As I discussed in my last blog post, “Step away from the screen to get your creative juices flowing,” screens inhibit our creative brains. Luckily, we can combat our screen time by picking up a new read.
Reading has been shown to enhance our creative thinking and spur our imaginations. With that in mind, I recently decided I wanted — and needed — to read more often.
As most writers will tell you, the two best ways to become a better writer are to a) practice writing and b) read good writing.
To help me achieve my broad goal of reading more, I’ve set several more specific goals and taken a few proactive measures:
Read 20 books this year
Twenty books may not sound like all that much — because it isn’t. However, I decided it was best to start with a small number that I can hopefully surpass. If I learned anything from the SMART Goal acronym taught to me throughout my school years, I want my goals to be achievable (the “A” in SMART), and I’m confident that 20 books is.
To help me meet this goal, I created a Goodreads account, which lets me set and track my yearly book goal. The website also supplies me with book recommendations based on recent reads and lets me connect with friends and strangers who have similar literary tastes. It’s like a virtual library and book club all in one!
Read two long-form essays every week
My long-term personal and professional goal is to return to school and pursue a master’s degree in creative non-fiction writing. Because of that goal, and because of my current passion for writing creative non-fiction works, I know I need regular exposure to good pieces of literary journalism. While I used to be handed these back in college, I now have to seek them out myself. That’s why I’ve signed up to receive weekly e-newsletters from Longform and Longreads, which collect the best long-form essays from the week. They also provide a short summary of the essays, along with a word count and estimated reading time.
Thanks to Longform, I recently read “Inside the Black Market Hummingbird Love Charm Trade.” While the writer of this piece doesn’t provide readers with a solution to the illicit trade, she does a thorough job researching the trade and showing it from all angles so that her readers feel just as perplexed, saddened and frustrated as the government agencies trying to stop the trade do. See? I’m already learning how to be a better writer!
Keep reading material handy
When I get in bed at the end of the day, my body and mind are tired. It’s so easy to turn on the TV and tune out, but if I have a good book on my nightstand, I often want to pick up where I left off instead. I bring my book to the breakfast table, too, and have been waking up for the day over a new chapter (and it’s now so difficult to put the book down and leave for work).
I’m also trying to bring books with me to doctor appointments and have them on hand at other times when I know I’ll be waiting. Doing so helps me read more and avoid the tendency to pick up my phone and scroll through my social media feeds.
Seek out recommendations
Because I’m reading to be become a better writer and more creative, imaginative thinker, I want to read quality work. To help me find quality work, I now consult several popular reading lists before heading to the library and have subscribed to Ryan Holiday’s monthly reading list. (This guy is an author, blogger and editor for the New York Observer, and his monthly reading list is highly regarded in the writing world.)
I’ve also been asking other writers and voracious readers for their recommendations.
Which reminds me…
If you have a recommendation for a book or long-form essay, please drop the title in the comments section below!