If you've read my post on a similar subject last week, you know that in the past year, I've been seriously missing playing DnD with my friends. You'll also know that I've been highly conscious of my lack of ability to finish multiple books a week, another favorite hobby of mine that has suffered in the past year, as my sense of motivation and focus took a debilitating nosedive in the face of a pandemic.
So, I decided to look up some favorite reading hacks from people across the web, detailing how they manage to make reading such a primary practice in their daily lives. Then, I decided to sort through each of those sources, and sort the practices I liked the sound of into various groups: those that abide by scheduling, intention, and organized progression (aka, the "Lawful Good" way to read), and then... the ones collected in this post.
The "Chaotic Neutral" pile of quick-and-dirty, spontaneous, minimal-fretting and maximum-effect means of getting your Goodreads to its highest-ever score.
Don't get me wrong: the "Lawful Good" set of advice, I think, was not only more my speed, but was much more in keeping with the sort of advice you're used to regularly getting from members of the Bookish Community. "Schedule reading into your day," "remove distractions," "set time-based goals," blah blah blah. It really is very helpful, but it's also stuff we've all heard before (and most likely ignored before, too).
The "Chaotic Neutral" advice, on the other hand... I don't know if I've ever thought about some of these tactics, but I'm absolutely willing to give a few of them a shot.
So, which camp do you think better suits your own alignment? I think that, in a couple of different ways, both sides have quite a bit to learn from each other. At the end of the day, we're all just trying to do our best, and sometimes, our best looks a little different to each person. So, give yourself some grace, let loose a little bit... and give some of these crazy reading hacks a try!
attack of opportunity:
make the most of what you've got
Only reread books, instead of reaching for new titles. There are multiple benefits to this: you don't have to buy, find, or loot (just kidding) any new material, you can pick it up and put it down easily without getting lost, and chances are, you already really like it. Rereading, to me, is a regular part of my reading practice, and every once in a while, I like to pick up books that are sources of comfort in my life. Once you get into the practice of only pursuing those that are chosen winners for you, you might feel more driven to branch out into different, new material.
Read "disposable" books. Cheap, mass market paperbacks, backlisted titles no one's reviewing on Goodreads, skinny little paper things that you dug out of the $1 rack of a secondhand bookstore. Giving yourself access to titles with as little hype or preconceived notions as possible frees you up from any kind of social pressure to either read or enjoy it, and you don't have to feel bad if you end up getting rid of it when you're done. Honestly, it just feels better to tear through something weird you paid $2 for, then slog your way to the final pages of a $25 hardcover, and that's what's going to help you get back into regular practice. They don't all have to be winners, you know.
Read dramatically under or over your own reading level. You may be in your mid-twenties, but there's never a wrong time to give Percy Jackson a try. Same with being a high schooler who's just really feeling driven to pick up some Shakespeare you've never attempted before. In one direction, you're taking a step back to reinvest yourself in fun, fast-paced, easily-accessible literature; in the other, you're taking a shot at the stars. While it may be easier to tackle one than the other, that sense of variety and accomplishment will help propel you forward.
Only read two pages a day. Seriously, I'm not joking. Simply make the commitment to yourself to only read two pages a day. Sure, you can go ahead and read more than that, too, if you'd like... just make sure that no matter how busy your schedule is, you just make the time for those two pages. Steadily, over time, you will build back up to reading more. It's just getting into the daily practice that's important.
Only read on certain days of the week, like weekends. Don't have any time for reading, due to work, school, and other kinds of time commitments during the work week? No problem. Only read on weekends. When you remove the expectation, you can focus more on what needs to get done during the week, but you also free yourself up to focus squarely on reading during the weekend. That way, you do away with all that guilt and self-flagellation, and the act of picking up a book rests squarely in the relaxing, indulgent frame of mind. When you aren't so busy, and can take more time for yourself during the week, reading on a weekday will then feel more like a joy than a chore.
mix your media
Get a little bardic inspiration: plug in a pair of headphones that cancel out noise, and keep your brain focused while reading with some accompanying music or white noise that you enjoy. Try out one in millions of reading-associated playlists on Spotify, or take a gander at some of those "coffee shop ambience" sound-mixed videos on YouTube, and see if they help! My brother occasionally goes even one step beyond, and listens to an audiobook at 2x speed while he reads along with a physical copy. I do the same when I read Shakespeare, too!
