Good writing requires good reading. Bestselling author Stephen King says so, as do many others in the writing and communications business. Even though I’m often reminded of this maxim, I don’t always follow it.
Why is this?
Finding (or making) time to read can be difficult. I get in my own way, letting junk food for the brain such as TV and the Internet as well as other distractions crowd out reading time. Sometimes I don’t read because of simple fatigue. (Occasionally, I’ll awake with a book resting on my chest.) Other times pure laziness keeps me from cracking open a book or digging into a long magazine article.
Writing coach Daphne Gray-Grant tackled this topic earlier this year in her Power Writing newsletter. I’ve paraphrased a few of her tips for boosting reading time and added a couple of my own.
1. Read for enjoyment.
This is one of the most effective reading strategies. Reading for enjoyment and entertainment increases satisfaction and makes me want to read more. It’s not an assignment; it’s a joy, it’s fun. I believe I can glean something helpful to my writing from virtually everything I read. It’s a pleasurable form of mental exercise.
2. Read in spare moments.
This might be the easiest way to read more. I often read something at lunch, even if for only 10 minutes. Yesterday I finished a book while waiting for my wife at the doctor’s office. Reading in spare moments doesn’t require a major shift in behavior or time management.
3. Turn off the technology.
This takes some effort, but it’s doable. Turn off the TV or shut down the computer and pick up a book or Kindle. Set aside 30 minutes for reading at the end of the day. Refer to No. 1–read for pleasure. Try to stay awake! I’ve found that I look forward to my reading time.
4. Read several things at once.
I like to read more than one book at a time, switching back and forth. Throw in a few magazines and I’m happy. I enjoy the variety. I don’t pressure myself to finish by a certain time or even read every word. I might skip around and read chapters out of order. There are some books I’ll read (and reread) for the gorgeous writing, not overly concerned about the characters, plot, or ending.
5. Keep reading records.
“I note the name of the book, author, publishing date, date I finished reading it and the first sentence of the book, which helps me recall the author’s style,” wrote Gray-Grant about this technique. I’m definitely a list person, but I don’t currently employ this strategy. Robert Bruce is on a reading journey of 101 books, Time magazine’s list of the greatest novels since 1923. Bruce writes about it at his popular blog, 101 Books. That’s what I call reading accountability.