Reading is one of the best things you can do to become a better writer. Reading work by more experienced authors shows you how they’ve tackled the same challenges you’re facing. It helps you see what works (and, sometimes, what doesn’t). Reading a variety of genres and styles sparks new ideas. Reading other authors’ voices helps you find your own.
But between writing, revision, research, critique groups, and conferences—not to mention family commitments and the dreaded day job—how can we hope to squeeze in reading time as well? Here are some tips that helped me double my reading success last year.
1. Write down your goals.
2017 was the first time I tried writing down my goals. I had several pages of lined paper in my writing binder with my writing-related goals for the year, as well as slots to fill in when I accomplished said goals. The first item on the list was “Read 15 books,” followed by 15 empty lines where I could record each book as I finished it. I ended up needing another sheet of paper, because my list grew to well over 30! I felt great every time I sat down to fill in a new line. Compare that to 2016, where my goal was much more vague—“read more”—and, according to Goodreads, I only finished about a dozen books.
2. Make use of Goodreads.
Speaking of which, Goodreads is a wonderful tool for tracking your reading goals. I use it not only to mark books toward my yearly goal, but also to manage my monstrous to-be-read list. I can organize books by genre, and create lists of research books when I start a new writing project.
3. Make use of libraries, used bookstores, and thrift stores.
Reading can become an expensive hobby if you buy all your books new, even if you’re buying ebooks. Thankfully, libraries are still alive and well, and we have a wide selection of used bookstores here in Colorado. My favorites include the Tattered Cover, the Boulder Bookstore, the Book Cellar in Louisville, and 2nd & Charles in the Flatirons Mall. I also find a lot of great books at thrift stores for a dollar or two each.
4. Listen to audiobooks.
I spend about 40 minutes each weekday in my car, on my commute to my day job. Before I discovered audiobooks, that amounted to 200 minutes (over three hours!) wasted every week. In 2017, I checked an additional 20 books off my list because I could effectively read in the car. But audiobooks tend to be pricier than print or ebook formats, so I always get mine from the library.
5. Allow yourself the first chapter test.
I learned the hard way that some books just aren’t right for me. In past years, I felt guilty if I gave up on a book after only a chapter or two. I would then slog through the next hundred pages until finally losing interest and putting the book down—wasting several weeks in the process, when I could have been devouring something new. Don’t waste your time reading bad books! If you’re not hooked after the first chapter, give yourself permission to close the book and move on to bigger and better things.
6. Don't read too many books at once.
I can usually only juggle two books at a time: one audiobook and one in print. Sometimes I can handle a second print book, if it's an anthology of short stories or poetry. When I attempt more than that, at least one of my reads-in-progress suffers because I can't give it my full attention. I end up forgetting what happened in the last chapter, slowing down, and eventually stopping the book altogether. I read much better—and waste less time—when I focus on one book until it's finished, then move on to the next one. Know your limit so you don't book-overdose.
7. Take your books with you.
Any time I leave for a doctor’s appointment, critique group session, RMFW event, or anything else where I might have some down time, I bring a book. Whether I have to wait five minutes or an hour, I’m glad to spend that time working toward my reading goals rather than thumbing through dull waiting room mags (or worse, staring at those creepy anatomy posters doctors are so fond of). Similarly, if I’m flying anywhere, I’m sure to bring enough reading material for the whole trip. Don’t let any of that time go to waste!
I hope these strategies help you tackle your reading goals in 2018. Feel free to share your own reading tips or goals in the comments.