How Create Your BEST Reading Life in 3 Steps
A well-read writer is a well-fed writer. We all know that by this point. If you want to write Real+Good Writing, you've got to read Real+Good Books.
But what books are the right books for you to be reading? What books will influence you in the right ways? What books will inspire you? What books will help you grow, in writing and in life?
And how do you be deliberate and conscious with your choices? How do you make a plan for what to read that will inspire and change your writing for the better? With all of the options, how do you narrow down and find the right books for you at this particular point in time?
And how do you read more? There are SO MANY amazing books out there, and you've got to read them all. If only you had more time, more energy, more whatever, you could get to them all.
If you want to be a Real+Good Writer, and therefore, a Real+Good Reader, you've got to get deliberate. You have to know what you're going to read. You have to make informed decisions about each book you pick up. And you have to have a plan to get your reading done. Choosing what to read next (whether today, tomorrow, next week, or this whole year) is a personal decision, and there isn't a right or wrong answer. But with some informed and thoughtful insight, you can plan to use what you read as a way to help take your writing to new heights, to grow, and to enjoy what you're reading.
So let's explore what you should read, how you should choose your next book, and how to read more books more often. Armed with these three steps, you're sure to create your BEST reading life in no time!
1 | Create Your Master To-Read List
OR, WHAT SHOULD YOU READ?
There's a million bajillion reading lists out on the interwebs of books you should read: Books to read in your 20s; books to read before you die; books to read in order to be "well read"; new books to read in 2017; books to read if you want to understand feminism; books that are heartwarming; books to read before you start an MFA program; books that are popular in MFA programs; books to read after an MFA program; books that are recommended, must-read classics; books to read before they become movies; books that are good for winter. You can find a list of books for ANYTHING your heart desires.
This gets overwhelming. Which list should you follow? Which list is right for you? If x,y,z-person loved this book, how do you know you will love it too?
Use these kinds of lists as a starting point, a way to brainstorm, a way to find possible new books to read. But you don't have to follow them exactly, and you shouldn't. You want to read books that are relevant to you, that will inspire you, that will help you grow as both a writer and a human. The books that do that for me may or may not be the books that do that for you. This is a completely subjective and individual choice, and therefore, needs a completely subjective and individual list.
MAKE A MASTER LIST
You need a subjective and individual master to-read list. These are the books that you think make sense for you to read, and so your list is going to look completely different than anyone else's. This is the ultimate list to pull from, the one massive list of all the books you could possibly want to read EVER.
These books can come from anywhere—any of the million bajillion lists mentioned above, the books that are currently collecting dust on your bookshelf, recommendations from friends, family, coworkers, other people, books to read eventually and books to read now.
Choose books from all across the board: Books with covers you like; books that make you curious; classic books you've been meaning to read forever; bestsellers; books similar to the type of writing you want to write; books completely different from the type of writing you want to write. Anything that you might want to read in your lifetime goes here.
Keep this list handy and always add books to it. It's easier to refer back to your master to-read list for a good book, because you've already done the leg-work on what you think you need to read. You may want to keep this list on Goodreads.com or in an Amazon wish-list, but good old-fashioned pen and paper works too.
2 | Read Deliberately
OR, HOW DO YOU CHOOSE WHAT TO READ NEXT?
So, armed with your master to-read list, you've got a decision to make: What the heck should I read next? And with a massive list of things you'd like to read, it's hard to narrow it down and find what makes sense for you at that moment.
You could simply ask the question, "What should I read next?" and let someone (or something) else do the decision-making for you. This site asks you for a book that you like, and then suggests similar books you might also like. This one asks you to rank which elements you'd like in your next book on a sliding scale (i.e. happy vs. sad, optimistic vs. bleak, character type, plot type etc.) and then gives you a list that matches your ranks.
Or, you know, you can always go "old-fashioned" and just ask friends, family, coworkers, the librarian, the barista at the bookstore coffee shop.
When I look back at my master to-read list, I always refer back to Gabriela Pereira's guidelines, seeking books that are relevant to what's going on with me and my writing right now. She suggests crafting a reading schedule around four types of book categories: competitive, informative, contemporary, and classic.
