Mark Baumer, of Providence, RI, is a literary inspiration of sorts. Baumer wrote 50 books this past year, which is an impressive feat if only for his steadfast dedication to the task. It didn’t start out so straightforward though. Indeed, it started out with a humiliating dose of failure.
In January of last year, Baumer, who has in the past walked across America and blogged about the experience, launched a Kickstarter campaign asking for $50,000 to fund his 50-books-in-a-year endeavor. He had never previously written or published a book. His funding campaign ultimately crashed and burned; he raised less than four percent of his total goal.
After his ultimately unsuccessful attempt at a foray into the world of book publishing, Baumer had all but given up on the project. Baumer’s friends weren’t going to let him off so easy though; they kept asking what had happened to his books.
“I got tired of people asking me if I was ever going to write fifty books in a year,” Baumer wrote on his website, fiftynovels.com. Saddled with an MFA in creative writing from Brown University, and a sizable ego, he couldn’t handle the feeling that he had failed.
“My goal/mindset was basically to write every book in the world,” he explained. Baumer said he didn’t want to die being the guy who always talked about writing 50 books but never actually did it.
Beginning in June, Baumer started writing. By the year’s end he was finished.
Baumer decided to release all the books, with titles like Someone Who Did Something and A Milk That Drank an Infant, incrementally online and free of charge to his readers.
When it comes to setting — and accomplishing — goals, Baumer occupies an extreme end of the spectrum.
In the day and age of increasingly egalitarian Internet art, which favors the shocking and absurd, and in which every nook and cranny of cyberspace houses a minor celebrity on the verge of fading back into insignificance, Baumer is not exactly unusual.
In most cases though, it’s probably not wise to treat your endeavors as though you’re going to die at any moment. (The Protagonist by no means endorses writing as though you’re swiftly going to die, especially for the casual writer.)
However, there’s nothing earth-shattering about the advice to set practical goals for the new year either. I could regurgitate a couple: Set aside some time for writing everyday. Balance “trashy books” with highbrow ones. Read a book before you see its cinematographic rendering. Read something from a Top 10 list. Join a book club. Join a writers’ workshop. Finish everything you start. Read from a genre you’re not accustomed to. Pick something you’re not sure you’ll like or an author with whom you’re unfamiliar. Pick something you know you’ll hate; it’s good for you.
This is all solid advice, I suppose, but it’s nothing new and it doesn’t set the bar very high. Frankly, doing something you think is “good for you” literarily-speaking, while not necessarily enjoying it, is a waste of time in my book. Perhaps Baumer’s anecdote is not new either, but buried somewhere within the tale of his remarkable 180 degree shift, there is an important reminder.
Yes, we can learn a lesson from the Baumers of the world, even those of us with no interest in fame — something can come of even the greatest, most public personal failure. If this is the case, surely something can come from all the small failures along the way as well. Let yourself think big; if your dream isn’t turning out the way you wanted, you can reroute and try again. The result may surprise you. If we can learn anything from Baumer, it’s to not be daunted by the task that seems too large, that by all accounts is too large. Let your friends hold you accountable for your craziest of ambitions. And, perhaps most importantly of all, almost anything is possible these days if you just keep digging into the furthest, darkest reaches of the Internet (Baumer garners a great deal of support from online literary communities.)
Be mindful of the dangers though. In a fast-paced world speckled with Baumers, we see the flip side of this democratic kind of fame. We see renowned public figures like the young and snappy Jonah Lehrer, who was publicly disgraced this year after his plagiarism and literary fabrications came to light, founder amid the demand for the next better, more ingenious thought. We want it faster than ever before. Those who cannot keep up are quickly eclipsed.
Goals should be feasible to some degree, but not at the risk of resolutions being more about limits than what is possible, about not setting ourselves up for failure; failure is inevitable. Resolutions should be about learning to recover and run with it. And when you inevitably just can’t get past some failures, when you want to scrap it all and start over, be equally comforted in knowing the world will soon forget.
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