Reading Challenges – An Unsung Hero?

What do you think of when you think of reading challenges? Before I started one, I thought of the people who would challenge themselves to read 100+ books in a year. I used to be one of those people; in fact I used to be capable of reading over 300 books in a year, because I spent most of my childhood reading one a day.

So the idea of doing one as an adult, when I had fallen out of the habit of reading regularly, was full of a lot of very mixed feelings.

Falling out of love with reading

I don’t know when it was that I stopped reading as much. I never stopped reading completely – there would still be books here and there that I’d pick up. But it would be barely one book a month, if that. Maybe my university experience killed my ability to read for pleasure – maybe the fact that I used to skim read (and thus not enjoy as much) a lot of books settled in.

Either way, at the start of this year I decided I needed to do something about it. Because just before Christmas, I read some books that I loved so much that they inspired my writing to a degree I hadn’t expected.

You see, I thought that if you read other peoples’ books, you might end up copying them. Diluting your own voice with theirs, or accidentally lifting plot hooks. But this isn’t what happens – at least not in my experience. For me, it was something quite different.

And back in love all over again

The book I read was Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind, which is now possibly one of my favourite books ever. I didn’t come away from it wanting to steal his ideas. I came away from it with the drive, the impetus, the need to write. As a result, I wrote more that week than I had done in a month.

So I decided to set myself a reading challenge. I went for 25 books – one every two weeks, or thereabouts. I rejoined Goodreads, which I needed to do professionally anyway and had been neglecting for a while. And I set up my challenge.

Thus started one of, genuinely, the best things about this year for me. You can look at the books I’ve read on that link – it includes some truly incredible books. There isn’t a book on it that I didn’t enjoy (though, yes, The Shadow Rising was hard work and so is the next Wheel of Time book).

These books have not just given me enjoyment, but almost every single time I’ve read one, that feeling of needing to write has come back. I honestly don’t think I would have finished Oracle this year if it wasn’t for that feeling. I would come away from reading a book thinking my god, this character was amazing, I want to write a character that well.

It wasn’t ever that I wanted to copy them, and if anything it helped me settle into my own authorial voice (which I’m still getting to know) even more. All the things I worried about with reading more when writing more were null and void.

Ten months in, twenty books in

I’m now five books away from complete, which is about on track. I’ve made myself a giant wishlist on Amazon of all the books I want to read – a lot of them continuing series that I’ve started already in that 20 – and it’s huge, and I’m so excited.

And the thing is? I’m still not back to reading every day, and I don’t think I ever will be. I tend to binge books. I’ll read nothing for a couple of weeks, and then two books at once, and then nothing for a month. Accepting that this is the way I want to read now has also been a big part of this journey.

So I would really recommend taking part in a reading challenge next year, whether it’s to improve your writing, just to get back in touch with what kind of reader you are, or just for the sheer enjoyment of doing so. I’ll be with you, and I might even aim for 30 books this time.

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