At the end of 2018, for the third year in a row, I admitted defeat in my Goodreads Reading Challenge, missing my 45-book goal by seven books. So when the 2019 Reading Challenge posted this year, I was hesitant to dream beyond 30 books again. Pathetic compared with some goals, but for me still a stretch (side rant: To the person who regularly clocks in over 300 books a year on their account, HOW? Is someone paying you to read? Are you Rory Gilmore? TELL ME YOUR SECRETS). But when the little empty box popped up, I typed in 45 again and logged my first book. Nearing the end of February now, here are my five tips for writers who are trying once again to hit their Goodreads goal this year, or in any future year to come.
Set a Page Count per Day
Committing yourself to a specific allocation of pages or chapters per day is a surefire way to keep that 45-book goal within your reach all year. Be sure not to misinterpret this as a writing page count per day goal — writing your book will only slow down your Goodreads progress. Take advantage of this inverse relationship by lowering or deleting your Scrivener targets. Not on Scrivener yet? Perfect! Setting writing goals within it will only inhibit your reading goals. The point here isn’t to have someone read your book someday, it’s to perpetually procrastinate and read other people’s books instead. Still feel an urge to write? Write a review on Goodreads (but keep it short! Need to keep that book count churning).
Recruit Other Writers
The more writer friends you have pursuing Goodreads goals, the fewer writing friends you will have pursuing their own writing goals and, let’s be honest, checking in on yours. Why chat about the stalled progress of your half-written book when you can discuss a completed, published one instead? Besides, talking about someone else’s writing counts as a part of the process, right? Really, all of this is contributing to your work in some abstract, non-accountable way, regardless of whether it is contributing to your written page count. All that matters this year is your read page count!
Start a Monthly Book Club
There’s no better way to keep accountable to drinking wine — I mean, reading a book — at least monthly than starting a book club. Gather your Generator friends, your Incubator friends, gather any writer friend you can find and set a date that works for everyone. The amount of time you will spend coordinating schedules alone guarantees you won’t be writing for a while, and then the catch-up on reading you’ll have to do subsequently because of the last minute date means there will be no time to write. Going forward, book club then offers one guaranteed day you won’t be writing every month. Reading takes some serious dedication! It’s even better if you remain the head of the book club, as there are a lot of writing hours to be eaten up by planning discussion points, appetizer planning, wine pairing, and checking in with the gossip mill for the inevitable downward spiral the group will take into trash-talking. You’ll also need time to mine yourself for excuses about your own writing. You could, you know, actually write to have a real progress check-in with your friends, but then you’d be at risk of putting yourself out there as the possibly singular productive writer in your group, so better to be safe. You couldn’t write! There are just not enough hours in the day to hit your Goodreads goal and your professional writing goals, let’s be real.
Assess Your Progress
Usually around mid-summer, my motivation tanks. All that sun! I know there is a whole genre of “beach reads” out there, but naps will always win out over a good story beach-side for me. One good way to get past your summer slump is changing the format of your book. Try an audio book on your hike, or a lightweight Kindle for your work commute. The key is not to doubt yourself. With your goal looming ahead of you, you may now be remembering that you’ve abandoned your own book for six months straight. You might look at your stagnant word count and feel the urge to cry, but don’t let this get the best of you; after all, your reading challenge needs the best of you! Will you let it defeat you again this year? Will you let your friends hit their goals, leaving you behind? No! We must rally during this difficult time. Since your book isn’t making you any money just sitting there in the cloud unfinished, sign up for a library card to make up for your lagging pace and the sad state of your wallet trying to keep up with this challenge. Throw some new genres in there — YA, graphic novels, and romance are a great way to get a quick read in to boost your numbers. Manga is pushing it, but if you’re desperate, sure, go for it. Any reading counts as reading! Except for reading your own book. Forget about that.
Inevitably, as with so many years before, your prior efforts will fail. You’ll become too tired to hit your daily page count, or your book club will become too difficult to schedule. The holidays will bubble up, and planning for them will replace the time you had to read. When you log online to order holiday cards, you’ll remember your book again, and you’ll wonder how the time got away from you. You’ll open your project, imagining the cyber-dust that has accumulated on its pages in the cloud, and begin reading. You can’t count this in your Goodreads Challenge, you think, but you keep reading anyway, and when you get to the sentence you last left off on, you start writing again. It is slow and painful, every sentence stilted. The language no longer feels like yours, but like pieces of all the other books you’ve read this year. You forgot some rules, you realize, hurdles you used to jump over easily — Oh God, did I just tell instead of show? I have five pages of backstory with no scenes! –and every line of dialogue sounds like it came from a puppet, but still, you are writing again.
You open your Project Target, set a word goal to keep you accountable each day. You remember how a too-lofty goal sent you off the rails last year, and so you keep it modest, achievable. 300 words a day it is.
You email your writer friends, alerting them of your choice to dive back in. You set up a date to meet, a schedule for who will swap pages and who will bring the wine each month. You set parameters for feedback. You feel excited.
You check in with yourself weekly, with your word count that is blossoming. Sometimes, even 300 words a day eludes you, but it doesn’t matter, it all accumulates. Now instead of words, you can count scenes, chapters.
Before you know it, it is a new year. It is February, your Reading Challenge came and went, and you missed it, your progress marker stalled in the middle, success never fully loaded. But it will not be a failure, dear writer. As you look at your manuscript growing with each word you type, comparing it to the books you missed out on, you will know that.
It is not a failure.