My 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal was 100 books. I've always been a fast reader, pretty easily consuming a novel in a weekend. I read before I go to sleep, I read on planes, I listen to books on my commute. I treat reading as a part of my job—studying how a book is put together, taking note of the imprint and editor of each so I can build on the submission lists for each of my authors (a great way to find an agent, too). When I graduated with my master's in May, I figured I'd have a lot more time than I had in previous years, that I could get back on track to easily reading 100 books a year.
Unless I'm able to tear through 10 books in the next two weeks (unlikely), I'm not going to meet that goal.
My day to day is saturated with reading: queries, potential manuscripts, my authors' different projects. This past year was my first working primarily as an agent (having moved up to an associate agent in November 2018). I graduated with my MFA in creative writing this year. I started teaching karate and boxing and studying to earn my personal training certificate in October of this year. My mental and emotional well-being felt constantly under duress given the sociopolitical climate of this year. My significant other and I moved in together this year. All of this to say: a lot has happened in 2019. But as we click through the days, I keep thinking about how I'm not going to reach that reading goal.
This is the reality of working within the writing industry, whether as a writer, agent, or editor: we are all driven by goals. Word count goals, acquisition goals, sales goals. And I know I'm not alone in feeling like one unmet goal equates a career-wide failure. Even if it's as simple as a Goodreads Challenge goal, I feel like I'm not doing everything I can in order to be successful.
There's a lot of research on millennial burnout. I can vouch for that research. And I can say that research is even more imminent for those of us working in and trying to break into publishing. Maybe you wrote 35,000 quality words during NaNoWriMo, but you didn't hit 50,000. Maybe you sent out 50 queries, but you didn't get a request for your full. Maybe you got picked up by an agent, but your book didn't sell. Instead of treating each of these sentences like two individuals goals, we treat them like one, and if the second half isn't met, the first half doesn't count. I'm not thinking about the 90 books I read this year; I'm thinking about the 10 I didn't.
In Annie Dillard's The Writing Life, she tells us about a stunt pilot she used to go see as a child, how she would marvel over this plane flying straight up, then slowing, slowing, until eventually it would flip over and swoop, ribboning back to the earth. The plane had a set course: from spot A on the ground to spot B in the sky to spot C back on the ground, but the art of the flight wasn't that set course; it was the sudden, unexpected deviations. Those moments that felt frightening and uncontrolled and impossible to recreate. Those moments that made the flight like nothing she had ever seen before.
We read The Writing Life in my master's program, and mere weeks later, I got a black line tattooed on the inside of my left middle finger, from the base up to the last knuckle. I wanted to remind myself that it's important to have a course—but that a life can't be art if it's something everyone has seen before. It needs those moments that feel frightening and uncontrolled and impossible to recreate, even if they set us off course for a time.
As 2020 creeps closer and closer, this is what I'm thinking about: How I can live up to what's inked on my finger. How I can push myself but still feel accomplished instead of like I'm falling short. Setting goals can be extremely beneficial, but only if we give ourselves the grace to fall.
On the New Year, I'll set up my Goodreads Reading Challenge again. I'll set it for 100 books again. And I probably won't meet it again. I'll have more authors, which means more work, which means more time dedicated to editing and prepping materials and contacting editors than to reading. But this time around, I'm not really challenging myself to read 100 books. I'm challenging myself to appreciate the reasons I deviated off course.
I challenge you to do the same.