Like many a book enthusiast, I love using goodreads to track and rate what I read. I especially love the yearly reading challenges that keep me on pace with reading throughout the busy year. When I was a child and teenager, I didn’t any external tracker to keep up my reading pace. However, once I got into college and then a post-college job and 20-something ‘what am I doing with my life’ stress, I found the challenge a great way to keep reading as a priority in my life.
My usual goal was 50 books. In 2015, I raised that to 60. (I read 68.) In 2016, I raised my challenge to 75.
In 2017, I will be lowering my challenge.
Why am I and Why Should You?
When I focus on number of books read as my goal, I find myself shirking away from reading longer or more difficult texts due to how it will affect my pace. For example, I’ve been interested in giving Les Mis, the thousand page book, a shot for many years now, but I have not.
This may be either a conscious or unconscious choice of your own, when reading to hit a target number of books. You resort to quantity with shorter or easier books. Now, there is certainly a lot of great shorter works like novellas or faster reads like graphic novels that should be mixed in your year of reading. As a children’s librarian, I read a good deal of children’s middle grade novels for my own professional development (and interest, there is some great work in that genre). So, let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with a short read, and they can indeed be of great entertainment and artistic quality.
On the flip side, I believe we should use the goodread challenge, other internet challenges, and new year’s resolutions to do exactly what is in the name. Challenge ourselves. Stretch ourselves. Resolve to do better. I am at the point that I know I can get a large number of books read in a year on top of my other obligations and interests, so my real challenge this year is to try tackling the larger, challenging books that have been on my mental to-read list.
When I was an undergraduate earning a creative writing degree, we were challenged in a literature class to define what made literary fiction... literary. A classmate's hand shot into the air. “Sad endings” he said to the amusement of the class. And followed was a rousing debate about the definition of literary fiction. I don’t remember the end conclusion. Perhaps that is one of those unanswerable questions.
Although that question or similar was probably proposed in many classes during my educational career, I remember this class in particular. It was a comic book and graphic novel literature class. So, all in all, a pretty cool class. We learned about the history of comic books and graphic novels and read examples of different genres, from superheroes to manga to memoir to informational, but also some literary graphic novel fiction.
These literary graphic novels didn’t have sad endings. They had ambiguous endings.
There is a lot said about sad endings and happy endings, but ambiguous endings? My question -- to you and to myself -- is: Are ambiguous endings a cop out?
As a writer, I truly believe, your most important audience is yourself. You are the first person you need to write for. This is not a call to disregard all others, just to prioritize yourself. As a reader, I firmly believe that readers can pick up on the joy and enthusiasm of the author.
This is also a matter of personal motivation. I have wasted years of my writing life trying to write for a certain audience instead of myself. The enthusiasm isn’t there, and when the enthusiasm isn’t there, the motivation isn’t there.
Sometimes you temporarily lose enthusiasm and motivation for a project you love or for writing in general, but that is a matter of the human spirit. And again, temporary. We all have down days or other parts of our lives that drag us down.
But if you find you can't spurn up that love to write because you are trying to write for a marketable genre you don’t personally care for, or a prestigious audience you’re trying to impress, or can’t get that dream project out of your head… that might be a sign.
Write for yourself. Don’t overthink your audience. Let the enthusiasm run through you. Let your creativity and individuality break free on the page. Write what you want, write what you love, write it your way.
Insights from the life of an aspiring, struggling writer; a passionate reader, and a working librarian.
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