Reader Multi-Tasking

A friend recently flailed at me that I should read a book she was reading. “Oh, I have that one,” I told her, and decided that I should see about reading it sooner rather than later, since I already own it. I wanted to tell her that I’d start reading it right away, only the problem is I currently have five books checked out from the library and have a bookmark in two others. Even I will admit, that’s a lot of books on my nightstand.

When I’ve mentioned the number of books I’m currently reading to other people I usually get gasps of horror or confessions that they can only focus on one book at a time. I get it. I’ve been there, but reading multiple books at a time is my usual modus operandi (though, I admit, right now this is a bit ridiculous).

So how can I possibly read this many books at the same time and not get confused? It’s easy to get confused if there are no differences in what you’re reading, but I vary my reading in three different ways: medium, genre (or content), and pacing.

Medium

Of those seven books sitting on my nightstand, there are four books I’m actively reading, by which I mean, four books that I’ve read within the last week. Of those four books, one is in audio format, two are physical, and one is a graphic novel. Switching between an audiobook and a physical book helps me keep straight what’s happening in each book. It’s easier for me to remember if I read a fact or if I listened to it. Graphic novels are obviously a very different format from all-text or audio, so that’s easy to keep straight as well. The more variety I have in how I consume the media, the easier it is for me to track what’s happening in each story.

Going through four books at the same time is a little excessive, even for me, but it’s normal for me to listen to an audiobook and read a physical book at the same time. I’ve been doing that for the last year or so, and it’s been a good way to help me get through books when I might not otherwise be able to read, taking advantage of time when I’m on a long car ride, taking a walk, folding clothes, or if I wake up in the middle of the night but don’t want to turn on a light. Having the audio option in addition to the physical book has helped me get through more books in the last year.

Genre/Content

If medium is one of the ways I keep stories straight, how is it that I can read two physical books at the same time? This is where genre and content come into play. I find it’s much easier to mentally track which story I’m on if I’m reading things from different genres. For example, if I’m already reading fiction in audiobook and physical formats, and I want to start another book, I usually add something nonfiction. This can also work by reading fiction from very different genres—futuristic science fiction and high fantasy or contemporary realism. The more different the genre or content, the easier it is to keep the stories straight.

In addition to varying books by genre, right now I’m also rereading an old favorite. No matter the genre of the other books, I’m not about to confuse the events of Harry Potter with any other stories, so it’s not difficult for me to keep rereads straight from other stories.

Pacing

Another way I help differentiate between the books I’m reading is by staggering my pacing. I try to space out the books so I’m starting and finishing them at different times. It’s much more difficult to read multiple books if I’m about at the same progress on each one. Climaxes can get confused, or I might not remember which new character is in what book. Staggering starting and finishing points helps a lot—also it means I never have that lag period between finishing one book and starting the next one. (In fact, it might be nice to read just one book for a few days, but I never get out of the habit of reading.)

 

Reading multiple books isn’t for everyone, and not everyone has to do something as crazy as reading four books at a time, but for an author who wants to read for research, read to know her genre, and read for fun, I have found these strategies for multi-tasking some of the best for increasing how many books I read per year, and, in general, for making the most of my reading time.

 

What am I reading now?

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Writing Goals for 2018

It’s easy to not write. I used to write when I felt like it, or when I had a burning project or a deadline, but not with any consistency. Even when I started making word count goals for the year, I still subscribed to writing when I “could.” I’m much more aggressive about my writing these days, and part of that comes from making more specific writing goals and nudging those goals each year to encourage myself toward the kind of writing life I want to have. For me that writing life is summed up in two statements:

  • Be a daily writer.
  • Have more days writing 1K+ words.

As such, these are my writing goals for 2018.

 

Day Count: 365 days
I’ve written every day for the last two years, so this is about continuing my streak. At first writing every day was difficult, but now it’s part of the routine and (almost) no problem.

Total Word Count: 185,000 words
Last year my goal was 200,000 words and I exceeded that goal by 34,000 words. I’m keeping my 2018 goal under my past achievements because experience has shown me that keeping ahead of my goal and exceeding it is more motivating than trying to catch up. I’m also anticipating some shifting workloads later in the year, so I’d like to keep the goal realistic and achievable.
Stretch Goal: 225,000 words

Daily Word Count: 150+ words
150 words per day won’t get me to 185K, but with events like NaNoWriMo and knowing that occasionally I’ll get sucked into a project, 150 words as a minimum is a good goal for the rough/long/exhausting/under-the-weather days. In 2017 I wrote at least 100 words every day, so adding 50 words to the minimum will only help me reach the 185K faster!

