Last week, I brought up the topic of having an annual reading goal, and how having such a target can have a lot of benefits to get you motivated for reading, while having the flip side of turning reading into a quota that becomes a chore like everything else. So there’s definitely a thin line between your goal being for good or ill!
But one thing that can seriously hamper your reading goals–no matter what number you set–is if you’re a slow reader.
First off, what exactly is a “slow reader”?
In my (nonprofessional) opinion, there are a variety of ways that you could be a slow reader. In one instance, you might look at each word in a novel, forcing your eyes to move along at a tepid pace. Another slow-reading problem is what’s called subvocalization, where you, the reader, says the word(s) to yourself. Then there’s the habit you could have of turning words into pictures. I haven’t done this; while it does sound like a great way to visualize the story in front of you, all those images are going to diminish reading speed quite a bit.
Finally–and this is something I’m still trying to work on–you can get distracted easily in the middle of your reading and often spend time rereading sentences because your mind keeps getting sidetracked.
These four struggles with reading speed aren’t necessarily struggles, actually. In fact–at least from my POV–there’s nothing inherently wrong with being a slow reader. In On Writing, Stephen King says he’s a slow reader, but he’s still able to read dozens and dozens of books a year. Plus, the extreme opposite of slow reading–racing through sentences, all at the risk of losing comprehension of what’s in front of your eyes–doesn’t sound too appealing, either.
But let’s say you don’t want to become a speed reader, but you still want to increase your reading speed. In the say, two hours you devote to reading every day, you wish to go from reading just sixty pages to ninety, or even one hundred and twenty (aka a page per minute, which is pretty rare for me to be able to do, I’ll be honest).
Since I’ve admitted I’m a slow reader myself, I’m not sure how great my proposed solutions for reading speed will be, but here they are:
-If you’re like me and get distracted a lot while reading, change your surroundings. You’ve probably already realized that super-noisy places are the pits for getting much reading in, but the same is often true for really quiet spots, as well. If I read while sitting on my bed, I would just end up daydreaming or nod off to a nap. Also for those often-distracted: putting your phone in another room can do wonders!
–Time yourself . . . but be careful. There’s a plethora of reading advice that says to set a stopwatch and time yourself to see how long it takes you to read a page or two. I’ve done this with several books. The good news: It works, to a degree. Timing my reading speed allowed me to consistently hit two minutes per page, for instance, rather than letting my mind wander off. The bad-ish news: it’s easy to get caught up with the times rather than the reading. This is a similar problem to treating your reading goal like a quota instead of something for your own enjoyment. So just be careful with timing yourself.
-If you say every word to yourself (or under your breath), let your eyes dictate reading speed rather than your voice. Reading aloud written words is inefficient, because it throws in an extra step–subvocalization–into what should be a simple eye-to-brain process. You also can’t speed that voice up, so the only solution is to take away its power and replace it with just moving your eyes along the page. You’ll probably lose some comprehension at first under this strategy, but you’ll also be taking in more information since you’re reading faster.
–Sentences > individual words. As a creative writer, I would disagree with this point. Words by themselves have a lot of imaginative power. But as a reader, I know that I’m going to have a much easier time focusing on what a collection of those words say as a whole rather than their singular meanings.
–Try switching to print if you’re used to ebooks. I’ve talked more about this in a previous post, but the gist is, harsh electronic screens can make your eyes weary and less nimble.
-Finally, an incredibly easy method is to follow the words with a finger. If I find myself on the brink of daydreaming, I’ll put my pointer on the page and have it track the words, going faster than I can say them to myself to prevent that old enemy, subvocalization.
All of these solutions sound simple, and that’s because they’re meant to be. Also, don’t beat yourself up about being a slow reader. If Stephen King can be one, you most certainly can, too. The advice I listed, though, might come in handy if you’re pressed for time to read and want to pack in a lot of pages without risking all those words blurring over and meaning nothing.