How to Get More Out of Your Reading Experience

young woman sitting on bench in parkPhoto by Inna Lesyk on Pexels.com

March is National Reading Month. It’s a good time to read a book. 

If you’re like me, you have an entire shelf (or two) of books waiting to be read. In fact, at this moment, I probably have about 80 books waiting for my attention. There doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to read them all.

Browse the Internet and you’ll find numerous articles how to read more books. That’s an admirable goal. But I prefer to focus on quality. I’d rather take my time to enjoy the process of reading rather than power through each book just to ramp up my numbers.

Add to that the growing number of responsibilities in our lives. It’s difficult to enjoy a book when your mind is distracted by everyday concerns. What should I make for dinner? I need to call a babysitter for Saturday night. How am I going to pay my property tax bill? You get the idea.

If you want to get more out of your reading experience, here are a few tips and tricks you can try.

Set aside a private place for your reading. Is there a corner of your home where you like to curl up with a book? If not, make a space for yourself with a comfortable chair and good lighting away from noise and distractions. Loving pets and favorite beverages are optional.

Avoid speed reading. Reading is not a race or a competition. It’s meant to be savored, like a cup of coffee or a long walk. If you really want to enjoy reading, slow down and take your time to get through your book. When you slow down, you’ll likely notice more details in the story. Speed reading might help you power through more books, but will it help you enjoy what you’re reading?

Browse libraries and bookstore shelves for inspiration. Looking for ideas what to read next? Or do you want to find out what other people are reading? Check out the shelves at the local library or bookstore to find out what’s new and interesting. It’s not necessary to buy anything at that moment. Keep a small notebook with book titles you want to read, or jot the titles down in your smart phone for easy reference later. When you see what else is out there, it can inspire you to keep reading.

While you’re at the library, find a quiet corner and read. It can be from one of the shelves, or your own book that you’ve carried with you. Spending time at the library can inspire anyone to read more.

Participate in reading challenges. If you really want to ramp up your reading game, find a reading challenge to take part of. These challenges give you an opportunity to read different types of authors and genres. It also help you set a goal for yourself. Maybe your goal is to read two or three books a month. That would equate to 24 to 36 books a year. Make sure your goal is reasonable and reachable, however. Check out local libraries, online book clubs and sites like
Goodreads for reading challenges.

Put away electronics. If you really want to enjoy the latest bestseller, turn off the TV and put away your smart phone. You don’t really need them while you read, do you? By eliminating these distractions, you won’t be tempted to engage in non-essential activities and your mind can focus on the book in your lap rather than what’s on the screen.

Set a dedicated reading time. Find a time of day that works best for you, according to Inc. magazine. What time of day works best for you to read? For some, reading before bedtime helps them relax and sleep better. For others, reading a good book over their lunch hour is more convenient. Sometimes, getting up in the wee hours of the morning or when insomnia strikes in the middle of the night provides an opportunity to catch up on some reading. Reading for 30 minutes during that quiet time before the sun rises can help you fall back to sleep.

Read out loud or take notes. If non-fiction is your thing, sometimes it helps to read the book out loud or take notes to get the most out of your reading experience. Taking notes or reading out loud can help you understand the author’s message, develop new conclusions or increase your focus or concentration. You can get more out of your reading in shorter period of time.

Allow yourself a DNF. Every so often, you start reading a book that is simply not grabbing your attention. In that case, give yourself permission to stop reading it, writes a contributor at BookRiot. There’s no rule that says you have to finish every book you’ve started (although I do try to finish everything I read because you never know when the story might get better toward the end). Life is too short to be spent reading a boring book, especially when there are so many other amazing works out there. So go ahead and allow yourself a “Did Not Finish.”

Re-read old favorites. If you need a break from reading newer releases, go back and re-read a title that you read long ago. It feels self-indulgent to cozy up with a book you loved once upon a time.

Recently, I finished reading A Stranger is Watching by Mary Higgins Clark. The book had been sitting on my shelf after I grabbed it from a Little Free Library, but when I learned Clark had died, I knew it was my next selection. I had read it more than 25 years ago and couldn’t remember the plot. Because so much time has passed, I was able to read it again with fresh eyes and a fresh perspective.

Remember, it’s not the number of books you read that matters or how quickly you get through them. It’s the quality time you spend doing what you love. Follow these tips to enjoy reading more.

 

Remembering the Queen of Suspense, Mary Higgins Clark

MHC autographSeveral weeks ago, we lost an icon in the literary world. Author Mary Higgins Clark passed away at the age of 92 and her loss will be deeply felt among generations of her loyal readers.

Clark authored 56 books in a career that spanned more than 40 years, which is amazing considering she didn’t get published until she was 43. It took hard work, dedication and persistence to keep writing and keep revising — a lesson for all aspiring authors. In a lovely open letter on Clark’s website, Carolyn K. Reidy, the CEO of Simon & Schuster, Clark’s publisher, writes of Mary’s work ethic and her generosity with her readers.

Clark was one of the first authors whose books I routinely sought out in bookstores or at the library because I always knew they were well written and kept me turning the pages until its satisfying conclusion. I always looked forward to the new releases from her with great anticipation, not unlike the Harry Potter series two decades later.

Clark was also one of the few authors I met during a meet-and-greet at a bookstore near my office many years ago. I remember walking into the bookstore and noting with surprise that there weren’t many people in line to meet her, maybe three or four. Mind you, this was 1991, long before there was social media and cell phones and selfies. They didn’t exist back then, so there was little pre-event publicity other than an ad in the newspaper.