Make your technology work for you, like utilizing the Audible / Overdrive app on your phone, or keeping your Kindle app available on multiple devices. If you're someone who's totally addicted to social media - it's okay, there's no shame in it - then try dedicating that attention to the Kindle app, instead, by swapping their locations on your phone. The "eReaders aren't real books" debate is a tired, old thing, and it's more than okay to read books on a digital device... which applies to your actual phone, as well. (Fun fact: my younger sister used to bookmark fanfiction to tabs on her phone browser before we'd head into the Parks on trips to Disneyland, so that she could read them while we were waiting in line... it's easy, convenient, and chances are, you'd be looking at your screen anyways!)
Watch the movie first. It makes way too much sense: read books that were adapted into movies or television you enjoy! Fans of Bridgerton should pick up the romance novels, and those who love PBS mysteries should grab an Agatha Christie or two. You'll have a general idea of what's coming, and it will help pull you further into the story as you anticipate the parts you recognize. My sister saw Gone Girl before she read the book, and guess what? She still loved it! Even the classics - like Pride and Prejudice - have plenty of solid adaptations made of them, and watching the drama play out on screen first might find you speeding through, so you can get to your favorite parts. (This method also helps steer you away from reading stories that you didn't like, which frees up your reading time for more worthy material, too!)
Similarly, take a look at the Sparknotes summary of a classic before attempting it. Specifically, look at major themes and motifs, and read through some of the main characters and settings, as well as get a quick author bio about the kind of person who wrote it, and the time period in which it was written. It can help orient you to the novel, and tell you what you need to be paying attention to while you read.
roll for insight:
optimizing your habits
Don't be afraid to skim! This might sound blasphemous - as I'm sure the reason we're all trying to read more books is to actually read them - but in actuality, not every word you read is going to be totally necessary to your sense of understanding. Don't be afraid to gloss over parts that you don't really feel like reading... if a Self Help book offers ridiculously circuitous advice, or a Romance has parts that aren't keeping your attention, feel free to do the bare minimum of intake until you get back to a section that holds your attention. There's nothing wrong with speed-reading!
Furthermore, DNF ruthlessly. DNF like crazy. Pull absolutely no punches about what you're reading! Read one or two chapters, and put it down if you're not feeling it... and that goes for any point in time in a read, too, so don't worry about page count sunk costs, either. If you don't like it, you're not going to want to read it, and if you don't want to read it, you're going to find it a lot harder to read much of anything. Give yourself a break, and move on, fast!
Get interactive about what you're reading, by annotating and highlighting the text itself, marking pages that speak to you in pen, or even dog-earing important passages. Each of these practices is, for some reason, almost unspeakable in the bookish community, but honestly, I endorse it fully. (Notable exception: if you do this with a physical library copy, you are one of the worst kinds of human being, right up there with people who fail to use turn signals. Do not mark up library copies!) For instance, as I'm reading through my Big Box of Paranormal Romance, I dog-ear the hell out of the books I'm reading, to flag important conversations and plot points, as well as highlight things I find particularly entertaining or ridiculous. Engage with the content, by whatever means that works for you, and that includes marking things up. This isn't Boy Scouts; leave a damn trace!
Set a reward. Come up with some kind of external prize for your good habits. While there are plenty that say the act of reading is prize enough, I say sometimes things are more fun when you involve stickers. Mark your progress with things you enjoy, like having a favorite snack available while reading, giving yourself a short break from work, sitting in a patch of sun with your comfy chair, etc. I have a friend from college who spends about thirty minutes unwinding from virtual working-from-home every day, by parceling out a half an hour or so before making dinner, and simply sitting with a fun custom cocktail and whatever book she's reading. While we don't all have that kind of regular bevvie money, we do have the chance to give ourselves more of a pat on the back for pursuing good habits.
area of effect:
managing your surroundings
Make an absolute mess. Leave books all over your house, in your car, in your bag, in front of your closet door so you have to move them in the morning before you get dressed. By using the power of suggestion and surrounding yourself with reading material, you're far more likely to pick it up... and maybe even someone else in your house might, too! Nothing more compelling than the looming terror of tripping over a novel and braining yourself on the edge of your desk to compel you to clean-by-reading.
