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Making time to read

stack of books in front of flowersDespite all the detours I took getting here, I’ve wanted to be a writer since at least 7th grade. Maybe it's because I was such a huge reader. Like bring-home-14-books-a-week-from-the-library-during-the-summer huge. Like never-not-reading-something huge. Like up-too-late-reading-under-the-covers-with-a-flashlight-on-a-school-night huge.

(Who’s with me?)

I was constantly immersed in stories, to the point that my friends made fun of my vocabulary. (Because, apparently, no one uses words like risqué in middle school.)

Even while working full time for someone else, I probably read at least a book or two a week. I read on my lunch break, at the gym, while waiting for my boys at sports practice, on weekends, and after the kids went to bed.

Somehow, I managed to have a life and still read.

And then I started writing, and the more I got into it, the less I read. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I was using that time to write. And because I felt like if I had the time, I should write. Or do something else “productive.”

But if I’m always writing and never reading, how do I know what’s going on in the world of books? And how am I refilling my creative well if I’m never immersed anyone else’s words and ideas and style?

Okay, well not never. But there were whole weeks that went by where I didn’t crack open—or power up—a single book that wasn’t for story research or writing education.

For someone who got into writing because she loved stories, that seemed ridiculous. I had two main problems.

  1. I had no office hours. This is the ongoing dilemma for those who work from home. We’re never not at work, and if we have downtime, we feel like we should be filling it with work. One of the few things I miss about working for someone else is that when I came home in the evening, I could relax and enjoy that time guilt-free.
  2. I didn’t make reading a priority. I was making a lot of things happen, but sitting down to read when I could be cleaning, or writing, or answering email, or sorting my socks felt like playing hooky from all the things I should be doing.

I haven’t completely solved number one, but I am getting better at giving myself permission to ignore my office after dinner.

Number two has been easier. I simply added reading to my daily to-do list, and created a goal on Goodreads. Once something is on my list, it’s no longer a guilty pleasure, it’s a must-do.

“Fun read” has its own checkbox right alongside things like working out, writing, and all of my business to-dos. I hate unchecked boxes, so now I find ways to fit it in. I’m back to reading on my lunch break—this newer thing I’m trying where I don’t eat in front of my computer…

I read in the evenings when my husband returns to studying after we eat dinner and watch a show together, and while flossing/brushing my teeth.

Sometimes, on the weekend, I’ll sit in the living room or on the back patio, and get lost in a book for hours. Crazy, right?

Last year I read a little over 60 books—both fiction and nonfiction—against a goal of 52. This year, I’ve already finished more than 20 toward my goal of 75.

I’m pretty sure I’ll smash 75, and enjoy every minute of it.

Are you a big reader? Is there something in your life you’d like to fit in? What’s holding you back?

(Book) clubbing

image of people reading togetherSomehow, despite being an avid reader for most of my life, I’ve never belonged to a book club.

I used to read “book club fiction” and literary fiction, mainly because I thought I was supposed to, not necessarily because I enjoyed it (though there were a few gems). Looking back, I think some of those books would have been a lot more interesting if I’d had people to talk them over with when I was done.

When we moved to the Boston area this summer, I figured joining my local military spouses’ book club would be a good way to meet other readers and force myself to sample outside of my usual literary fare. Turns out, it offers that and more.

Aside from the shared experience of having read the same book, I love getting other people’s perspectives. When they talk about what they did or didn’t like—or how they felt about a particular aspect of the book—I pick up things I didn’t notice during my own reading.

As a writer, I’m better able to articulate what bothers me—or works for me—than I was before I started writing. It also means I notice things that I didn’t before. Hopefully, this perspective lets me add something valuable to the conversation (though I haven’t yet “outed” myself as a writer).

Reading for a group discussion changes how I read. I generally devour a book, often in only a day or two. But when I’m reading for book club, I slow down a bit, take notes on things that might be interesting to talk about with the group, and think a little more deeply about the book’s effect on me.

Normally if I start a title and can’t get into it, I’ll quit reading. But for the club, I try to finish every book. Sometimes I’m glad I did. Other times, not so much.

I like that the group discussion solidifies the story or topic in my mind and takes me deeper. This is especially nice when the book contained a world, subject matter, or set of characters that I enjoyed, but it can also give me a new take on a book I didn’t connect with.

It’s kind of like looking at reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, and then following up with questions or discussion points for the reviewer. But in a friendly way, with appetizers on hand. 😉

Someday I’d love to be part of a romance book club so I can discuss the books I love most with others who feel the same way. But I’m having fun meeting new people and stretching my reading boundaries beyond romance and research.

