As a writer, the adage goes read read read. That was what a kindly publisher wrote to me when, age 7 or so, I sent a short story off hoping to be published. Oh, haha, the blind hopes of youth (it was a blatant rip-off of Cinderella, but modified to be about dental health - clearly the dentist had exerted her influence). Anyway, the point (or theory) is that to be any good as a writer, you need to read a lot - to absorb the mechanics of story, the zeitgeist, maybe even the magical new book smell needs to be transferred to the blood by obsessive reading.
Now, I'll be honest and say I'm struggling. Since some adverse experiences in primary school, I've had a difficult relationship with reading, but I can conquer that with a good deal of self-talk and good recommendations. But now being more or less a full-time writer, I find reading time hard to come by. Oh, I read a lot, but much of it is manuscripts, student papers, non-fiction research. I want to read more fiction. More than that, I need to.
So, here's some ideas I'm implementing to tip more pages into my day:
- Social media apps off the phone. Full credit for this suggestion to Peter M Ball, who pointed out the habit of using "The House of Zuckerberg" as a way of passing time. Guilty of that here, too, despite loathing myself every time I log on and just look at stuff I've seen before. The solution? Uninstall the app and put a reading app in its place, whether that's Kindle or whatever platform you use. Hell, do it for Twitter too if the Twitface sinks your time. Look at Facebook when you're on an actual computer, but don't use it to fill in your mental space when you're waiting for a bus/appointment/whatever. On a recent trip to the shops, I sat in a couch area where four other people were also sitting - everyone was on their phone, so this one is rampant. This has put so much more reading into my day already. Brilliant.
- Make use of your recorder. Am I the last person watching commercial TV? Perhaps. But if you're in the nigel-without-pay-TV club too, then make use of a recorder. I've often struggled to turn off a program once it's rolling, but if I do manage it, I've forgotten pretty quickly why I cared about who slagged off who on Ink Master this week. A few minutes setting up recordings ahead of the evening, and I can happily shut off the TV, and use the extra minutes to read. The evening consumed by TV is such a deep sink of time, this one is gold. I wind down better that way, the baby can't see any screens so he does too. Everybody wins. Sometimes I watch the recordings later, sometimes not. But recording means I get around the panic of thinking I'll miss something important, even if it's a doco I want for research. And if you're on a streaming service, or pay TV, great for you. You know your shows are going to be there for later anyway.
- E-reader lives in bag. I still read print books, but I have an e-reader, too. Keeping the e-reader in my bag means I never get caught without something to read when I'm out. Like the apps swap of no.1, that means if I'm stuck in a parents room at the shops, miss a train, or whatever, it's books instead of apps.
- Use devices to extend reading time. I can be an insomniac, even when (or perhaps because of being) extremely tired. It's an issue I've had since childhood in switching off mental traffic, and even sleep dep with a tiny baby hasn't cured me of it (I won't dwell on the injustice that with only a 3-hour window to sleep, I can sometimes sleep NONE of it). Perhaps I should meditate more. But! The point is that frequent advice for people like me is not to pressure yourself to sleep. If it's not working in 10-20 mins, then do something else and try again in a bit. An e-reader with a light is a lifesaver here (or a tiny book reading light), because it won't disturb the other half and lets me read while keeping lights low and restful. It also feels less brain stimulating than watching TV (don't recommend iPads to read here and other LED based screens). It works at 3:30 am, too.
- Audiobooks and podcasts. When I was doing a lot of travel for work, I frequently took the train instead of cabs because I wanted to be free to write or read without the pressure to make conversation. But many people don't have the option and commute long hours in the car, or spend long hours there because they drive for work. In that environment, there's heaps of great titles on audiobook, and podcasts of some short fiction if you like that, too. Also fantastic if you don't have your hands free, but aren't mentally occupied - a friend who worked as a cleaner used podcasts at work, and I find them great if baby has hands tied up. If you're into music while exercising, you could also contemplate switching in some podcasts instead, although music + exercise for me is idea generation territory and probably not to be mucked with.
In all these things, of course, the idea is to make room for reading pleasurably - reading is never a place for martyrdom. But if you really would like to read more, perhaps some of the above will help. Do you have other suggestions? Would love to hear about them in the comments.