How Do You Make Time to Read?

 

I have a confession to make: I’m a bad reader. Let’s be honest: I’m a lousy reader.

I’m the kind of reader that lets all kinds of interruptions stop me from finishing a book. There is my schedule, my kids’ schedule – my writing projects that always seem to take precedence over an evening curled up in bed with a great book. And there is my writer brain that doesn’t seem to turn off when I’m reading supposedly for pleasure. There is the unwillingness to suspend my disbelief like I did when I was young, a general impatience for the story to get where it should be, then exasperation when it does and I think I’ve seen it all before. Is this adulthood? Lack of sleep? Lack of time? Is this maturing writer syndrome? Whatever it is, I feel like I should be reading, and enjoying reading a lot more.

This summer I read six books. For me, six is a pretty good number. I read two on the plane, to and from ALA. The other four I read at my parents’ when I had no place to drive my kids, no major cooking or housework to complete – nothing to do really but kick up my legs for a few weeks.

But let’s compare this to the number of books my fourth-grader read. That would be 26.

6 and 26. Luckily, I’m not trying to be her. Otherwise, I would feel like a pile of doo-doo.

But I did study her reading habits over the summer, to find out how she read so much. She didn’t have a completely free summer. She had a morning camp that ran for 6 weeks, But her afternoons were open until the end of July, and then for the whole of August, nothing at all. She read the Percy Jackson series, the Sisters Grimm series, several standalones, and even a few ARCS that I brought back from ALA, or that she received through a fantastic children’s reading program at a bookstore in Boston. Some came from the bookstore, but most came home from the library. She was not a picky reader, but she read what interested her, and during the summer, she completed every book she started.

Then I looked at my own reading patterns, during the summer, and during the school year (because even if I’m not a student, my day-to-day life is determined by the academic and extra-curricular schedule of my kids).

This is what I came to realize about reading:

1. It’s important to have uninterrupted time. For my daughter, this time was vast – enough that she could keep reading until she finished a book, which was generally in about 2 days. It was harder for me to find this same kind of uninterrupted time. If I did, it was generally when my kids were asleep or out playing with friends, cousins, etc. The best time honestly, was at night, when everyone was asleep. For this I actually preferred my iPad, because I could read in the dark (which okay, might be horrible for my eyes), but which gave me the closest sensation that I was completely alone with my reading.

2. Even when you’re busy, you can still make time for reading. You need to carve out a time to read, and keep that time only for that. It might be at night before you go to sleep. It might be on your morning commute. Or maybe it is at your kid’s soccer game. Where ever it is, it should be consistent and guarded against other obligations.

3. Reading is a mental exercise. Just like your body can go out of shape, your reading muscles can atrophy over time, too. The best way to build up those reading muscles is to keep reading. It gets easier to read when you develop the habit of reading.

4. Sometimes liking a book means having to get to the end. While I don’t advocate finishing everything I read, I do also find that certain books require a greater amount of time to build trust. In a way, when you decide to read a book, you are trusting the author to take you somewhere you want to be. One of the books I read this summer became extremely satisfying by the time I got to the end – but it was an end I couldn’t have seen coming (or enjoyed) when I reached the halfway mark.

5. Reading a little more means writing a little less. I don’t know how to get around this fact, at least as it stands in my life. Because as a writer and mom and family member, there are only so many hours in a day to get things accomplished. Sometimes a fabulous book means giving up an evening dedicated to writing. Sometimes it means putting that fabulous book on hold while you finish your draft. It’s a delicate balance. For me, it does help to be between writing projects. So for the time being, reading is a great way to transition from one project to another, to refill the well, and allow myself to enter someone else’s imagined world for a change.

Now that school has started for my kids and me, I’m sure our reading habits will change. But at least I’ve got 6 books tucked inside my brain, and I feel so much better because of it.

So how about you? Where do you read? When do you read? How do you fit reading into your life?

 

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Sheela Chari is the author of VANISHED (Disney Hyperion), the latest Al Roker Book Pick. You can watch her live on the Today Show in October, or visit her online at www.sheelachari.com

16 Responses to How Do You Make Time to Read?

  1. Great post! I can especially relate to point number 5 about balancing reading with my writing time. Sometimes I read when I shouldn’t–when I should be cleaning my house, catching up on gardening work, ect. But my favorite time and place to read is out in my hot tub in the winter. My husband fixed up a flood light for me out on the porch so it’s a great, quiet, relaxing place to read.

    sheelachari Reply:

    @Dianna Winget, Hot tub in the winter! I’m imagining this with a little envy! :)

    I’m sitting down with the Sisters Grimm, Book #1 in the evenings. 15 minutes a day. I’m enjoying it. But a hot tub would make it better. grin!

