Along the way, though, I had a couple of goals that I did believe I could meet, though I thought it would take me an entire lifetime to do so. They were strange goals, but I thought they were realistic and reachable if I continued writing on the pace I had set out for myself. It turns out I've already met both of them.
First, I wanted to be read by the same number of people who live in my hometown. There is clearly no way to prove that I have met this goal, as I cannot say who has or has not read my work. When it comes to print journals, I can only give their circulation, not the number of people who actually read my work in that particular issue. I also don't know how many copies are passed from one person to another. Now that many journals have moved online, it is easier to keep up with those statistics, though harder to get from journals. It's not like I'm going to email all of the editors who have published my work and ask them to give me a count for my particular work.
However, I can use the circulation of print journals and the number of hits an online journal receives. Using those statistics, I actually hit my goal seven years ago with one publication. My hometown has a population of about 65,000 people. It probably would take my entire life to get to that number just going by my poetry publications, as most journal have a tiny readership, numbering in the hundreds, not thousands. However, I had an essay published in the online version of The Chronicle of Higher Education, which has about one million distinct readers a year. I'll take my chances and say that 65,000 people looked at that essay. In the years since, I've published more essays with them and other similar sites, so I'm fairly confident I've hit this goal.
What I like about this goal is that it reminds me of my primary concern as a writer. While I like to sell my work, I know I'm not going to make a lot (or any) money writing poetry. Thus, my goal is to get my work in front of as many people as I can, as I want to share that writing widely. I want as many people as possible to read that work. It doesn't matter if they buy a book or not. I used to worry about building a career by publishing in the right places. Now, I'm just concerned with being read by people who enjoy the type of writing I do, whether that's my poetry or essays.
The second goal has more to do with quantity. I've always wanted to fill an entire shelf on my bookcase with my writing. It doesn't have to be all my writing, as a journal I've been published in counts, and I know my work might only take up one page of that journal, but it has to be a work I've been published in. My books certainly count, of course. If I were starting such a goal today, it would be much more challenging, given the move to online publications. However, since I started about sixteen years ago, I've been able to meet this goal, as well, as you can see from the picture below.
Since my focus is getting my work read, I like this visible reminder that a number of people have had the opportunity to read my work, whether or not they have taken it. Writing goals should help us remember why we do what we do. For me, it's not about the money; it's about the people who read my work. Like most writers, I want an audience, and I'm glad I've been able to find one, no matter how small it might be.