Write 1K+ Words: 40 days
This wasn’t an official goal last year, but I did keep track of how many days I wrote 1,000 or more words. In 2017 I wrote 1K+ words on 37 days, so in a year when I’m going to be more mindful of that goal, I feel like 40 days is a good starting goal. I fully expect the majority of the 1K+ days to come from NaNoWriMo, but that still leaves me with some days I need to clear during other months of the year.
Stretch Goal: 55 days

Draft a Novel
I’ve worked the last two NaNoWriMos on the same novel, so I need to keep up the momentum to finish that first draft. (And then, start revisions!)

Revise/Write a Short Story
I have three short stories in varying stages of completion, and I’d like to move at least one to the next stage by the end of the year. I think the one I most want to work on is the new draft, partly because I want to figure out if it’s actually a short story or a novel. (My shorts have a tendency to become longs.)

Read: 35 Books
Reading is part of writing! In 2017 my goal was to read 30 books, and with the introduction of audiobooks to my life I ended up reading 38 books. I’m kicking my goal up to 35 books, because even though I’m expecting to continue sucking down audiobooks like they’re water, I’m planning to take more editing jobs in 2018.
Stretch Goal: 40 books

 

When it’s all spelled out like that it can seem like a lot, but given how many of these goals are already in-progress in some way, I feel confident that I can achieve all of them.

What writing goals do you have for 2018? Do you have any with metrics, like my word count goals, or more general ones, like my goal to finish a draft of a novel?

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The Changeable Plan

Almost every week I meet my friend for dinner and we go to either Barnes & Noble or the library. We spend an hour walking through the books, reading titles, touching covers, and expanding our to-read lists. In addition to an ever-increasing to-read list, I also have an ever-increasing library. And of those books there are a good many that I haven’t read. This year I decided my reading theme would be Read Your Damn Books. I made a whole plan for how many books I wanted to read, how many of them should be books I already own, how many audio books, how many graphic novels, etc. And then I proceeded to the library website and I ordered a bunch of books for home delivery because I apparently like usurping my own plans.

But aren’t all plans really just guidelines? I mean, when I made the original book list, I knew I would swap out books if I wasn’t particularly feeling a title, and that I would make new discoveries over the year. My primary goals were to read thirty books and to spend about half of my 2017 reading time consuming books from my home library. I also wanted to read at least five books borrowed from my local library and to listen to at least two audio books.

I had no idea that I’d get so invested in audio books. I’ve been listening to them while I take walks and so I’ve so far been through seven audio books. (Can I count one as “reading my damn book” since I already owned it?) My guideline of a plan obviously involves some spontaneous revision since I now have to decide how upping my audio book intake affects the number of physical books I read. Do I still need for half of my 2017 books to come from my bookshelf? Can I revise that number to just twelve? (Or ten seeing as how we’re over halfway through the year and I’ve read a whooping total of six books I own.)

I also had to scrap and revamp part of my plan. I had planned to start researching for a time travel story in the latter half of 2017, but in starting to draft my pirate novel, I realized I need to do more pirate research. So it’s back to the high seas, air, and steampunk for me. All the time travel books have been relegated to 2018—at least I already have the start of next year’s guidelines.

The main thing about plans is that they have to be flexible. Rigid plans often prevent productivity. If I said I had to stick to reading my physical books and ignored that I was enjoying listening to audio books on walks I might not have finished as many books as I have, or I might have stopped walking so I could add that time to my book reading time. Sticking to my original plan would have ignored my natural inclinations and that frustration would have easily made me stagnant.

Strangely this reminds me of writing my last novel. I had an outline laid out—an excellent guideline, indeed—but I got caught in the middle, trying to force the main character to read books when she just wanted to listen to audio books (at least in this analogy). Once I let her listen to audio books, things started coming much easier. I had to refigure my plan and change a few expectations, but finishing the first draft became much easier when I stopped fighting against my plan, just like how reading over thirty books in 2017 will be much easier if I let myself continue listening to audio books. Going with the flow isn’t so easy if you’re a planner, but learning to find my own rhythm and accept that as a new plan is key to staying productive.