When I was a little kid, there were few things as exciting to me as a little, red, wooden barn up the road.
I wasn’t a country boy. I lived in the city. And the barn wasn’t outside; it was in the Milwaukee Public Library on Mill Road.
This place was my jam. We didn’t really have any money growing up, so the library was a place my mom took me pretty frequently. Instead of buying new comic books and filling our bookcases with picture books, we’d go to the library on a regular basis and load up for free. Why, you could get a Simpsons comic book, some cool story books, old WWF magazines, a few Choose Your Own Adventure books, and a Hagar The Horrible digest in one shot!
As an avid reader, I devoured whatever I could get from there. But the highlight was the little red barn.
You see, in the little kid section, they didn’t pick out cool new books for kids and put them out on a table. No, no – they displayed them on a barn. The roof had ledges showing the cool new books, and below the roof were cubbies loaded with other books that the librarian picked out.
And for whatever reason, I was always excited to check out that barn. Whenever we dropped our books off in the slot and then walked through the turnstiles to enter the library, you couldn’t stop me from making a beeline to that barn.
I didn’t get a lot of new toys. New videos and movies were generally relegated to birthday presents. So for me, my regular dose of fun and excitement was that small, inner-city library.
A part of me really longs for the simplicity and innocence of those days. That library seemed so big and full of excitement for me.
Unfortunately, as I got deeper into school, the dreaded curse of required reading knocked me to my knees. Instead of reading the stories I wanted to, suddenly I had lists of stuff I was forced to read all the time. My love for reading waned. I continued through school, and I took every opportunity to skip reading and watch TV or play with action figures, or whatever.
Into high school, I gravitated toward English classes, eventually majoring in English in college. But I hated reading by that point. Required reading was often boring, dry, and joyless.
It wasn’t until I started frequenting Barnes and Noble that I got back into reading again as an adult. I discovered that I loved nonfiction books, and I began to start enjoying biographies and books about business and productivity.
Still, I want to read even more than I do now.
Why I need to read more
My game plan is to fully transition to being a full-time author by the end of 2018. Over the next six months, I plan to be especially prolific, both in publishing new episodes of Hardwick across all platforms, as well as developing new series in different genres. I even plan to pursue ghostwriting.
But in order to do that, I need to be a better author. My writing needs to be stronger. And while writing prolifically is a great way to strengthen my writing muscles, I also need to be a prolific reader.
And I have to read the right stuff. If I want to write better fiction, I have to read good fiction. It’s just a given at this point. I need to familiarize myself with different genres and explore them further.
Not only that, I also need to read more on improving my life. These are books I certainly enjoy reading – productivity, mindset, time management, books like that. I need to study what works and what doesn’t, and continually test and improve my health: physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
Just like a healthy diet starts with a healthy attitude towards the food you consume, a healthy mental diet starts with a healthy attitude towards the content you consume. If I want my brain and energy to be running at peak condition throughout the day, I need to fuel it properly.
Of course, I don’t seem to have the time that others do to sit down and read books. Nor do I have the ability to use a service like Audible to consume a lot of books, either. I find that I do better when I get to read in my own voice, and take notes accordingly.
But there are ways that I can improve my reading habits, and it centers around one core tactic: my Amazon Kindle.
How I am going to read more
Look, I am as nostalgic and romantic as the next guy. When I walk through a bookstore, I somewhat long for the days of leafing through books on the shelves, exploring covers, feeling them in my hands, all that stuff. I get notes from readers all the time saying they “refuse” to read on a device because they love the feel of a paper book.
That’s fine. But my goal here isn’t about making sure it “feels nice”. That’s reading for enjoyment. I am making reading a matter of study.
I got my first Kindle back in 2011, I believe. It was a fantastic gift and opened a whole new world for me. As a guy who is very particular about comfort, having the ability to sit and read a book without holding open the pages was a revelation. I’ve since upgraded to the Kindle Paperwhite, and that light feature and touchscreen is perfect. The light allows me to read in any lighting, including pitch dark without keeping my wife awake or awkwardly clipping a book light to my device. And the touchscreen is perfect for notetaking (more on that in a moment).
But the core of this strategy isn’t just about the Kindle device, but rather the whole Kindle ecosystem.
Kindle books are powered by Whispersync, which means you can read your book on your Kindle and your progress is saved. If you pull up your book later on your phone or your computer through the Kindle apps, it automatically gives you the option to pick up where you left off on the other device.
This, combined with the other Kindle features, gives me some serious benefits that will help me as a reader:
- I can read anywhere. Literally. Any time I have a few minutes to spare, I can read a few pages. If I head to the bathroom, I can read a page or two of a book instead of mindlessly surfing websites. Same goes for eating a quick meal or waiting in line somewhere.
- My notes are saved everywhere, and can be exported. When I read a particularly good book, I do a lot of highlighting. Whether I’m on my Kindle or on my phone, I just touch the screen and drag my finger until the passage is highlighted. These highlights are automatically saved in the book. I don’t have to find a highlighter or fold over page corners. And more importantly: highlight recall is better than any paper book. So when I need to check on a particular passage that I wanted to return to, I can either open the Kindle (or the app) and bring up a list of my highlights to instantly jump to them, or I can open up my Kindle highlights page through Amazon, where all my highlights are stored. With one click, I can open the book to that exact page for context. Exporting highlights is even better: through the Kindle, I can export all of my notes and highlights to a PDF file that is emailed to me. I save that PDF in my Google Drive, and now I have a single document with all my notes from that particular book – backed up safely for whenever I need it. It’s absolutely wonderful.
- Books, not blogs. I’m a big blog reader, but by putting more effort into using the Kindle app on my phone, I’m training my brain to default to reading books in my downtime instead of checking out random blogs or scrolling through Facebook. That’s good for the ol’ brain.
The Kindle ecosystem is also integrated with my Goodreads account, where I store my lists of books I want to read and have read. Goals need to be measured to be improved upon, and when I open a new book on my Kindle, it automatically marks it as “Currently Reading” on Goodreads. Similarly, when I’m done with the book, I have the opportunity to give it a star rating and mark it as “Read” on my Goodreads account. Plus, I can browse my now-organized “Want to Read” lists on Goodreads to quickly find the next book for the mood that I’m in.
All of this works together to make reading dead simple for me. It’s a natural process that is convenient for me to follow.
Look, I know this all sounds like a giant advertisement for you getting a Kindle. I don’t care: I wasn’t paid to write this or anything. I’m being honest with you about it. Owning a Kindle has made me a better, more efficient, and more active reader. It’s what I need to be if I want to write for a living. Now, I’m leaning all the way in on that ecosystem to build up myself as a reader – and as a writer.
Lots of other apps have these features, but with the Kindle and Kindle apps, they work so seamlessly that I forget that I’m using technology at all. I’m able to focus on the reading. And that’s what it’s all about, right?