This post is part of the Reading Writers of Color challenge hosted by Lonely Cryptid Media’s staff writer and editor, Dan Michael Fielding.
You like to read. You want to read. But sometimes it’s hard and you just can’t find the motivation to stay accountable to the challenge of reading more writers of color.
Maybe you’re new to the challenge, came to last year’s challenge a bit late, or simply didn’t read what you wanted to be reading last year. This new year means a new sense of commitment, but how can you stay accountable to the challenge and to yourself?
Here are six suggestions you can use to help structure your engagement with the challenge.
1. Set Reasonable Goals
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: It’s a new year filled with resolutions to do better. You’ve set lofty goals and are dreaming of how wonderful your life will be once you’ve met them. All you have to do is work for x number of hours or complete y number of projects or do z number of tasks per day. At first things are wonderful as you check things off your list everyday. A few weeks later, however, you’re starting to realize your goals are too big to keep up with. You’re falling behind and constantly thinking of the work it will take to catch back up. Each day is a struggle to get started as you feel like the amount of work has become insurmountable. Finally, it’s easier to just stop working towards your goals altogether. Maybe next time will be different.
When we set unreasonable goals for ourselves we are creating situations of unkindness for our future selves.
When we set unreasonable goals we are engaging in a cycle of hyperwork followed by long periods of no work, sadness, and melancholy as we dream about what could have been.
Keep your goals reasonable and manageable, and don’t sweat the small stuff if you start to “fall behind.” Each day is a new chance to engage with your commitment differently. Give yourself permission to skip, cut corners, and rest if that’s what it takes to keep going rather than giving up on your goals.
The reading writers of color challenge is structured so that you will read one book a month inspired by different prompts. We chose 12 books because it feels like a good entry point for many readers. It’s challenging, but hopefully not overly stressful. But you are always welcome to restructure the challenge to fit your needs.
If 12 books is too much, here are some ways to make the challenge more reasonable for you:
- Combine prompts and read one book that meets multiple prompts
- Combine the reading writers of color challenge with other reading challenges you’re participating in
- Read short stories, essays, poems, novellas, or other shorter written works
- Re-read a familiar favorite book
- Listen to audio books
- Read ahead to give yourself a buffer
- Participate only for certain months
- Sprinkle in easy reads–books that require less research and effort to locate and read
What other ways have you adapted the challenge to fit your needs?
2. Plan Ahead and Check In Often
A major part of goal setting is planning the little steps to achieve your goals. Otherwise you may find yourself with a big, amorphous blob of a goal that feels impossible to accomplish! Right now, your plan for the year might look something like this:
- Read the monthly prompt guide
- Choose a book
- Read that book
- Leave a review
- Repeat for each month
If this is enough for you, that’s great! But if you found yourself frequently falling behind in reading or struggling to choose a book you could commit to, you may want to do two things. First, check in with yourself about why you are struggling. And second, break down the steps you take to the smallest unit possible.
The particular reason you’re struggling to meet your goal may vary. Maybe the book you chose for this month just wasn’t that interesting for you. Maybe work, life, school, or family suddenly got busy and you don’t have time to read any more. Maybe you’re feeling like there’s too much going on to make time to read. Maybe the reading is fine but you don’t have time to leave a review and that’s left you feeling guilty. Maybe you just keep forgetting about the challenge. Maybe you’re caught in the planning stage and always imagining what to read without ever actually sitting down and doing it. (I’m side-eying my own bookshelf of unread books here. I get it, trust me.)
As you’re thinking about why you’re struggling refer back to the steps of participating in the challenge. Where are you getting hung up?
After you’ve identified the root of the issue you can assist yourself in overcoming that hurdle. Consider breaking down the steps of participation into the smallest unit possible. For example, “read that book” can be extremely difficult if you don’t have a lot of time or energy to read. First, work to see where you read best. Is it in bed late at night? First thing in the morning? Over lunch break? Do you need absolute silence, or do you like noise and music? Consider scheduling time to read either everyday (e.g. 30 minutes a day) or in a big chunk (e.g. all day on the 15th is for reading). Schedule that time in your calendar and make it clear to outside forces that this time is for you. If you wouldn’t schedule over a meeting with someone else then don’t schedule over this reading date with yourself.
For me, I often get stuck on step 2 of choosing a book. I spend hours and hours looking for books and daydreaming about reading–and then I never read! I’ve begun setting a timer and when it goes off I must pick a book immediately. Even if it isn’t perfectly what I wanted to read, it will certainly be better than reading nothing at all.
What issues do you have with participating in the challenge? How have you gotten around those issues? If you’re still struggling, let us know that as well and we can brainstorm solutions together!
3. Stretch Yourself
What!? Didn’t I just spend two whole sections on making the challenge easier? What’s all this about stretching?
“Stretching” here has two meanings. The first is similar to stretching before/while/after doing physical exercise. You wouldn’t jump into a 5k run without warming up first. Similarly, if you’re going to be reading and engaging with difficult ideas–either because of the content or how you’re feeling about it–it’s a good idea to warm up the mind.
This won’t be the case for every book you read, but if you find yourself intimidated by the book or having difficult getting started consider these warm up activities:
- Take 5 minutes to write down everything you already know about the subject or book
- Write down 5 questions you have about the book
- Write down what you hope to gain or achieve from this book
- Tell a friend one thing about the book that has you excited to read it
- Skip to the end–read the last page first and see if that sparks your interest
The second way to stretch is to work a little harder or go a little farther than normal, regroup, see how that felt, and then stretch again. In this way you can gradually build your skill level and tolerance for difficult things. Soon, you may be reading books and engaging with ideas you never thought you could read before!
