Just five years ago, I barely read a book a year. This is terrible when you’re a student, but even worse when you’re a Creative Writing student.
Fast forward a couple of years, and I decided to read a book a month for the next year. And I did. The following year, I did the same. Then I began to up my target. And up it. And this year, my current target is 44 books, although I may well increase that to 52!
Not bad for someone who didn’t read a few years ago, is it?
Why reading is so important
The importance of reading, both for writers and non-writers, can never be understated.
Studies have shown that reading literary fiction improves empathy. Not only does this make you a nicer person, but it also makes you a better writer. If you can empathise with a person, you can empathise with your characters, and if you can empathise with your characters, the reader will be able to, too.
However, it’s not easy to find time to read in the twenty-first century. With attention spans decreasing every year—the average is now just eight seconds—it’s difficult to focus on a book for long periods of time.
But, if you put your mind to it, you can read more.
How to read more books
Set a Target
Some people can easily gorge a on a book a day and possess a superhuman reading speed. Don’t compare yourself to these people. Read at your own pace. The more you read, the more you’ll naturally learn to read faster.
Be realistic about how long you can read for. If you haven’t read for a while or you’re used to staring at a computer screen, don’t expect to read the whole of A Game of Thrones in one sitting.
Break the book down into smaller sections, either by the number of pages/chapters or time. Some books are easier to break down into chapters than others, so if it’s one with longer chapters go for time or page count instead.
Aim to read for ten minutes or ten pages, and if you’re comfortable to, keep going. If the words are merging together, close the book and go do something that doesn’t involve a screen. Your eyes will gradually get used to looking at the page and you’ll slowly be able to increase how long you can read for.
Free Up Some Time
We all waste time doing things we don’t need to be doing. Browsing aimlessly through social media is a great example of this. You don’t get anything from it—it can easily be replaced with reading time.
Likewise if you find yourself doing any other pointless activities, or if you don’t know what to do on your daily commute, try reading. Once you’re in a routine of reading at a particular day/time, it becomes much easier.
As mentioned above, it doesn’t have to be for a large amount of time. If you haven’t read for a while, it’s better to ease yourself in by reading in short chunks throughout the day.
Read as much as you can. If you’re a novelist, read novels; if you’re a screenwriter, read scripts; if you’re a poet, read poetry; if you write short stories, read short stories. By all means read other things too, but if you want to work on your craft, you should focus on it, too (and if you don’t enjoy reading what you write, why should anyone else?).
The genre and writer of what you read is up to you, but be open-minded. Don’t dismiss an author because you weren’t sure on one of their previous books. Many others change genre and voice throughout their careers.
I used to refuse to finish a book if it didn’t hold my attention after the first few chapters. Nowadays I force myself through it because you can learn as much from the books that you don’t enjoy as the ones that you do. A list of what not to do can be just as useful as a list of things that you should be doing.
How to keep track of what you’ve read
I got it for £3.99 in the Paperchase sale, but book journals can be difficult to locate (it took me several months of searching to find mine).
You don’t have to purchase a book journal, of course—you can keep track in a normal notebook, or have a document on your hard drive or phone. Make sure you update it regularly because it’s easy to lose track if you don’t update it after a book or two. If you want to make notes on the book, it’s also far easier to do so when it’s still fresh.
Goodreads is another tool that you can use. It allows you to keep track of what you want to read, what you’re reading, and what you’ve read. You can also follow your friends or people you find interesting, leave reviews, take part in quizzes and, most importantly, set yourself reading targets.
#amreading is a popular reading/writing hashtag to share what you’re reading on Twitter, and you may also get some recommendations and new followers from what you’re reading, too.
It can never be overstated how important reading is for writers. It shows that you respect and appreciate your fellow writers, and helps you to discover new methods and skills that you may not have thought of. The twenty-first century makes it difficult to read more, but with these tips hopefully you’ll be able to read more books and get more than just a passive enjoyment out of it.
Over to You
How much do you read? Do you feel that you need to read more? I’d love to hear what you think about the relationship between reading and writing!
Last updated: 29/01/17