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Writing Tips: Making Time for Reading

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

The Importance of Being Well-Read

I was on a panel of publishing folks who were talking about career paths in the industry. One general consensus of the panel was that to be excellent in this field, you need to read… a lot! Otherwise, how can you evaluate whether any written work (including your own!) measures up?

A follow-up point I made was that to be excellent requires reading in your area of specialty. For nonfiction, it would require reading a variety of books and blogs on relevant topics. For fiction, it would mean reading in the specific genres of interest, whether it's short stories, novels, or poetry. And all genres have subcategories and topics to explore. For nonfiction, it might be memoirs, business, or how-to. For fiction, young adult, suspense or sonnets would be a few examples.

After the event, an attendee came up to ask me how I find time to read. He felt he took too long to read because he "hears" the words in his head as he reads them which takes more time. Hey, I have that problem, too! But is it really a problem? Is the answer speed reading? How can we squeeze reading time into our lives and still have time to write, too?

POP Reading Strategy: Prioritize, Organize, Plan

Most writers love to read. It's usually what inspires them to write in the first place. Then life happens. Reading gets put on hold since it's seen as a luxury, not a necessity. Reading should be thought of as an "appointment" or "continuing education." For writers, it's professional development!

But here's the problem. The amount of content being created on a daily basis has increased exponentially since the Internet came along. While it can be argued that not everything online is worthy of reading, there is a lot of good content being produced. Then add regular books to that pile. The sheer volume of material is quite overwhelming.

So how do you attack a mountain of material? POP Reading Strategy to the rescue!

POP (Prioritize, Organize, Plan)

  • Prioritize: First, decide what you are going to read for information or recreation. Which is more important for you at the moment? Prioritize based on your needs for entertainment or education. If it helps, assign a priority value to each book, blog, or news feed of interest.
  • Organize: For online reading, set up an RSS feed reader for your favorite blogs and websites to limit your reading to what's relevant. For news and updates received via social media or email, set up filters as "blinders" to prevent being distracted by all the noise. For books, concentrating on one book at a time can help focus attention.
  • Plan: Set aside a specific time of day (or week)—and a time limit—for reading. Some may find that adding it as an appointment in the calendar will help make it a priority. If necessary, use a timer so that you don't let this activity overtake your other work and responsibilities. Start with the highest priority reading first. For handling multiple high-priority reading assignments, you can divide your allotted time into segments using a timer.

How Much Time Should be Set Aside to Read?

Of course, your other life priorities (work, family, health, etc.) will dictate. But even scheduling 15–30 minutes per sitting on a regular basis can help turn a haphazard activity into a productive habit. The operative phrase here is "on a regular basis." This is where most people fail in building new habits. It's less about the actual minutes devoted to reading as it is about devotion to the discipline of setting aside the time.

Bane and Blessing of Hearing the Words While Reading

Like the publishing event attendee, many of us are prone to hearing the words as we read what's on a page (or screen). As kids, we learn to sound out words phonetically as we follow them along (either out loud or silently to ourselves). So we get in the habit early.

This skill can come in handy when we write since having an "ear" for what sounds right can help us write more conversationally. Also, "hearing" the words while reading can often make awkward passages obvious. This skill is almost a requirement for creative works that have high auditory value, such as poetry. The biggest downside is that reading this way has a decreased reading speed.

In contrast, speed reading or skimming techniques can help break people of this habit, which is great for when a large amount of material needs to be read for information purposes. But it may not be the best if reading for pleasure or auditory value.

So which one is best? It depends on the material and the goals for reading it. Realizing the advantages of each can help make the right reading technique choice.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2016 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 29, 2017:

Hi Marion! Truly is a chicken and egg situation as you note. Thanks for adding that point to the conversation! Have a great day!

Marion Micah Tinio on May 28, 2017:

Writing is addictive, but reading is a requirement to write. Chicken and egg situation here. :) Thank you for the tips!

