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On Taming the Reading Tidal Wave


By Christine Carron

This morning, I finished reading John O’Donohue’s Walking in Wonder. It is a gorgeous, contemplative book. The calm and clarity of his words reverberated through me, but beyond my happiness about its content, what struck me is how satisfied I felt seeing the book through from beginning to end. Satisfied and . . . relieved. 

Like most writers, I read a lot of books. I also start reading a lot more books than I actually finish.

I’m not talking about books I start but then (after getting into them) decide are not worth my time. Those I ditch happily. I may not have finished books like that, but I am clear that I am finished with books like that. 

No, what I am talking about is not finishing books that I want to finish. 

This unfortunate start-book-to-finish-book ratio has been a low-grade stressor for me for years, exacerbated by (let’s gently say) an effusive book-buying habit. I have been dancing around this problem for years. 

2022 is going to be the year I address it. Because frankly, the fact that I have let this situation go on so long is totally a case of the cobbler’s kids going with no shoes. I am a trained project manager for goodness sake. I know how to resolve this. 

To that end, the Great Reading Reset officially kicks off on January 1, 2022. 

I’ve been noodling on the reset plan for a few weeks now. Just the noodling alone kept me flowing to completion on Walking in Wonder (yay!), but a good project manager knows that exuberant getting-started energy alone will not sustain a year-long, habit-reconfiguring effort. 

For that, we must lean into the power of a supporting process. So, here we go . . . . 

The Great Reading Reset Plan

Step 1: Get Real

(Otherwise known as Acknowledge the Problem.)

Done. I am a book-starting addict. 

And . . . special bonus points to me for acknowledging the situation publicly. Not as a shaming mechanism. In fact, quite the opposite. 

My guess is that at least one other writer on the planet struggles with the same challenge. My goal is to assure them (and myself) that we can, indeed, reset. My friend Suzi Banks Baum recently said, “We are never writing alone. There is always another one of us writing at the same time.” 

We are never struggling alone either. And when we compassionately own and responsibly speak about our struggles, it is easier for us to find those who will lend support based on shared experience or human kindness. 

Step 2: Manage Scope

Managing scope is one of the most basic raisons d’être of project management. Scope is what is going to be delivered or achieved. The target. Let’s break managing scope into three sub-steps, since it’s so critical to the success of the Great Reading Reset.

Step 2A: Set the Scope

Setting scope is where you put the stakes in the ground. If we think in writing terms, a writer setting the high-level scope for their project might sound something like this: I’m going to write an ~80K word, YA dystopian fantasy about a young woman warrior who must rescue her friends from the metaverse. 

To set the initial scope of the Great Reading Reset, I shopped my bookshelves. Pulling out books that are partially read or completely unread and putting them into two large bins. I placed the two bins in key positions so that I walk past them multiple times a day. But . . . 

I cannot touch the books in those bins until January 2022. Anticipation is building!

Step 2B: Stop Starting, Start Finishing

Stop starting, start finishing is a standard project management motto. If there is a directive more applicable to the particularities of the behavior change I’m setting out to make, I don’t know what it is. 

Stop starting, start finishing means limiting the amount of active work in progress. Every time I start reading a book, it becomes work in progress. Too much work in progress does not automatically mean more work gets done. Often the opposite. 

Too much work in progress can overwhelm the system, like jellyfish blooms clogging up the pipes of power plants. In my case, books are the jellyfish, my brain is the clogged pipe, and instead of feeling good about my reading, I’m in a near constant state of muted disappointment over the books that I furtively slip back onto the bookshelf unfinished. 

No more. 

It’s not rocket science. I just have to do it. Stop starting books until I finish the ones I have in progress. 

Step 2C: Stop Scope Creep

Scope creep is when new requirements are added to the original scope without any change in time or budget. This happens a lot in software development. It is the bane of a project manager’s existence. 

I scope-creep myself and my reading every time I buy a new book. Which, as gently noted earlier, I do often. So often, in fact, that the resulting overflow leads to occasional mass cullings of my bookshelves, both of books partially read and books not started. 