I waited eagerly as she chatted with the gentleman in front of me. She actually took the time to talk and answer his questions. When my turn came, I excitedly told her I loved her stories and wanted to be a writer myself. I can’t remember what we talked about after that, but she patiently signed my book (Loves Music, Loves to Dance) with the line “Happy reading and happy writing” followed by her signature and the date. (See image above.)

It’s hard to believe I have had that book all this time. I never had the heart to donate it or give it away because, well, it was a signed copy and it had my name in it. That made it special to me.

When I heard the news of Clark’s passing, I pulled out the book from my collection and looked at what Mary wrote inside. It warmed my heart all over again. Even better, it inspired me to keep writing and keep working toward my publishing goal. Stopping my work now would be like betraying an old friend.

I think many writers can point to one or two authors who have inspired them to be the writer they wanted to be. For me, it was Mary Higgins Clark as well as suspense writer Joy Fielding, who signed a book copy for me in 1995.

JF autograph 2

If there is a moral to this story, it would be to seek out the advice of other writers who have traveled the road you’re on, especially if they are writers whose works you admire. Ask them questions about their craft, no matter how dumb they may sound. These days, most authors have a website and are on social media, so it’s easier to follow them and keep tabs on what they are doing professionally. Check in with them every so often, but don’t hound them. Check their calendar, if they have one, to find out when they’ll be visiting your town. Then make a point to stop by and say hello. You never know what that meeting might lead you toward.

What about you? Do you have a favorite author that inspired you to become a writer? Have you ever met them in person? Share your story in the comments below.

Seven Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting a Writing Practice

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Some months ago, I attended a writing workshop on a Saturday morning sponsored by a local writers group. Over one of the breaks, I chatted with the man next to me, an attorney who had recently married. I asked him what kind of writing he did. His answer? “I don’t have time to write. I have a busy law practice and I just got married,” he said rather sheepishly.

It wasn’t until later that I realized the inconsistency of his remark. He claimed not to have time for writing, yet managed to find time from his supposed busy schedule to attend a three-hour writing workshop on a Saturday morning. What’s wrong with that picture?

For many of us, it is far easier to think about, read about and talk about writing than to actually sit down and write. We’d much rather make excuses about why we don’t write than to examine the reasons why we don’t.

A writing practice, as I define it, is a regular, consistent routine of putting pen or pencil to paper (though some people prefer to use a computer). The amount of time devoted to the practice differs from person to person. But whether you spend two hours a day or fifteen minutes a day, the key is consistency. A little bit of writing every day slowly and gradually builds up your practice. And the more you practice, the more comfortable and confident you will feel about your writing. The more you practice, the more progress you will see which gives you more momentum and motivation to keep writing.

Not everyone is mentally or emotionally prepared to begin a writing practice, however. They may have questions about starting a writing practice – lots of them. And they may have self-doubts and fears, either about the writing practice itself or about their own abilities as a writer. As a former colleague once told me years ago, “Fear and self-doubt will kill every opportunity that comes your way.”

So before you embark on this writing journey, ask yourself the following questions. The answers will help you to ‘get real’ about your writing practice.

1. Why do you want to begin a writing practice? Why is a writing practice important to you at this point in your life? Answering this question determines how strong a desire you have to write. If you’re still unsure of your response, answer this question: On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being not important at all and 10 being very important), how important is writing to you?

2. What do you want to achieve with your writing? To eventually get published? To pass along family lore and legends? Or just have fun?

3. What does your writing practice look like to you? What notions, if any, do you have about how much time you should spend on your writing, or where you write? Many of you may have preconceived ideas about what your writing life looks like – about how much time you should spend each day or how many words you should write, what your office space looks like, etc. However, the reality often looks different from the fantasy.

4. What obstacles, excuses or conditions hold you back from starting and maintaining a writing practice? For most people, time management is an issue. Let’s face it, we all lead busy lives. But some people are more willing to adjust their schedules so they have more time to write. Remember, it’s not about having the time to write, but about making the time to write. Those with the greatest desire to write will make the time to write.

Suspense author Mary Higgins Clark was a widow living in New York with five children to support. She had to work to support her family, so she got a job writing radio scripts. Still her desire to write was so strong that she made time in her busy schedule to write her first novel. For two hours every morning from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m., she set her typewriter on the kitchen table and wrote. Clark could easily have made excuses for not writing. She didn’t, and she went on to a very successful career.

5. Do you have a dedicated space for writing? If coffee shops are your thing, more power to you. Or like me, do you prefer quieter places, like the library, so you can think, plan and create?

6. Do you have a support system? Are there people in your life who not only provide encouragement and input about your writing, but also respect the time and space you need for writing?

7. How much time are you reasonably willing and able to devote to your practice? If you were to keep a log of your activities for three consecutive days, I bet you would find gaps in your schedule where you could sneak in a writing session. We’re not nearly as busy as we think we are.

The more you understand your motivations and desire to write, the more prepared you will be to begin writing. If the motivation and desire to write isn’t strong to begin with, no amount of encouragement from others will get you started on your practice.

A healthy mindset is also important. If you are not in a good place mentally or emotionally, it will be more difficult to begin a writing practice. When you are in a good place, the stories seem to flow more naturally and organically. You won’t have to ask, “What do I write about?”

Over the coming weeks, I will continue to explore some of these concepts in greater detail. If you have any questions about how to start a writing practice, feel free to post a comment below.