letting me vent my stress by stabbing people (fencing), is the first to go.
I think I’ve left this blog on hiatus at least three times? I’m not really even sure at this point. Last summer (as you can see from this post), was probably my worst. I tried and tried and tried, but just could not bring myself to finish six ARCs that I’d picked up on a whim, didn’t really take much interest in, and the pressure of turning over reviews for publishers got the best of me that I just called it quits.
I would like to take the time to point out that while I may quit blogging from time to time, and while it may be months between picking up a published book, there is one constant in my life and that is fanfiction. No stakes, brain turned off, wholesome fun stories to read
through before bedtime.
Ao3 saves lives.
With undergrad finished and grad school looking like a hazy maybe, that stressful schedule of staying up til 3AM doing homework on a regular basis is behind me for now. Which means more time I can dedicate to independent projects, reading, and this blog.
Looking back, I think there are two pieces of advice I would offer.
- Know when to stop.
Maintaining hobbies that you can’t find the motivation or energy to put into is immensely stressful. The weeks leading up to declaring a hiatus were guilt-ridden black holes in my mental state. The day I formally declared a hiatus, that baggage was lifted and I’d felt better than I’d had in weeks. Don’t let a hobby-guilt have a negative impact on more important factors in your life.
- The right book can bring you out
I’ve picked the blog up every time, not because I decided one day that I was going to start blogging again, but because I read a book so good I had to gush about it on the internet. During hiatus, I enjoyed reading books with no pressure of having to write a 500-word essay after. Eventually, however, some particular book called to me and said, you will write about me. And each time, I’d pick up the blog again, more energized than ever.