  2. I was thinking about this very topic this morning, as it seems to be taking me forever to finish a novel that I’m enjoying very much. I realized it’s because I’m spending more time writing, which is a good thing. But I’m also doodling around on the Internet, which is a bad thing. I’m going to keep making time to read because it feeds my soul in such an important way.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post!

    sheelachari Reply:

    @Donna Gephart, thanks so much for writing, Donna! I apologize for not responding sooner (school started a few days ago – and it’s been chaotic).

    I’m so glad to hear again and again that I’m not the only writer facing this struggle with reading and finding time for it without my writing time (or work) getting affected. I do also think I waste time online…that if I’m more disciplined, I can have time to do both.

  3. I struggle with reading while writing. I always have to be reading something. It’s like eating breakfast every day…reading is something “i have to do” just for the “zone out” part.
    The challenge I find is when I’m writing/revising a project and I’m reading something..suddenly I want to emulate that author I’m reading and this can trickle into my project and I do not want that to happen. But I also don’t want to just not read either….so I’m just going to hope that I can make reading a separate entity from my project altogether. One thing though that confuses me is that I might be writing MG, but reading YA and suddenly be on the YA-train :) So I feel like I”m never going to rein in my ideas and voices and committments if I keep this up.

    But i just love to read. So…I don’t know how to solve that thing :)

    Sheela Chari Reply:

    @Jill, This problem happens to me all the time! I find the books I’m reading “interfering” with what I’m writing. But I think this happens often, and it’s a common problem among writers. I really think it’s best for me to separate them so that I’m not doing both at the same time.

  4. Great post! I too find it hard to find time to read, write, work and be a mom. A couple of weeks ago I decided I needed to set some goals for myself, just for a bit more consistency. As best as I can, I make a point to write for 15 minutes every day and read for fun 15 minutes every day. Total, that’s only half an hour, which makes the goal seem easier to attain. Good luck with both!

    Sheela Chari Reply:

    @Jennifer Rumberger, I like the idea of 15 minutes. I’m trying really hard to fit time for reading, especially now after school started!

  5. What a thoughtful and thought-provoking post. For me, reading is an always changing experience. It’s rare now to ever completely give myself up to a novel–I’m so often noting form, voice, pacing!

    Sheela Chari Reply:

    @tricia, Thank you, Tricia! It’s also very, very hard for me to read without holding back a little.

  6. Karen B. Schwartz

    I read at night because it’s very relaxing and I’ve found that I can’t write at night. If my kids are home from school, like on break, I don’t write at all and the reading amps up more.

    sheelachari Reply:

    @Karen B. Schwartz, It’s funny how I can read with the kids around (and ambient noise), but it’s really difficult to write much. Night is perfect for reading, and I’m opting towards it (though the internet is such a huge temptation at that time, too!)

  7. Joanne Johnson

    @ Sheela–I hear you. My strategy is to have seasons for reading and seasons for writing. When I’m in the middle of a draft or revision, I don’t read much. When I’m between drafts (or over school breaks), I set reading goals and read as much as I can. Sometimes I’m reading with a purpose, studying examples of POV or setting or any area in my writing that I’m trying to improve. I also have seasons (like back to school chaos) when I take a break from both. But you are published and I’m not, so I don’t have external deadlines. Great suggestions!

    sheelachari Reply:

    @Joanne Johnson, It’s taken me a long time to recognize that there are cycles to writing projects – and that reading can be part of this cycle, too. I’ve discovered only after a couple of years that summer, winter vacation, and the month of September, are impossible times to get writing done. Now that I know that, I plan on not writing at that time, and finding a few books to read instead. I like your use of the word “season.” I think it’s very apt!

  8. This is very true. This is also why my blog is called Ms. Yingling READS and not WRITES!! Reading is so much easier!

    sheelachari Reply:

    @Ms. Yingling, Actually for me, reading is so much harder! But maybe it depends on the book and the writing project! :)