The German blacksmith Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press sometime before 1450.
His invention enabled the printing of lengthy texts that people were able to use to spread their ideas.
In 1518, the theologian Martin Luther used Gutenberg’s invention to print German copies of his Latin book 95 Theses.
The subsequent popularity of this book across Europe became one of the driving forces of the Protestant Reformation.
Gutenburg’s printing press enabled the dissemination of ideas that opened up people’s minds to new ways of thinking and looking at the world, and it’s a classic example of just how powerful ideas and books are.
If you want to become a better and more productive writer, you must read more often and outside of your comfort zone.
In this post, I’ll explain how to read more often.
Behold The Power of the Written Word
Reading and writing have a symbiotic relationship.
Through reading, you will discover stories, facts and arguments for your work and you will find new ideas and make connections that will improve your writing.
The Bulgarian writer and critic Maria Popova describes this process as “combinatorial creativity”.
“…in order for us to truly create and contribute to the world, we have to be able to connect countless dots, to cross-pollinate ideas from a wealth of disciplines, to combine and recombine these pieces and build new castles.”
Even if you read for pleasure, every time you open a book, you make an unconscious deposit in your memory bank of ideas.
However, if you don’t read at all, the next time you turn up in front of the blank page your memory bank of ideas will be empty, and you will find it impossible to write anything meaningful.
How Benjamin Franklin Worked and Read
Benjamin Franklin was one of the modern age’s early productivists.
The United States Founding Father used the printing press to spread his ideas, and he even invented a more modern version of this device to grow his printing business.
Alongside work, Franklin put aside several hours every morning and evening for reading and self-examination.
Each morning he asked himself:
“What good shall I do today?”
Franklin’s life demonstrates how we can manage our downtime and incorporate important activities like reading and self-examination into our busy days.
For example, lots of people read at the end of the day.
There’s nothing wrong with this approach, but if you have a job and family commitments, at the end of the day you may lack the energy or patience for a challenging read.
This, perhaps, is one reason why Benjamin Franklin made time for reading in the morning and afternoon.
How To Read More Often
Lots of people say they’d like to read more often, but they don’t have the time or the energy.
If you’re having this problem, carve out small parts of the day when you have the energy or time to free to read such as first thing in the morning.
You can also take advantage of those random blocks of free time that life sometimes presents such as the unexpected twenty-minute wait in the doctor’s office, a train station or an airport.
If you get into the habit of carrying a book or e-reader, you can read during a lunch break, over breakfast, after dinner or while waiting for an appointment.
Committing to reading at least 20 pages every day is another great way of setting yourself up for success.
After all, if you can’t find time to read 20 pages, then how can you find time to write? Similarly, if you drive to work, you can read more by listening to audiobooks during your commute.
I love reading but like many people, I browse the internet when I should be reading, or I end up reading the wrong book altogether.
Let me explain:
When I read about a book that sounds interesting, this leads to a “I’d love to read that book, but I have to read this book first” moment. Then, I invariably forget the name of the interesting book.
Keeping a running list of books I want to read helped me overcome this problem. If you do this, when you’re stuck for something to read, you can consult your list before you buy.
This method shortcuts wandering around a virtual or bricks and mortar bookshop and buying a book because the cover, reviews, or discounts are impressive.
The First 50 Pages
Oprah Winfrey famously advises that if you don’t like a book you should stop reading it after 50 pages.
Her thinking is there are so many good books available – and more than anyone can read in one lifetime – so there’s no point wasting time on a book because you feel like you should read it.
You can take Oprah’s advice one step further by reading samples of books that Amazon and other stores make freely available before you buy the book.
Some heavy readers advise concentrating on one book at a time because this increases your chances of finishing one book and moving on to the next.
Reading several books at once means you can alternate books when one becomes tiresome or a slog.
Then, you can return to the first book when you feel refreshed.
For this method to work, it’s worth reading books from several different genres or combining fiction and non-fiction.
Personally, I find non-fiction books are best suited for daytime reading while fiction books make for ideal night-time reading.
I’ve also found reading three books at once feels about right; any more becomes overwhelming.
There’s a Great Sentence Waiting For You
Sometimes, I read several books at once over the course of a week or two. On other occasions, I go several weeks without reading any long-form works.
This drought isn’t because I don’t want to read; it’s because the challenges of a day-to-day life get in the way.
I used to feel guilty about these breaks from the written word, but now I accept them because I know I will return to a bookstore with my list and a belief that there’s a great sentence waiting to be read.
Reading, like any activity, has its peaks and troughs and rather than beating yourself up about not reading, accept there will be times when you don’t have a lot of free time.
And if you hate the damn book, put it down and start something new, something better.
As a productive writer, it’s your job to read books inside and outside your comfort zone.
You can do this by carving out reading time in your day, making the most of those random blocks of free time we all have, and by keeping track of what you want to read.
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