So, when choosing what to read next, I look for books that are competitive with my current WIPs. Which books on my to-read list are in conversation with the current stories I'm trying to write? How can I pay attention to what these stories are doing, and how they're doing it, in order to make my story the best it can possibly be?
I look for books that are informative. This includes both how I can improve my craft or writing life in that moment, and informative to my WIP. If I'm having trouble with plot, I'm going to seek out an informative book that focuses on teaching me how to improve my craft in regards to plot. If I'm having trouble with motivation, I'm going to seek out a book that helps me realign my thoughts with my dreams to boost my motivation. If I'm writing a story that takes place in the 1920s, or if I'm writing about young women, I'm going to read books that inform my WIP so that it can be as authentic as possible.
I look for contemporary books. It's always necessary to stay relevant and up-to-date with what's going on in the publishing world. So I seek out books that are new and exciting, that are grabbing my attention right now. I seek out books that people are talking about, that are selling really well. I pay attention to what's working in books today.
And I look for classic books that I've been meaning to read forever. These are the books that have stood the test of time and are still relevant today. And I'm sure there are plenty classics that you haven't read yet, but need to (I know there's a BUNCH on my list). These books have helped define and shape what good writing is. You can't move forward without knowing where you've come from. And the difference in styles, word-choice, character behavior, plot (EVERYTHING) will shake up your writing in a necessary way.
Balancing the types of books I read at once makes sure that I'm always paying attention to how what I'm reading will inform what I'm writing. Make sure you find a good balance in the books you're choosing to read too.
You have a favorite type of book. You have a favorite genre. You fall in love with some types of characters and you hate others. You love when writers do certain things, and you hate when they do certain things. You have a preference.
But you cannot just read books like this. We read and we write to reflect the world we're living in, but we also do it to evoke change. We want to share our experiences, our understanding of the world with others, so that they may learn, grow, and help us change the world into a better place. If you constantly read about characters who are similar to you, in genres you love, using craft elements you prefer, you will not grow as a writer, and you will not grow as a human.
READ DIVERSE VOICES: We have yet to achieve an accurate representation of people and culture in the books that are published. For centuries, only white, male writers were published. This made us lose history. We don't have the perception of women, of POC, of the entire world for many, many, many years past. And that sucks.
And while our culture is working to change this now, we're still not all the way there. Women writers have it harder. POC have it harder. LGBTQ writers have it harder. Diverse voices are not being heard, but they need to be. We need to have equality in publishing, equality in writing, and equality in life.
How can your reading list help with this? By including underrepresented voices. Read about perspectives outside of your own experiences. Read voices you haven't heard before. Read about other cultures, other experiences, other perceptions. Broaden your worldview by buying these books, reading them, and encouraging others to do the same. This is a tiny step towards equality, an itty-bitty tiny one, but it's a start.
You might not even realize how limited your worldview is in terms of the books you read. Take a look at your bookshelf: How many books have you read by and about women? POC? LGBTQ? I was surprised when I looked at my own bookshelf. How much of the world do you not understand simply because you don't know about it?
You can challenge yourself to only read books by women for a year, or only books by POC, or only books by LGBTQ writers, or only books by people with disabilities, or just not reading white, straight, cis male authors for a year.
Does this mean you should never read a book written by a white, male author? Absolutely not. All voices are important, no matter who they are or where they come from. But you do have to pay attention to what you're reading and make sure that you're including a diverse group of voices. You may choose not to commit to a whole year of this challenge, but DO challenge yourself to be more inclusive of diverse voices. When you're looking for your next book to read, pay attention to whether you're choosing an underrepresented voice or not. Reading more diverse voices will help you grow, learn, and change the world for the better.
CREATE YOUR OWN CHALLENGE: Just like you can find a million bajillion of lists of what to read, you can also find a million bajillion challenges of books to read this year. Find or create your own that aligns with your goals and is a whole lot of fun to complete. Here's a few to help you get started:
A book with a cat on the cover
A book about an interesting woman
A book set in two different time periods
19th century classic
Classic by a woman author
A book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author
A book by an immigrant or with a central immigrant narrative
An LGBTQ romance novel
A book where all point-of-view characters are POC
A book you chose because of the cover
A juicy memoir
A book in a genre you usually avoid
And, of course, the Master List of 2017 Reading Challenges
All About Austen Reading Challenge
Banned Books Challenge
The Purrfect Reading Challenge (aka cat mysteries)
I have a Reading Challenge too!