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Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on July 31, 2016:

Lawrence, if it weren't for the darn work schedule, eh? :) Plus, it's hard to absorb so much material! Do what you can. And I'm so honored that you included reading my articles as part of your reading agenda! Thank you so much for adding your experience (and humor!) to the conversation. Have a lovely day!

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on July 30, 2016:


I've got 'all the above' that I try to work through and at the moment I've got over 150 emails that need attention, many of those will lead me to hubs like this one, BUT I WILL SUCCEED!!

Then there's the Kindle books I've committed to (to review) and I'm really enjoying. Oh and sometime I've got to fit work in!

It's a good job I've got a really understanding wife!!!



Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on July 19, 2016:

Hi norlawrence! Glad you found it helpful. Thanks for stopping by and have a terrific day!

Norma Lawrence from California on July 18, 2016:

Very good article. I have been writing articles for years. You gave me a lot of great information. Thanks you.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on July 18, 2016:

Hi Kathleen! I so agree! Writing well is next to impossible without reading. And I also think that watching movies (especially scripts based on books) is a great way to develop dialogue skills. Good excuse to go to the show, eh?

Glad you have a partner that understands your reading needs. :) Can appreciate why you don't read during the day. It's why I need to set a time limit.

Thanks for adding your experience to the conversation! Have a great week ahead!

Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on July 17, 2016:

I never understood writers who claim they get no benefit from reading or just are not interested. How do you learn your craft?

I read every night after I go to bed. So does my husband so he understands. If I let myself read during the day, I would never get anything else done! I also watch movies by writers I admire. Someone said this would help me write dialogue. Couldn't hurt. Aaron Sorkin, Suzannah Grant, to name a few.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on July 16, 2016:

Denise, I'm a slow reader, too. Like you, I tried to take speed reading in college, but with little success. So I've had to develop my own "speed reading" technique for material that I don't want to enjoy "consuming." :) I love hearing the words while I read. That's the beauty of language. Thanks for adding your experience to the conversation! Hope your weekend is filled with relaxation and leisurely reading!

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on July 16, 2016:

I'm NOT a speed reader and never have been, even though I took a class in college. My problem stems from a vision problem not detected till I was in high school. By then my slow reading habits were carved in stone. However, I read and enjoy every single word. Speed reading instructs you to jump over articles and small inconsequential words. To me they are all consequential so I read them. That means I don't read very fast, but I love what I have read and remember basically all of it. I find time to read at night before bed and although I don't chew through a large volume of work, I do read dozens of books every year, and that's good enough to please me. Thanks for this. It was great reading.



Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on July 10, 2016:

Hi GaelicQueen! Yes, there are times when speed reading really comes in handy (and I'm glad for my Kindle reader, too!). Glad to see you're so disciplined in your reading agenda. Good for you! Thanks for sharing your experience with us here. Have a great week ahead!

GaelicQueen on July 10, 2016:

Wonderful article. I am a speed reader (thank goodness for Kindle e-readers or I'd be out of space in my house). I put notes on my calendar for reading, research and writing items to be accomplished by.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on July 10, 2016:

Happy Sunday, Flourish! I can appreciate the grad school reading onslaught. :) For the real world, reading all the good stuff out there would take up my whole day. The RSS feeds for blogs have been an amazing help. Thanks for stopping by and adding your insight to the conversation. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

FlourishAnyway from USA on July 10, 2016:

I chew through books at an alarming rate due to a high reading speed, a habit learned while in grad school where I had to consume massive quantities or information literally overnight and be able to discuss it the following day. I find that when reading fiction this way I can still pick up error and inconsistencies the author didn't intend. Bit bugs meek I circle it and move on. I like your advice, as there is way too much content to take in and you must prioritize. Otherwise it'll take over your life. There have been good writers here on HP who hav read every single hub of every single follower and spent 7 hours a day doing it. Eventually they became overwhelmed and quit. They could e followed your lead.

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