Read during mealtimes, or when you're busy doing other tasks. Whether this looks like waking up your brain at breakfast, keeping yourself company at lunch, or making reading a treat that comes with dessert, you can find plenty of pockets for reading time during the regular progression of the day, by tying it to meals. This goes for other times of day, too: double up and listen to an audiobook while you're busy doing physical activities, like cooking, doing dishes, or making your bed. My younger sister makes her way through long reads by blasting audiobooks through her apartment while she's cleaning up on the weekends, or during hard workouts. My brother likes to listen while he's walking on his college campus to the cafeteria, and continues while he's eating, which makes for a nice mid-day break, too.
Read during the commercials while you're watching TV. Don't think of reading as some elaborate thing: you don't need perfect conditions, you don't need your favorite comfy chair and your ideal snack, you don't even need to be reading a perfect or especially life-changing book. All you need is to have something to read nearby... fifteen minutes in a parking lot, twenty minutes in between classes, a few minutes here and there really add up over time. Those little attempts at reading can even make those long marathon sessions feel all the more precious and special, and plus, all of this keeps you off of scrolling your phone!
Tell me if this sounds familiar: you sit down at your desk, ready to tackle a big project, but you just can't bring yourself to type anything into that glaring, white, blank document box. So, you spend an hour scrolling on your phone instead. Next time this happens, pick up a book! If you're not actually working, might as well be doing something productive. Read when you're supposed to be doing something else. Make procrastination work for you!
never go it alone
Get competitive. Measure up your reading challenge numbers against someone else, or start a buddy read and see who can finish their title first. By finding someone to read with, you've automatically tied yourself to a like-minded individual, who makes the same priorities, who can help give advice and reassurance when you're having a hard time, and compel you to continue making the effort. If you really want to get intense about it, make a bet, write dares for the loser to complete, or even put money down, to see who can really make it work.
Put it all out there online. Get social about your reading accountability by making an Instagram or Goodreads account, and invite all of your friends to follow the page. On one hand, you now have a group of people you can chat with about your reading habits; on the other, there's also the element of social pressure to post regularly and read compelling material. I've been blogging for almost eleven years, and still feel the expectation to perform, and post content that doesn't suck every once in a while. Make peer pressure your ally!
Go read in a public place somewhere, and don't leave until you've finished two more chapters. Be safe about it - duh, Covid - but make sure its a suitably populated environment, like a picking out a bench along a busy sidewalk, or packing a camping chair to lounge in at the park. Better yet, bring someone along with you for the journey. It's like when you did homework in the library back in college, and felt like you couldn't have Facebook open on your laptop, or everyone around you would think you were a slacker. The pressure to read will keep your eyes on your book, and the presence of other people might just keep you focused. (And even if you get bored and distracted, huzzah! You left the house today!) Remember to pack a hat, some sunglasses, and a comfy snack... or, true to the chaotic mindset, just leave the house with whatever you've got on your person right now. Or for the more socially-anxious among us, like me, think about it like a self-kidnapping: set a timer for half an hour, and read with the expectation that you're not allowed to go home until the time's up.
Whether you're a tank fighter looking to muscle your way through to your best version of your reading self, or a healer just trying to find a little more time to relax with your favorite hobby, I hope you find a few ways to make 2021 a magically bookish year to remember.
And I also hope I get to play with my buddies again soon, because let's be real, there are only so many Dungeons and Dragons podcasts out there to listen to. Makes me want to find some other way to spend my free time... I just don't know what...
Are you a Lawful Good reader, or a Chaotic Neutral one? What was your favorite piece of advice from these posts... and which one are you thinking of trying out for yourself? Let me know, in the comments below!