When I finished a writing graduate program five years ago, I celebrated with vigor not having to juggle both a full-time reporting job and evening classes. But also, I was most excited about living out my fantasies of reading again for leisure—comfortably nestled underneath a cozy blanket with a cup of tea while it rained, flipping page after page of a riveting novel while the fireplace crackled in the background. You know, those type of ideal settings book lovers dream of. What I was dismayed to discover was that reading for leisure would be an uphill battle, one where it became nearly impossible to turn off my graduate school critical mind of dissecting a book upon opening the first page.
It took a long time for me to relax back into reading the way I did before, the way I did when I was a child and became enamored with characters, plots and scenes, but if I can make that shift, you can, too. With a little effort after all. Maybe you’re a recovering graduate student. Or you’ve just crossed the bridge to the end of a very stressful period of your life where you didn’t have much time to read. Or maybe you want to commit to reading more regularly after prioritizing nearly everything else in the world. There are innumerous reasons to make reading a regular part of your life but the biggest thing perhaps is that reading really can open the world up to you.
Making reading a regular habit is possible. Here’s a few tips to make that happen for you in the future at your own pace.
Start small. Incremental progress is still progress.
If you’ve not read on a regular basis for years, setting a lofty goal of reading one book per week is setting yourself up to fail. Instead, try to set a goal of reading one book per month initially. Once you’ve made good on that for a few months, increase it to two books per month and so on. The goal is to slowly and practically expand your habit so that it becomes second nature in the end.
Track your reading progress.
Go a step further and start keeping a log of the books you’re reading, how many pages they are on average and how long it takes for you to read them. Anyone remember the Six Hundred Minutes Six Flags summer reading program from the 90s? As a child, it brought excitement to the summer because I knew I had a goal to reach and a reason to keep reading. It turned reading into a game of sorts, me hoping how many new stories I can stumble into and love. Tracking is a way of keeping your awareness alive. To put pen to paper of your new habit you’re building increases the likelihood you’ll continue it because of the accountability required to track.
Ask friends, family or colleagues what they’re reading or have enjoyed…
When I’m hungering for a good read, I ask friends, those of which I know actively read, for recommendations. I ask them for what books inspired them, what books made them think, what books made me angry. I’m looking for books with a strong enough narrative to invoke an emotional reaction. Those tend to be the books that change me and the way I view life, too.
…but then pinpoint which books you actually like reading.
One major rule of thumb: read what you like. It doesn’t matter if someone you respect or kinda like loved the hell out of a science fiction novel or nonfiction book on The Civil War if the thought of reading in either genre or either subject bores you to tears. What fascinates you? What fills you? What do you gravitate towards reading? I personally love young adult novels, good memoirs of any kind or food history books. For you, that might be something very different and particular as a person. Honor that and pick what you’ll like.
Remember the joy of reading.
In the end, reading is not supposed to be a competition with yourself. It is supposed to be a reprieve from everyday life and a quiet time to relish in the goodness that amazing literature can bring. Try to approach reading from that vantage point, of remembering how a good book can make you smile, inspire laughter from the depths of your soul or bring you to tears. Reading is a magical mental and emotional journey for each reader that embarks from the moment you flip the page from the cover.