Read More books and Improve Your Writing | Tips and Tricks

Last year, I set a reading goal to finish fifty books by the end of 2020. Luckily, I (slightly) surpassed that by reading fifty-one books before the New Year’s broke. 

I’ve only kept a running record of my ‘read list’ for the past two years, but I think it’s reasonably safe to say that it’s the most I’ve read in any given year.

I don’t really think about my reading habit as having a structure, but after listening to Gretchen Rubin’s announce her challenge for 2021 on her Happier with Gretchen Rubin Podcast, I decided to reassess.

The challenge: to read 21 in 2021.

To clarify, the challenge is to read for twenty-one minutes every day, not to read a total of twenty-one books within the year.

We’ve all heard about the benefits of reading: improved mental health, increased empathy, prevention of Alzheimers, better retention, a sharper mind, and an increase in our intolerance for uncertainty (sounds pretty good, right?).

One of the stats from the episode that caught my attention was…

Reading for 21 minutes a day for 365 days equals nearly 128 hours of reading.

The average reader can read 300 words a minute, and the average book is between 60,000-80,000 words, meaning that most books can be read in five and a half hours.

(Either I am a slow reader or I must read very big books because I rarely finish a book in five hours!)

If you were to read for 21 minutes a day, theoretically, you should chew through about 23 novels a year.

Personally, I think that’s a pretty good effort, especially considering that the average American reads twelve books a year, and fifty percent of the Australian population reads between one and ten books a year.

The other bonus of this basic maths is that you can adjust it to your reading goals. If you wanted to read fifty books in a year, for example, then you’ll need to read for roughly forty minutes a day.

My reading routine doesn’t have much structure. Sometimes I read first thing in the morning before taking my dog for a walk (this can be anywhere from five minutes to forty-five minutes) or in the evening before bed (ranging from fifteen minutes to two hours on a good night!), and I don’t read every day (unfortunately), but after listening to Gretchen’s Podcast, I’d love to change this habit in particular.

As she says, ‘What we do most days matters more than what we do once in a while.’

And, for the most part, I think doing a minimum of 21 minutes a day is totally do-able (plus I kind of love the idea of ‘measuring’ my reading time).

I wanted to share this concept with you because this is a writing blog, and if you’re a writer you should be a reader. And yet, despite the many voices out there announcing how vital reading is to writing, it’s so easy to not do it—especially when life gets busy.

With that in mind, I’d love to share a few quick tips and tricks that could support your reading routine.

  • Keep a list of all the books you’ve read throughout the year (this is the one habit I do! I also made this cute printable PDF for you: Books I’ve Read PDF | Books I’d like to Read PDF).
  • Only read books that you are excited to read. If you’re super into a book, you will make time to read it.
  • Do not finish a book you aren’t enjoying. There are too many good books out there to waste your time reading something you’re not into. Remember, the average reader can only finish 2000 books in their lifetime and there are 50 million English-language novels currently in publication (not including non-fiction, poetry, or ALL the indie books out there on the internet).
  • Put your phone in another room while you are reading. Studies show that just looking at your phone can make you stressed AND prompt you to distraction. (If this is a problem for you, check out these articles here and here).
  • Create a tiny book club with you and one other person. Simple, easy, intimate. Plus, it will create a sense of accountability.
  • Track your reading habit using stickers in your planner (if you follow me on Instagram, you know I use this method for writing and academic research because I am *actually* a child).
  • Habit stack by combining reading with another activity you always do. For example, you could combine reading with your morning coffee/tea or get into the habit of reading straight after brushing your teeth at night.
  • Listen to bookish podcasts (reviews, discussion, author interview) to learn about new books. Click here for recommendations!
  • Keep a TBR list or—and I love this—keep a PHYSICAL stack of books you want to read this month/season/year somewhere in your home.

Now, since this is a writing blog and reading is often toted as the ONE THING every writer should do to improve their craft, I thought it would be helpful to share a few ways you get MORE out of reading.

A quick disclaimer, even if you do none of the following things, your writing will improve simply by making reading a regular habit in your life.

If you constantly expose yourself to literature and storytelling, your subconscious is absorbing all the basics of craft: structure, characterisation, pace, use of language etc.

You will write better because you know what good writing looks and feels like.

However, if you want to learn more actively, here are some easy ways to make reading a habit that improves your writing.

  • Read first as a reader and then as a writer (i.e re-read) while…
  • Underlining poetic sentences or sentences that break grammar rules (or illustrate existing ones, like how to use a semi-colon, colon, or commas. This is super useful if you’re trying to improve your grammar and punctuation).
  • Pay attention to what the author does well, character, mood, dialogue, and analyse how they’ve structured this element.
  • Pay attention to what the author has not done well. Were you disappointed by the ending? Thought there was too much telling? Etc.
  • Write out unfamiliar words and their definition in a personalised dictionary.
  • Pay attention to the structure, did they foreshadow the ending, use a non-linear structure, or include flashbacks?
  • Keep all these notes—and whatever other customised ones you’d like to add—in a word document. This is basically a personalise writing bible that can support you whenever you need to look up ways to … write a metaphor without using ‘as’ or ‘like’ or how to bury the ‘I’ when using first-person.

As John Updike said, ‘Writing is only reading turned inside out.’

While I don’t have a “bad” reading habit, I, like many, would like to read more and get more out of my reading this year. For this reason, I plan on joining the 21 in 21 challenge. If this is something that interests you, click here to find out more. (It’s free).

Now, I’d love to hear from you. What does your reading routine look like? Do you have any ‘rules’ regarding reading or any special habits that support it? Leave a comment below and tell me all about it.

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