Squeezing Reading Into Your Life

And why you should try.

All authors are told to read more.  We’re told that frequently.

Most of us came to writing because of a love of reading, so reading a lot was never the issue.

As soon as the ambition to write fiction is born, and we start to learn about the life we’d like to live, we’re exhorted to read everything. 

  • Read fiction in our chosen genre to keep up with the market
  • Read how-to books to improve our writing
  • Read books on any business aspect; finance, planning, marketing.
  • Read blog posts by gurus in the industry (or listen to their podcasts)
  • Read classic literature to absorb the masters
  • Read fiction in disparate genres to learn the tricks over there and expand the effectiveness of our prose.
  • Read everything a specific market puts out, to build an understanding of what type of submissions they’re looking for (this particular submission requirement makes my teeth ache.  Because reading even a single market’s fiction output in order to gain that understanding would require bringing our lives to an utter halt.)
  • Also, many experts and gurus insist that we should read for pleasure.  (As if ordering it will make it so.)
  • And finally, more than one famous author and writing expert has claimed that if you don’t read, you’ll never amount to anything as a writer.

That’s a lot of pressure put upon an activity that once brought us pure joy.

If reading is still a primary pleasure in your life, and you have no trouble reading as much as you want to, then this post is not for you.  You can move on and we’ll all hang back and talk about how much we hate your guts. 

If you’re like me, though, you found that as you moved deeper into your author career, reading lost its lustre.

Has reading disappeared from your life?

Somehow, for many of us, reading as much as we once did has evaporated quite without us meaning it to.

It happens for a huge number of reasons:

  • At first, you’re filling all your spare time that you once devoted to reading, to practicing and mastering your writing, and then trying to turn that fledging career into a full time one.
  • Even if you’re writing full time, even if you’re traditionally published, there’s so much stuff you have to do to keep that career going, that reading takes a seat far down the back of the bus.
  • As soon as you learn a little about good writing techniques and what makes effective stories, you start spotting flaws in published fiction, which destroys the enjoyment of reading. 
  • Worse, you find those weaknesses in stories you once loved.
  • You simply don’t like a great quantity of the stories you read.
  • You put pressure on yourself to read novels and non-fiction you don’t like in order to further your career.  (Market research, classic fiction, a how-to book written in a style that bugs you.)
  • Your re-forming taste for fiction leaves you feeling puzzled and guilty because you think the books everyone raves about are awful…and it takes all the fun out of your reading.
  • If you find a book is enormous fun to read, or a genuine pleasure, you automatically feel guilty for “spending” the time to read it, instead of deconstructing it. 
  • Or you feel guilty because the book isn’t in your genre, and doesn ‘t serve any other purpose other than you just want to read it.
  • You start a crap-ton of books, but rarely finish any of them, which makes you wonder a) what is wrong with you and (often simultaneously)  b) what is wrong with everyone else’s taste.
  • No one is writing stories the way they used to, the way you’d like them to be.
  • Related to the point above, everyone seems to be using a hip, hot style in their prose that makes you cringe to read it (e.g. directly addressing the reader and breaking the literary “fourth wall.”)
  • Every plot has been done before – and because you’ve learned about plotting and structure and studied many of them, you’re so far ahead of the author that you could write the ending yourself, but just don’t want to, because you’ve been there, seen the movie.

You may be able to add a few of your own unique hangups about reading to the list. 

But. 

Reading really is essential, and not just for all the business, career and marketing reasons we’re constantly bombarded with.

One perfectly legitimate reason to read that never gets mentioned.

You should read because you like reading.  Or, at least, you used to (and we’ll get to that hoary issue in a second).

Reading provides an escape.  Even if you can only read for ten minutes a day (about where I am, these days), that ten minutes provides a mental break.  It destresses you, and lets you disconnect from the issues batting at you.

When you return to the real world after a sojourn inside a story, often, the problems nagging you have reduced in size, and solutions magically occur to you.

Reading refreshes you.  It can inspire you – both to write, and to be a better person. 

Reading expands your imagination.

I could go on, but you already know this stuff.  Deep in your bones, you understand about the true pleasure of reading, because you once lived it, every day.

But here’s a secondary, related reason:  When you find your way back to reading for pleasure, as an author, you also find your inspiration for writing, too. 

You’ll remember why you wanted to become an author, and there’s nothing more powerful than that.