my checklist on how to be a Real+Good Reader this year:
A book in the backlist of a favorite author
A memoir or collection of narrative essays
A book that's already on your bookshelf, but you haven't read yet
A debut novel
A book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author
A banned book
A book by and about women
A book by and about a person of color
A book with a central theme of religion, other than your own
A classic book
A book by an immigrant or with a central immigrant narrative
A book by an author from a country you've never visited
A book you would normally never read
A collection of poetry
A book that's more than 600 pages
A book that's becoming a movie or TV show
A book that's part of a series
A book published this year
A best selling popular book
Take the Real+Good Reader's Challenge, or craft your own challenge by pulling ideas from these. No mattr what you choose, make sure to challenge yourself to expand your taste, strengthen your craft, and read wider. Challenge yourself to read books outside of your comfort zone. Challenge yourself to read diverse voices. Challenge yourself, not the world, by giving yourself challenges that make sense to you. Put these all into a nice checklist and commit to reading wider this year!
go with your gut
When it finally comes down to it, after you've scoured your master to-read list, determined what makes sense for your writing in that moment (competitively, informatively, classically, and contemporarily), looked for diverse voices, given yourself a challenge, and you're STILL debating between reading Book A or Book B, go with whichever one feels right at this exact moment in time. Be whimsical, spontaneous, and just pick. Listen to your heart and choose whichever one you feel more drawn to in that moment. Go with your gut and just read. You have time to read all the other ones later. Just read one now.
3 | Read More
but, HOW DO YOU READ MORE?
This seems like a silly, redundant question. I get it. If you want to read more, then you... sit down and read. (Are you amazed at this crazy and insightful epiphany I just discovered?)
The truth is that we live in a time of NOW. We are a fast-paced, instantaneous, easily-distracted, busy culture. You might have great intentions to read a bunch of books, but when you're stuck in rush-hour traffic and then you get home and eat and then your family needs attention and your work needs attention and then did you see that Jason from high school got married (?) and so you have to scroll through all his Facebook pictures and then you check your email and then you clean the bathroom and then you see that a new episode of your favorite TV show is out and then you're tired and you haven't read anything.
It's easy to push reading down to the bottom of the to-do list because there's SO MANY other things that need our attention NOW. The book will always be there—that's the beauty of the written word. So we feel as though we don't have to do it now.
But the issue is: if you want to be writer, you have to be a reader. You have to read more. Deep down, you know this. You've always known this.
Putting it into practice? Easier said than done.
So, let's shift our mindset.
MAKE A PLAN WITH A GOAL
Your plan to "read more books" this year isn't going to cut it. How do you know if you've achieved your goal or not? How can you measure your progress? Newsflash: You can't. So, we've got to get more specific.
Do you remember as a little kid when you went to the library in the summer they always had reading challenges? They'd give you a checklist of some kind to document what books you read each summer, and if you read enough you'd win some kind of prize (e.g. a book, a snack, a stuffed animal)? I LOVED completing these every single year. I loved the challenge. I loved watching my list of "total books-read" grow and grow. I loved reading. I'd always sit in a tree at my grandmother's house and read and read and read. I was pretty upset the year I was too old to participate. (I may or may not have helped complete my younger sister's checklist in order for her receive the prize of completion).
But these little challenges don't have to end just because you've grown up, and in fact, as an aspiring writer, they're more important now than ever.
Give yourself a challenge to read a certain number of books this year. That number will vary depending on what your life looks like, what other commitments you have, but choose a specific number. Goodreads has a way for you to document this loud and proud, and helps you track which books you've read (goodbye, printed checklist; hello, technology!). Pick a number of books to read and stick to it! (And P.S. you can infuse this right into your challenge checklist you made earlier!).
As with any Real+Good Goal, you want to make sure it's SMART+HARD (learn all about setting goals that actually work for you here!). Most importantly, in this scenario, you want to make sure it's achievable. Yes, it would be amazing to say that you've read 100 books this year. But if you can't devote that much time to reading, don't go for it. Be honest with yourself and choose a goal that works for you. I don't care what your number is; it just has to be achievable and relevant to you.