Have you ever been part of a book club? What did you like/dislike about it?

Why I read

Image of woman using laptop inside giant book

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.
~ Stephen King

You can find amazing things between the covers—actual or virtual—of a book.

I’ve been a book lover since I first sounded out the words detailing Spot the dog’s adventures. As an only child with lots of time on my hands, reading offered adventure, romance, education, and thrills during long, boring summers (and pretty much any other time of year).

I became one of those awkward teenagers whose friends made fun of her for knowing weird, “big” words—though not necessarily how to pronounce them—like gauche and risqué. By age sixteen, I had solved dozens of mysteries with Nancy Drew, visited exotic places full of intrigue with Mary Stewart’s independent heroines, run with spies, chased down terrorists, lived in worlds of pure fantasy, and traveled in time.

Not that I spent every moment buried in a book. I’ve always loved to travel, explore, hang out with friends, and be active in the real world. But reading was by far my favorite way to fill downtime. During the summers in junior high and high school—before I could drive—I would burn through 10-14 books a week.

Thank you library.

I can still read like that, but I rarely do. There are too many other things I want and need to do.

And yet, as a writer, it’s imperative that I continue to read for more than research or obligation. Not only because I still love stories, and they soothe me, but because they refill my creative well.

As a reward for finishing the first draft of Blind Ambition (Book 2 in my Men of Steele series)—insert happy dance here!—I bought Joanna Bourne’s latest book, Rogue Spy. (If you love history, romance, intrigue, spies, danger, daring and exciting characters, and twisty plots all wrapped in prose so beautiful it makes you want to cry, you must check out her books. I wrote more about her here.)

Twenty percent of the way in, I was struck with the need to take notes for the book I’m working on next. Something about the way the hero viewed his world—through the eyes of a painter and a spy—got me thinking about how my own hero must see his world—as a photographer and a sniper.

I know this stuff. I’ve studied it. But sometimes seeing it done well is better than reading a craft book, attending a lecture, or taking a class on the topic. These are lessons I already know, but reading a good book can inspire me to see my own work in a different light, and apply those lessons in a new way.

The only way to become a better writer is to write. Absolutely. But writers also need to read. Reading is what fed my passion to write in the first place. It’s where I acquired my intuitive sense of story structure and narrative and character.

Reading inspires me as a writer the way a painter might be inspired by walking through a museum.

Reading a really good book also just makes me happy. 🙂

That’s why I read. What about you?

No spoilers!

book cover with back copy Xd out

Don't spoil it for me!

I hate spoilers. I know people who read the last page or last chapter of a book first, just so they can be sure they’ll be happy with the ending. No way, uh uh. I don’t even read the back cover copy (aka BCC)/description most of the time.

Say what?

I know, I know. If a book cover catches your eye, what’s the next thing you do? If you’re like most people, you turn it over to read the back (or the description at your online retailer of choice). And that’s what you’re supposed to do. Authors and marketing departments spend a lot of time carefully crafting those words to suck you in entice you to buy the book. We want you to decide you can’t possibly walk away without it. You have to know what happens, how they survive, how they triumph.

But here’s the problem for me. The BCC often gives away the early major plot points or twists, thus, in my opinion, eliminating that element of surprise for a good chunk of the story. I am not okay with that. I like to be delighted by the unexpected novelty of each twist and turn, not flipping the pages—possibly skimming—just to get to the part where I don’t know what comes next.

I’m sure it’s a personal flaw.

I’m reading a book right now, and I finally decided to check out the BCC now that I’m at the two-thirds mark. I’m so glad I waited. Whoever wrote the description took us more than halfway through the book!

My rule of thumb is not to reveal beyond the first major turning point, the one that launches the main character on his or her true journey. Just enough to show what the characters want, maybe a little about why, and what’s standing in their way (yes, GMC). Beyond that I’m trying to convey the genre, the level of heat, and the type of romantic suspense I write (military-themed, as opposed to FBI or serial killers or PIs).

So how do I choose books if I won’t read the description? Well, if it’s an author I don’t know and I don’t have a recommendation from a friend, I start with the cover like everyone else. Most of them are geared to tell you exactly what to expect from the book. Half-naked guy with a gun (guilty), expect romantic suspense with some open-door sexy times. The guy is wearing camo pants? Military themed. He’s wearing a holster? Law enforcement. He’s wearing a SWAT vest? Um, obvious, I hope.

