How to NOT Feel Guilt About Reading During the Day

Okay … in this week’s blog I am mostly speaking to myself, but maybe you can relate …?

Here’s the thing, I really, really struggle to read during the day.

Correction: I really struggle to read fiction and non-fiction books from my TBR pile during the day.

Reading for research – which in my case includes both fictional exemplars and scholarly material – is a little different but not without its own internal conflict.

I find it easier (note: I didn’t say easy) to spend a day reading journal articles, essays or books if they are for research. However, I have to constant affirm that what I am doing is research and not disguised procrastination or laziness.

Reading is a passive activity. You can make it feel more active by taking notes, jotting down ideas, dog-earring quotes and highlighting passages, but even then, it is not active the way writing is active.

From an academic stand-point: if you don’t read, you have nothing to write.

From a creative writer stand-point: if you don’t read, your writing will suck. 

Some days it feels like all I do is read. Awful existence, I know.

I read essays, articles, journals, read and revise my own writing and other people’s writing, but I rarely read fiction – even if it forms part of my research!

Because I associate reading fiction with relaxation and bedtime, I really struggle to read creative works during the day. I just feel so gosh darn guilty.

This means that I usually end up reading my ‘research fiction’ at night before bed which is an unhelpful strategy as my brain turns to mash potato after 8 p.m. making ‘intense focus’ rather difficult …

When I attempt to read during the day, I am gnawed by the sense that I should be doing something more productive like writing, editing, researching budgeting apps, or colour coordinating my wardrobe. Anything will do as long as it isn’t reading which, of course, is insane because I love reading.

As you may have guessed, I am not alone, many people feel this way.

So, I took to the interwebs and found a slew of online forums filled with people who are suffering from this same silly problem.

And yes, I am aware of the irony that I feel guilty about reading during the day but not about researching people who feel guilty about reading during the day.

In these forums, there was advice from librarians, writers, editors and even lawyers (!).

The most obvious and frankly effective ways to deal with this issue are:

  1. reframe your thoughts/beliefs about reading.
  2. creating productive exercises around reading.

Reframing Your Thoughts About Reading

Writers within these online forums changed their perception of daytime reading by reframing reading as part of their job or their creative process, however you rather word it.

In short, you must expose yourself to the art form you want to make.

You can’t write a book if you don’t read books.

The same approach was used my librarians as they have to be familiar with a wide range literature – obviously.

Creative Productive Exercises Around Reading

Some posts included creative ideas around completing exercises following a daytime reading session.

Earlier in this post I mentioned how taking notes while you’re reading can help, but this only serves to dim the guilt, not resolve it.

The exercises mentioned within these forums took things a step further, some people (who worked outside of publishing) opted to write mini-review or reflection following each reading and some editors mentioned that they switch from passive to active reading my intentionally paying attention to the use of language, story mechanics, or connections to other works. In doing so, they are able to alleviate their guilt as the insights gained through this style of reading makes them better editors.

If you are a writer, editor, librarian …

If you work with words, language or books in any capacity …

Then you have to read books.

Period.

Reading does not have to be confined to the hours of 8-10 p.m. at night.

You can read a book during the day without being perceived as lazy or indulgent.

After all, we wouldn’t judge a doctor for reading a medical journal, right?

Admittedly, I do think it’s problematic that we have to mask reading as ‘work’ in order to eliminate our sense of guilt, but hey, Band-Aid solutions have their place.

Still, I would like if we could see reading as both a part of our work and also something we do for pleasure.

I would love it if we didn’t write mini-reviews as a way to justify reading a book in the late afternoon; I would love it if we didn’t mask a midmorning reading session as ‘I’m doing this to become a better writer’, and yet, both of these things will make you a better reader and a better writer.

What I want is both. To read a book without having to frame it as work, even though it kind of is work.


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