2019, my year of reading, was wonderful in many ways, but it also led to far too little writing.
Around this time last year, I decided I wanted to challenge myself to read 39 books in my 39th year. I always aspired to reading more but never truly buckled down to do it. Giving myself a goal – and posting it on Goodreads – felt like a good way to commit. It turns out it worked; I am ending the year with 40 books under my belt (check out my Goodreads Year in Books here).
I also started the year with writing goals – but far less concrete ones. This was by design. I do a lot of writing for work, but that writing wasn’t really for me. I really wanted to write for myself more but wouldn’t do it, letting big questions get in the way. For example, why should I spend so much time on writing something if it didn’t turn out to be any good? And what if I wrote something and it was never published?
Well, 2019 was the year that I finally gave myself permission to write — and write just for me. I enjoy the craft; it’s when I feel the flow more than any other activity. My goal was simply to write more, without any specific goals in mind.
I learned that having concrete goals drives me to commitment, and as a result, I met my reading goal – which was very concrete – and did write but ended the year feeling like I didn’t do as much as I could have. I wrote about four incomplete short stories; finished one (and submitted it to one publication, which rejected it); and also created a book outline (an Author Accelerator-fueled Inside-Outline, to be specific) for my core story idea.
Of course, reading has its benefits. It makes you a stronger writer – I believe this completely. But it also sucked up precious free time for writing, which slowly dried up for me this year due to a very busy day job too. I’m leaving 2019 generally wishing that I had spent more time writing.
Reading also is necessary for research purposes, which I’m also an advocate of, particularly when it comes to science fiction. Stories must include some form of science – otherwise why pretend it’s sci-fi at all? Might as well be fantasy or just pure fiction (and as a matter of definition, too).
And it’s unlikely to surprise anyone that, as a former journalist, I like research, documentation of sources, attribution, etc. Others have written about the benefits and pitfalls of being a former reporter and a novelist both, and though it may be a bit of a curse to enjoy research, it’s also a boon for scene, plot, and action. Science fiction authors like Connie Willis have made historical research integral to the incredible detail in books such as the World War II novels Blackout and All Clear. This year, I finished Ms. Willis’s two time travel books, reading them with the goal of learning about (and enjoying) award-winning science fiction by a female author – and also benefited from learning something about her craft, too.
Well, I can’t change the past.
But I can set more concrete writing goals for 2020. I’m still mulling them over, but they will include incorporating more nonfiction and essay-writing into my routine on top of fiction.
I can also guarantee that I’ll keep reading in 2020. Just far fewer books and more writing, thank you very much.