Ignore all the “shoulds”

Get back to reading for pleasure.  Ditch every reason you’ve ever held over your own head to make yourself read things you dislike, books that don’t appeal to you, or to finish the current best seller, even though it’s as dull as ditchwater.

Throw out all the rules.  Instead:

  • Read whatever you like, whenever you want. 
    Period.  There are no qualifiers for this one.
  • Don’t read anything you don’t want to.
    This should be implied by the first point, but I’m emphasizing it, anyway.  Life is too short, and your time is too precious, to bother reading anything you don’t want to read.  You won’t absorb anything from that reading, because your inner child’s resentment is too strong a shield.
  • Read old favourites if you want, and just to read them, not to deconstruct them.  
    Don’t worry, your writer brain will work away in the background, absorbing the techniques, that will pop out in your own writing quite by acccident.  You may not even realize you’re doing it, because reading for pleasure is the best way in the world to learn what works.
  • Don’t finish any book if it doesn’t please you.
    Also no qualifiers for this one.  Except, maybe, a reinforcing command to not feel guilty about putting a book down.  (Or throwing it forcefully, if you think it deserves it.)
  • Don’t worry about tossing multiple books. 
    There’s nothing wrong with you. You just haven’t hit the right author for you, as a reader whose tastes have changed and always will change. 
    When you do hit the right authors, the magic of reading will return.  You might go sleepless a few nights, or having to cram work assignments, or a deadline, because you stole the time you should have used for reading that one author instead. 
    Enjoy it.
    The more quickly you move through the authors who are not for you, the sooner you will find an author who is your cup of tea.
  • Do not read non-fiction, if you don’t want to
    Put all the how-tos, the business books, aside.  You’re learning to love reading again, so if you just want to read stories, just read stories. 
    You’ll find your way back to the non-fiction eventually, and by then, you’ll know exactly what you’re trying to extract from the book (that isn’t “because xxx said I should”), and your reading of it will be far more effective.  And probably swifter, too.

I’m not going to prescribe a series of steps that will take you back to reading “what you should”, because unless you really want to read it, or have a damn good reason in mind for why you must read it, then the time you spend on that type of reading is wasted. 

Read for pleasure.  Read anything you want.  That’s the only rule.  Discard the rest, and get back to liking reading for the sake of it.

Finding more time to read.

Ah!  Well, this is a genuine sticking point.  Sometimes, your days are so full, that reading has been reduced to ten minutes in bed each night, while you try to stop your eyes closing.  (Hands up, everyone who has ever woken with a jolt when their reading device smacked them in the face.  Yep, me, too.)

If ten minutes a day is all you can manage, then it’s even more important not to fill that ten minutes with stories that don’t delight you.

Here’s some tips and ideas for getting more reading into your day.

  1. Read on your phone.
    Your phone is always with you, while you have to remember to carry a device or the print copy around.
  2. Read whenever you have even a few seconds.
    It’s staggering how much reading you can get done during commercial breaks, while lined up waiting for something, and commuting.  Washroom reading is a personal choice.  I won’t judge either way. 
    If you’re waiting at the front door for the family to get their collective act together so you can all head somewhere, read a couple of pages (or several, if your spouse is anything like mine). 
  3. If you finish writing a book ahead of schedule, use that spare time to read, instead.
    Can you think of a better reward for finishing a manuscript early?
  4. Read instead of fidget-spinning, read instead of playing games.
    Make reading your default procrasination mode. If you’re waiting for an app to load, or a file to download; read a page or two. If you play short games (eg solitaire, sudoku, etc), the next time you get the urge to play one of them (usually a short-term type of procrastination), then read a page or two, instead.
  5. Read while other members of the household watch sports/TV/movies.
    This might take some negotiation, but there’s no reason why you can’t be with them in spirit, keeping them company, while they watch the show or movie and you read.  If they are readers, too, and they know you’ve been hooked by a book, they’ll understand.
    And they’ll get to watch what they want.  Win-win, especially if you don’t like what they’re watching.

There is a lot of advice out there on how to find more time in your day and all of it can be applied to finding more time to read.  Declare the consumption of stories a guilt-free zone and work to free up time just to read.

You’ll love yourself for it.

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1 thought on “Squeezing Reading Into Your Life”

  1. Pingback: Purpose-Driven Reading – Stories Rule Press

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