I read constantly. I bet you do too because, since you’re reading this blog, you have access to the Internet where there’s an infinite amount of stuff to read – emails, articles, blogs, tweets, books, essays – all at your nimbly typing fingertips. People read more now than ever, not just for work, school or fun, but also for day-to-day communication. The Information Age has also been dubbed the Age of Distractions, but the problem isn’t exterior forces distracting us from reading, it’s that we have too much reading.
Gasp! How can a writer say such a thing? Isn’t reading good for us? Absolutely. Through reading we gain knowledge and insight, develop empathy and understanding, and exercise our brains. But the old adage that you can have too much of a good thing is true. And for writers especially, reading can become more of a chore than a pleasurable pastime because it’s part of our job.
I’ve been way behind on my list of things to read for years. My library holds consistently hover around 50 books, and even though I read about four books a month, I never catch up because I’m always adding more. My email Inbox fills with publishing newsletters, blog posts and news alerts faster than I can read them. And don’t even get me started on Twitter.
A couple months ago I decided my problem was the Internet – our relationship took up too much of my precious time, so I wrote the Internet a letter establishing that I needed space. A month into our separation, I had some tips and tricks for staying away from the Internet’s tempting embrace. But even after following my own advice, like unsubscribing from newsletters and setting time limits for checking Twitter, I still have too much to read, and it’s taking its toll. I’m suffering from all the Symptoms of Reading Overload:
Stress. Yes, I’m stressed about how much I have to read. Ridiculous, I know, but I want to read all the things and I don’t have time, and then… oh no, what do I do?!
Skimming. So I skim. Chronically. I check articles to see how long they are before I commit to reading them, and if they’re more than 800 words I ditch them or skim.
Bitterness. If I don’t enjoy reading something, I’m unreasonably bitter and angry for wasting my time. Like it’s the blog/article/book’s fault I read it!
Resentment. I’m starting to resent new awesome books that come out or fun blogs I’ve discovered, because I don’t have time for more!
Worst of all, these symptoms ruin my reading experience. I used to read for fun. Now reading has become a chore, something to check off my To Do List. Clearly, I need to get this under control and reclaim the joy. Here’s the plan…
4 Ways to Cure Reading Overload
1) Categorize – Divide your reading into Must, Should and Want piles. I’m surprised to find my Must pile is fairly small, mainly business emails. Everything else is under Should and Want, which essentially means “optional.” This instantly relieves my stress.
2) Prioritize – Look for crossover in the Should and Want piles. My Should pile is material I feel could help my career, like articles/blogs about publishing, or books by authors who are repped by agents I’m interested in, or the latest bestseller I should have an informed opinion about, but don’t necessarily want to read. Hence the skimming. Gather Shoulds that are also Wants and put these combos in a pile right after Must.
3) Delete – The remaining stuff in the Should pile, just delete it. Seriously. This is so freeing! You don’t want to read it anyway. Who cares if that book was a bestseller. If you’re 50 pages in and bored, stop! Now you won’t be bitter for wasting hours reading something you don’t enjoy.
4) Shelve – Take everything in the Want pile off your To Do List and put it on a shelf for later, no expiry date. Suddenly, I don’t resent those new books, because instead of them being work I don’t have time for, they’re a pleasure I look forward to.
We’re living in an incredible time for reading – so much material and so many ways to access it – but it’s impossible to read everything. Don’t lose the joy of reading by trying to keep up with it all.
How do you decide what to read? Does it overwhelm you as much as it does me? Or am I just weird?
Next up from Heather on Monday… “X-Rated: Should YA Books have a Ratings System?”