I used to read two books every day. When I was a kid, I was incredibly bored in school. I wasn't challenged in my classes, giving me hours of free time during the school day. At this point in my life, I had no phone, and I had yet to buy my first iPod. My favorite pastime was reading.
My hundred-year-old school had an old, musty library with a selection of Jesus-approved fiction books. Over my ten years at the school, I read nearly every single one. I spent hours every school day in a fantasy world, slowly, unintentionally building my vocabulary and knowledge.
By high school, my homework had become more time-consuming, and I was reading less outside of class. However, during my junior year, volunteering at a bright, cheery library outside of Jacksonville, Florida reignited my love for reading. I dove into the genre of nonfiction, working my way through the library's sunny corner of self-help and psychology books. I wrote about what I learned in my journal. I soaked up self-help articles online and practiced writing my own for my high school newspaper. Reintroducing reading to my life opened up a new world of ideas and interests.
And then, a few months later, as my turbulent first semester of college unfolded, I completely stopped reading again. Like every other college student, I found juggling work, class, and extracurriculars too overwhelming to possibly fit anything else into my schedule.
I felt lost. I didn't know why until I went home for winter break and started reading again. My creativity came back, and my focus improved. My brain was flooded with ideas for my writing. Reading, I learned, is essential to my creativity and skill as a writer.
The benefits of reading are virtually endless. According to Lana Winter-Hébert's tremendously popular Lifehack article on the topic, reading can stimulate your brain, reduce stress, and improve your concentration -- all incredibly valuable perks for college students.
Hebert, however, lists another massive benefit of reading specific to writers. "Exposure to published, well-written work has a noted effect on one's own writing, as observing the cadence, fluidity, and writing styles of other authors will invariably influence your own work," Hebert writes. "In the same way that musicians influence one another, and painters use techniques established by previous masters, so do writers learn how to craft prose by reading the works of others."
In this way, reading can actually enhance your technical writing skills. This makes reading an incredibly useful tool for writers and certainly worth working into a busy schedule.
And it's possible. Last year, even with three full months of virtually no reading, I read forty-nine books. Even in the busiest of schedules, there is time for reading.
"I read when I wake up in the morning, on the subway, on my lunch break, at the deli after work when I'm waiting for my usual sandwich, and before I go to bed every night," writes Stephanie Huston in a Business Insider article. "All time I had previously spent mindlessly scrolling on my phone."
This semester, I've been following a system similar to Huston's. Every morning, as part of my morning routine, I read some of my bible and then a few chapters of whichever book I'm in the middle of. Currently, it's Cal Newport's "How to Win at College." This combination of material sets a theme of learning and productivity for the day. Then, during any "in-between times" -- five-to-ten-minute stretches of time between classes, work, and meetings -- I read more, sometimes a physical book, sometimes an eBook on my phone, and sometimes a long-form online article. Then, to unwind at the end of the day, I read more before I fall asleep. All of the small spells of reading add up quickly, allowing me to fairly easily finish books on my own time outside of class.
This semester, since making reading an integral part of my schedule, I've noticed drastic changes in my creativity, ability to concentrate, and sense of purpose. With learning extended to the outside of the classroom, my college experience feels more fulfilling.
If you desire to start reading again, the best first step is to find a book that you want to read. Choose a genre or topic that genuinely interests you -- don't immediately make reading a chore when it can be a treasure.
Then, set aside time, even ten minutes, to read. Once you start, you will probably want to keep going. Throughout the day, as "in-between times" come up, spend a little less time on your phone and a little more in your book. Pay attention to changes in your motivation, concentration, creativity, and stress levels, and consider journaling about them. Notice changes in the quality of your writing. When you're done with your book, promptly find another one.
The concept of reading outside of class in college may be hard to fathom, but it can be done if you find a system that works for you. Sacrificing a few minutes of mindless phone scrolling is a small price to pay for the many massive benefits of reading.