The cullings clear out physical space, but more importantly they offload some of the too-much-to-read stress that comes from all those literary spines taunting me. 

The solution is clear. No buying books in 2022.

Even with all that book-buying truth laid bare (wasteful cullings and all), just stating the possibility of a year-long moratorium on book-buying sets off an army of alarm bells. What if there is a book that I really, really, really need because, you know, it will change my life? And what kind of writer doesn’t buy books? And what if I just want a new book? And what about my writerly friends who have books coming out in 2022? 

Note to self: Breathe, Christine. Breathe. 

Phew. Okay. 

Now that I’m centered again, I can sort through that froth of panic, one thought at a time. First, no book is going to change my (or anyone’s) life. Taking action on something we read in a book might change our lives, but knowledge alone is not enough for life transformation. 

Furthermore, my life can probably be changed a thousand times over with the knowledge contained in the books I already have but have yet to read and/or finish. I’m good to go on potentially life-transforming tomes. 

As to what kind of writer will I be if I don’t buy any books for a year? A calmer and well-read one who is happily and steadily working her way through the books she has with focus, panache and relief. 

And as to just really wanting a new book? Well, Christine . . . if it’s that dire, and you decide the scope creep is manageable, get the book from the library. No buying.

Which leaves me with the one concern that I consider legit. Supporting my writerly friends’ debut novels. That I will do. Their books absolutely get written into an exception clause. 

To get clear on the scope of the exception clause, I checked in with three writing friends who have upcoming debuts to confirm their slated release dates. Lisa Stringfellow’s A Comb of Wishes is coming in February 2022. Mylisa Larsen’s Playing through the Turnaround  is scheduled for Fall 2022. Sondra Soderborg’s Sky Ropes (sold as Camp Whatever) has a 2023 release date. 

I already pre-ordered Lisa’s A Comb of Wishes last week, and with Sondra’s release date in 2023, you know where this is headed. I will buy one  book in 2022. One. (Gulp.)

So here’s the stop-the-scope-creep commitment: I, Christine Carron, do hereby commit that I will buy no additional books (new or used) in 2022, except for Mylisa Larsen’s Playing Through the Turnaround.

(I have to tell you that some of that gulping trepidation has turned to giddiness. Clarity and commitment are empowering!)

Step 3: Love the One(s) You’re With

(Or, alternatively Reconnect to the Joy of Reading)

It is true that (at the moment) I am a book-starting addict, and a book-buying one, too. But what is also true is that these addictions could only come to be because of how much I love books and reading in the first place. 

A gift of this Great Reading Reset is that it will allow me to reconnect more consciously and deeply to my lifelong love of books and reading. There will be less reading stress, less reading striving. 

When I was a child, reading was a sacred, soul-heart-and-mind nourishing ritual. I want it to be that again. And I know it can be. That was the experience I just had reading O’Donohue’s Walking in Wonder. And finishing O’Donohue’s Walking in Wonder

In it, he writes (p. 70-71):  

When you open yourself to the activity and sacrament of friendship with someone, you create a unique and particular kind of space with them; a special space that you share in the same way with no one else. 

That statement, reconfigured with a readerly bent, is a perfect expression of why I am embarking on this Great Reading Reset:

When you open yourself to the activity and sacrament of friendship with a book, you create a unique and particular kind of space with it; a special space that you share in the same way with no other book.

Beautiful, right?

Kind of makes me want to go start another book . . . 

The Goodjelly Prompt of the Week: Reading Revelations

  • Scene Prompt: Write a scene where your main character has to state (in either dialogue or inner monologue) their relationship with books. Do they like them? Hate them? Read too much? Too little? Not at all? Let that character’s position/relationship to books cause conflict with another character or within themselves. 
  • Journaling Prompt: Write down your current relationship with reading. Are you satisfied with it? If not, using ideas from this post, how might you create your own Great Reading Reset?
  • Connection Prompt: Start a discussion with your writing friends about reading habits. What is working for each of you? What do you want to change? How might you support each other around any redefined reading goals?

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