Workable #12: Try Slow Reading

There's a lot of books out there, but that doesn't mean you have to rush through them.

Workable #12: Try Slow Reading
Photo by Alfons Morales / Unsplash — There's a lot of books out there, but that doesn't mean you have to rush through them. Why are you in such a hurry?!?!?!

Every morning, I do something I call “slow reading.” I choose a book and read just two or three pages from it. It's like I'm sipping some great whiskey or something.

The books I choose have a couple of things in common:

  1. They are inspirational.
  2. They are thought-provoking.

A couple of years ago, I started doing this with Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life. It took me two months to read a 111-page book. Each morning, I would read just a few pages, marking them with a pencil or pen, taking them in slowly.

I love slow reading because it does two things:

  1. Slow reading inspires me while also encouraging commitment.
  2. Slow reading allows a beloved author's syntax to sink in.

(1) Inspiration & Commitment

Above, I mentioned that these texts, for me, are often inspirational. I’m looking for the sort of thing that motivates me to act against Resistance (xx) and do something creative. As such, reading slowly has a similar effect as sipping a fine wine or glass of whiskey. I drink in the text in short little sips, drawing its effect out over a long period of time.

This leads to a kind of craving. Often, when I put the book away, I struggle a bit because I want to read more. However, putting my bookmark in, setting the book aside, guarantees I will be back for my next sip tomorrow morning.

Craving leads to commitment.

Commitment, sometimes, is built by leaving yourself in a position to pick back up tomorrow. If you read the entire book right now, then your next step would be to choose another book. Choosing a book for me, not unlike the untold hours spent browsing Blockbuster video shelves in the 1990s, is a long arduous process; it is not productive for my writing.

But when you know exactly what you need to do tomorrow, AND, when you know it’s not going to take a very long time, you are more likely to get it done.

Brief bursts of inspirational reading will hook you into the practice.

(2) Syntax Sinking In

I will likely write more about this in the future, but one of the keys to growing as a writer is reading great writers. Something happens when you read the greats — whether you’re looking at Stephen King, Toni Morrison, or John McPhee — the syntax sinks in. You start to get a sense for the rhythm and pace of the language. You start to get a feel for it.

When you start your day with slow reading, the author’s rhythm hits you. You might find your rhythm affected — in a good way! — by it.

Let that syntax sync in over time. Let it seep into your mind. Let it flow out your pen.

How to Do It (and some suggested texts)

The rules for slow reading are very easy:

  1. Choose a text that can be read in short chunks: as little as one page but no more than three or four pages at a time.
  2. Set that book in the spot where you work on your morning pages.
  3. Each morning, read and annotate it. I like to start by writing the date at the top of the passage I’m reading. Because of this, I know, as I mentioned above, that it took me two months to read The Writing Life. I consider it a kind of competition: how long will it take me to read this one? The longer...the better!

That’s it! It’s really simple.

Here are some books that I’ve read in this fashion:

[NOTE: You can find all of these in the inwy shop on bookshop.org.]

I know I’m leaving a few out, but this will get you going. Each of these books has short chapters that are easily digestible during 5–10 minutes of slow reading.


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