Then, work backwards and break it down. Want to read 24 books this year? That's 2 books each month; 1 book every 2 weeks; half a book every week. Consider the average length of books you read, your reading speed, and give yourself some wiggle-room, then ask: Is this possible for me and my life right now? You're crafting a plan, and you want to be able to stick with it no matter what.
Finally, put it on your calendar. Yes, this sounds a little crazy, I know, but if you really want to achieve this, you have to implement a plan to achieve it. Life is busy and things are tough – make a plan. Give yourself monthly and weekly mini-goals. Schedule yourself some reading time. And read!
The lovely thing about technology is that it makes things easier and more convenient for us. And technology has given us the gift of reading even if you're doing something that doesn't allow you to hold written words in front of your eyeballs. You can STILL be reading.
I feel as though audiobooks are still underutilized. There's something special about holding a book and reading (the smell, the absorption into the text, the perfect combination of good book, cuddliness of a cat, and a cozy blanket), but we're also reading for the sake of story. So, get more story more often with audiobooks.
Listen to your book while you commute to work. Listen while you do the dishes. Listen while you clean. Listen while you shower. Listen while you workout. Why are we not listening to books all the time? It's so easy!
You can get started with Amazon's Audible. Click the link above to sign up for a free trial and get two FREE audiobooks. Try it out! You'll be reading more books faster than you think!
*This is an affiliate link. Thanks for supporting the blog!
FIND 20 MINUTES A DAY
Slow and steady progress wins the race (and helps you read more books). When you decide to read, it doesn't have to be a whole day cuddled up with book (although all days would be better if that could happen). All you really need to find is 20 minutes a day to accomplish your reading goals.
Take 20 minutes on your lunch break, when you wake up, before you to go bed, after you cook dinner, before you take a shower, while you're waiting for an appointment – the list is endless!
Find 20 minutes a day. It doesn't sound like much, but a little bit of consistent progress will add up to completely read books in no time.
Don't let your reading be just another task on your to-do list. Remember why you're doing this at all.
1 | You love to read. You're a writer. And therefore, you're a reader. I'm willing to bet that you came to writing through a love of reading. Rekindle that love, friend! Read and enjoy yourself. Relax. Get lost in a good book. Fall in love with the written word.
2 | You want to be a better writer. You can't be a better writer if you're not a good reader. Read to improve your craft, to strengthen your words, to teach yourself how to communicate your very special story in the way that makes sense. You'll learn so much about how to write by reading.
3 | You are a human in the world. And it's your humanly duty to be as good of a human as possible. To be a good human you must be kind, empathetic, a good listener, understanding, informed. Books help you do that. They make you smarter. They make you more empathetic. They make you relaxed. They grow your vocabulary. They grow your perception of the world. They grow your mind. They help you understand other humans. They help you make sense of your own life. They help you make sense of others' lives. Books help you be a better human. Why wouldn't you want that?
Ready to get started with your own Real+Good Reading Plan?!
I made you some worksheets. So you can stay organized. Because I love you. And I want your reading and writing life to be easy. ♥
First, I've got a page so you can organize your top-of-the-to-read books. You can organize your categories (whether it be competitive or informative books , books by women writers, books that are simply calling your attention, or one of your challenge categories) and then list the books you're most excited to read right now.
Then, I've created my own Real+Good Reading Challenge! After reading through MANY of the various challenges out there, I devised a challenge that makes sense for me and my writing/reading goals this next year. You can take the challenge too! Just check off each book by the end of the year.
(And let me know if you're taking this challenge with me! Book club? Maybe?).
These are the books that are at the tippy-top of my to-read list AND that check some boxes in the reading challenge:
Elena Ferrente's Neopolitan Novels
David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest
Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre
George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo
Joan Didion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem
Paul Auster's 4321
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And then finally, I'm also challenging myself to read a short story a week for the next year: 52 Short Stories in 52 Weeks. So, I've got a handy-dandy list for you to keep track of each story each week! (Although I'm sure I'll read more than 52 short stories this year!).
Complement The Real+Good Reading Plan with The Real+Good Writing Goals Workbook to have a SUPER productive and organized writing year!
GET the real+good reading plan!
Now, go read a book!
Happy Reading! And Happy Writing!
What are your reading goals for this year? What books do you plan to read? How do you ensure you're reading widely and deeply? What tricks do you have for reading more?