“Thoughts On” is a feature on thewasofshall where I give my (often rambling) thoughts on a topic relevant to reading, literature, or the book business. To see previous (and future) topics, click here.
Forming any type of habit is hard. If the action was something you really loved to do—and had copious amounts of time in which to do it—then you wouldn’t really have to try and make it a habit, right? Habits take foresight, planning, and some willpower, too. No matter how great a start, there’s always that day where you let your actions slip… and then suddenly you’ve not done the thing you set out to do for days or weeks (or sometimes even months).
However a bibliophile’s best intentions, making reading a habit is hard work. Even if reading is your favorite thing in the world to do, sometimes the book you’re reading sucks. Sometimes something else important (or interesting) gets in the way. Sometimes you run out of time. Sometimes you don’t make time.
In the past week, I started working at a second job—which doubled my time spent away from home each week from a reasonable 21 hours to 42, plus a daily commute between 45 and 70 minutes six days per week. I used to have whole days off where I could go shopping, watch a movie, read in the middle of the day, do the crossword puzzle for the span of a whole cup of tea… the possibilities were endless. Now I get two full days off out of every fourteen, and sometimes I’m out of the house for a full 12 hours.
Making time to read—when a scant 30 or 60 minutes has to be spread across all the blogs, YouTube channels, and podcasts to which I subscribe; the TV series I really want to watch (both current and backlogged (ah!!! Orphan Black!!!)); my ever growing pile of magazines; the walks I need to take with my dog—can sometimes feel like a chore. Sometimes I’m sick of giving that only hour of free time to a book, day after day. Sometimes I feel like watching the pilot episode of yet another TV series on Netflix because, ahem, I’m paying $8 a month and I haven’t watched anything since the middle of June. (And yes, I keep track.)
So why do I read, day after day? Why do I give up Tumblr time or Orphan Black time or sleep time?
Because I love to, and I’ve decided to make reading part of my daily routine.
Yeah, I really love to sleep. But I also really want to find out what happens in Westeros. There will be some days where I’ll sit in front of the TV for an entire season of Doctor Who. Maybe I’ll watch YouTube videos while simultaneously scrolling through Tumblr and losing the (SO. FREAKING. ADDICTING.) game 2048. I might even make the excuse that the best place to wait for my laundry is sprawled out on the couch while I catch up on stuff I’ve DVR’d. But come bed time, I’ll be in bed reading.
So what if it’s only 30 minutes. Who cares if, at 25 pages a night, my current read, A Dance with Dragons, is going to take me over a month to finish. What matters is that I make time to read, every night, day after day. And when other stuff gets in the way, and I forgo my nightly habit? I start over again the next.
Some tips to form your own reading habit:
- Figure out where and when you’ll read.
What’s the best time for you: At night before bed? Between work and dinner? While exercising? While driving to work? Is there a place in your home that doesn’t already have a function? Get creative and comfortable.
- Find a format that works for you.
Are you into holding physical books? Do you prefer the portability of an e-book? Do you like the hands-free aspect of audiobooks? Unless you’re stuck on one format, try some out and see what works when.
- Create some sort of way to track your reading. (If you really want to make reading a habit, this is a must.)
There are great riffs on “don’t break the chain” memes—which give you positive reinforcement by showing you how many times you’ve performed the action you want to make a habit—or you can make sometime less formal like buying a cheap calendar you don’t mind staring at the whole month and crossing off days or creating some type of chart or table in your word processor. Whatever the tool, figure out what works for you.
- Read, yo. (And don’t beat yourself up when you don’t.)
Reading every day/night for a specified amount of time or pages is the most surefire way to make daily reading a habit—but slip ups habit and the best advice I can give is to not give up. Only have time for a quick ten minutes? Awesome! Skip a day? No problem! Just start again the next.
- Adjust as necessary.
Tweak your plan as necessary or else scrap it completely and pick a different goal such as reading x books per year/month/week. Again, find what works for you.
Have your own thoughts on making reading a habit? Let me know!