Okay, once I know it’s the right genre—assuming the cover fits—I might hastily skim the BCC looking for keywords while trying to avoid specifics. Like humming so you can’t make out the important parts while someone talks about the latest episode of your favorite show that’s still sitting unwatched on your DVR .

If I knew I could trust copy writers not to give it all away, I’d probably read their work more. But I’ve been burned too many times. I’ve learned my lesson.

Of course, I hope you’ll read my BCC. I worked hard on it, and I hope it works on you. 😉

Are you a last-chapter reader, a hope-for-the-best reader, or somewhere in between?

Read it later

Pocket reading app

Pocket reading app

Years ago, I spent a lot of time commuting and listening to motivational and time management gurus (on cassette tape!). I remember Brian Tracy talking about how to fit in all the reading a successful businessperson must do. One of his tips was to go through your magazines, look at the table of contents, tear out the articles you wanted to read, and then get rid of the magazine (please recycle).

The next step was to put all the articles into a file, and carry it with you everywhere so you could read any time you had a few minutes to kill.

Nowadays, most of the articles I’m tempted by are online, but there are several applications that allow you to take Mr. Tracy’s time-saving approach to reading what has been dubbed “time-shifted content”.  Think of it like recording your favorite TV show on your DVR for later viewing, but for reading material.

Instapaper reading app

Instapaper reading app

Smartphone apps like Pocket and Instapaper let you mark an article or blog post to save, then make that page accessible from your computer, tablet, or smart phone.

Now, instead of wasting precious writing time reading blog posts like this one, you can read them while waiting at the doctor’s office, riding the Metro to work, or sitting in the kiss-and-ride pick up line after school.

If you love the article and want to keep the information, send it to Evernote. Otherwise, delete it and move on to the next article. The apps let you organize the articles by folder or tag, and are compatible with other applications like Evernote, Flipboard, Twitter, Zite News Reader, and more.

Even better, sites like Longform reformat long articles from magazines and newspapers for easier reading on these “time-shifted content” apps.

I’m pretty sure Brian Tracy would approve.

{UPDATED 9 July 2018 to remove now-defunct Readability app}

Paper books: my low-tech treat

I love reading on my Nook or iPad. I’m a techie, gadget girl at heart, but beyond the cool factor of carrying an entire library of books on one slim device, I love the convenience.

Finished reading a book while on vacation? No problem, just open another. Or download a new one—as if I’ll ever get through my massive to-be-read pile. Instant gratification. No waiting. No worries about losing my place when my sticky flag loses its grip, or holding down pages with my fingers while on the cross-trainer, and the rest of the world doesn’t have to know what I’m reading while I sit at the doctor’s office.

I can even read through my own WIP without lugging around my laptop!

And I can’t ignore the environmental impact of an e-reader. Once manufactured, an iPad has a very small carbon footprint, using less than 12 kilowatt-hours per year. Plus, no trucks, planes, or boats are needed to ship my books, and no massive distribution center is required to box them up.

Yet every once in a while, I crave the paper.

It’s not just the smell of the pages.

It’s not just the feel of the paper under my fingers, or the sound it makes when I turn the page.

It’s not even the heft of the book in my hands.

After working most of the day in front of a screen—sometimes more than one—I need a break. The iPad can’t give me that. Even the Nook with its e-ink, paper-like look can’t give me that. Sure, once I’m engrossed in the story, I’ll probably forget, but there are times when I can’t face another screen.

Those are the times when I want a good old analog, paper-in-my-hands book. It’s my low-tech treat.

Luckily, I still have quite a stash.

Photo credit: OLD BOOK © Peter Dolinsky |

Finish the book?

I was an avid reader long before I started writing. Until a few years ago, I took pride in the fact that I would always finish reading a book I had started, even if it was a chore.

Once I started writing, my reading time dwindled and became more precious and my attitude changed. Why waste valuable hours reading a book I don't enjoy? Unless it's something I need to get through for research, it shouldn't feel like homework. Reading is my leisure activity. It's supposed to be enjoyable.

There are books on the bestseller list, books that friends and family tell me I must read, that I just can't get into. The book might be fine, it might even be somewhat interesting, but there's something about it that keeps me from wanting to pick it up again once I set it down.

All the other unread books on my shelf call to me, and that bestseller languishes, possibly to end up in the never-to-be-finished pile. A good lesson to understand as a writer too. Once I figure out what secret element the books I love have, maybe I'll be on track to writing one that others can't put down.

What's your stance? Do you slog through to the bitter end, or do you figure if the author wanted to keep your attention, he should have written a better book?

Photo credit: READING © Mykola Velychko |