Sometimes when a challenge is too easy we can loose interest quickly. If you find that one book a month isn’t enough to keep your attention, consider making the challenge more difficult. For example, challenge yourself to read two books related to each monthly prompt. Perhaps one book is fiction and the other non-fiction, or two books on the same issue from two different authors.
Another great way to stretch yourself is to engage with the book beyond the page. What I mean is that many of us cease our engagement with a book when we’re done reading it. You may put the book down and never think of it again. Instead, try writing a review or engaging in a conversation with someone about the book. If posting a review publicly isn’t for you then consider journaling or freewriting about your reactions. This is also a great way to keep track of what you’re reading without having to keep everything in your head!
How do you stretch yourself for reading challenges?
4. Make Your Commitment Public–And Renew It Often
The two main types of motivation are extrinsic and intrinsic. We’ll talk about intrinsic in part six, but for now let’s focus on the extrinsic.
Extrinsic motivation means it comes from outside of you. It can be positive (you’re running a marathon and a group cheers you on from the sidelines, giving you the push you need to finish strong) or negative (you don’t want to study that text book, but the thought of doing poorly on the test and disappointing your teacher makes you crack it open anyway). It can be tangible (eating a cookie for every chapter read) or intangible (the disappointment of those around you).
Negative extrinsic motivation doesn’t seem to work very well. When I taught, I noticed that students would often become fixated on grades and other markers of success, completely forgetting that the point was to learn something new and interesting. Worse, many would associate a bad grade with the class itself, deciding that Sociology wasn’t worth participating in because it had such negative connotations for them.
I encourage you to avoid negative extrinsic motivation whenever possible. Even if it works perfectly, you will still be associating something that should be joyful (reading!) with punishment.
Instead, focus on cultivating positive extrinsic motivation. When you make a commitment to the reading challenge, make it public! Tell friends and family and post about it on our blog and in the comments. Uplift others who are making changes in their lives and model positive reinforcement.
Note that this isn’t about requiring that others praise you for doing the right thing. Rather, it’s about acknowledging that we all do a little better when we aren’t going it alone.
Making a public commitment to the challenge gives you a chance to celebrate your victories and brainstorm solutions to your troubles with others who care about you and support you. You should also try to renew your commitment often. Try to avoid the trap of making a big resolution in January that you completely forget about come February.
What does your public commitment look like?
5. Engage Offline
This may seem strange, given that this challenge started online on this very blog. But if we follow the advice of cultivating positive extrinsic motivation, then it makes sense to build offline spaces where that can happen.
After you’ve made your commitment publicly to friends and family you may try the following:
- Ask a friend to read the same book with you. Discuss it together.
- Join or start a reading group in your community. Check out your library or local social justice organizations to locate like-minded people to read along with you.
- Bring what you’re reading to other groups you are a part of. Is there a hobby you enjoy, a place you like to visit, or a task you like to do with a group? See if there is a related book that you can read together.
- Read separately, together. You and a friend read different books together in the same room or over a video call, sharing space together.
- Donate your books. You can donate gently used and new books to your local library, or see if there is a nonprofit in your area that accepts books.
- Talk about what you’re reading. Leaving a review online is great, and so is discussing the books you’ve read with friends and family in person.
What other ways can you think of for cultivating offline engagement? How would you bring the challenge of reading more writers of color offline?
6. Tap Into Intrinsic Motivation
This is the big one. If extrinsic motivation is about discovering external motivation, intrinsic motivation is about what is internal to us.
Something brought you to this challenge (and I don’t mean the link you clicked!). You read the words “read more writing by authors of color” and that spoke to you. Why was that? What is it about the challenge that is personally meaningful to you?
If you were to strip away all the external factors–no one to berate you for not reading, no sense of external shame for not knowing enough, no one to praise you for doing well–what is left? What actually keeps you showing up each day to learn and grow?
Intrinsic motivation can be hard to pin down. Chances are you may not have words to describe the feeling that is motivating you. Take some time to think about your motivation. Why this challenge at this point in your life? What is important about it? What nourishes you about the challenge? What sustains your interest?
Intrinsic motivation can also be difficult to navigate in a world that tells us we should not prioritize ourselves. You may lead a busy life filled with meetings, work, family and friend obligations, politics, and struggle–all things which vie for your attention and make it difficult to reappropriate time for yourself. Why have you decided to take that time anyway? And why have you decided that filling your time with reading is what’s important to you?
For me, empathy is a muscle that I want to keep strong. In addition to maintaining real-world friendships, I chose to read as much as possible because it helps to strengthen that muscle. I’m able to get introduced to the ideas and imagination of people I would otherwise never get the chance to meet in person.
I am also motivated by the fact that I just plain like to read! It’s a quiet time that’s just for me, without needing to maintain conversation or navigate social situations. The feeling of being drawn into a book is magnificent and wonderful, too.
What personally motivates you to read, and specifically to read for this challenge? After identifying your motivation write it down somewhere noticeable–like a post-it not by your desk or as a reminder in your calendar. Return to that motivation often to remind yourself of what’s important to you in life, an to updated it when your motivation changes.
After engaging with the steps above and thinking about how to stay engaged with the challenge this year, what stands out to you? What do you anticipate going well? What might you struggle with? Let us know in the comments. And, of course, happy reading!
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