Reaching your Reading Goals

A few months back, I wrote about making a reading challenge for myself. I set a goal to read 40 books in 2013. That’s 28 more books than I read in 2012. I’ve completed 25 books so far this year and I’m right on track.

Here are my tips so far for setting and sticking to your reading goals:

IMG_0450Make your goal a reasonable one

I knew I wanted to read more books this year when I realized I had only read 12 books last year. I have been astounded by readers who set goals of 100 or more books in a year. Kudos to them, but I knew that wouldn’t be a realistic goal for me! I settled on 40 books, because that’s a little bit more than 3 books a month which seemed reasonable for me and my schedule. For some people, it may be 12 books in a year, or 20. Setting an unrealistic goal for yourself can lead to frustration and disappointment. It’s not about picking a huge number, for me, it’s about making more time to read and paying more attention to my reading habits.

Keep track of what you’ve read

As previously mentioned, I’m using Goodreads to keep track of what I’ve read, rate books, and add books to my To-Read list. Goodreads helps me stay on top of whether or not I’m on track for my goal and – if not – how far behind I am.

I would love to connect with other readers and bloggers on Goodreads! If you’re on Goodreads, please feel free to connect with me here.

You can also simply keep a hand-written list and cross books out as you go. Use the notepad app on your phone or even Evernote to log what you’ve read.

Make time to read

The greatest part about setting a reading goal for myself has been that I consciously make the time in my day to read by watching less T.V. and reading in small batches. I listen to audiobooks during my commute, I bring my Kindle to work so I can read on my lunch break. I read before bed, in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, under the hair dryer at the hair salon. Spending those extra ten minutes reading, rather than checking my Facebook feed again has made all the difference.

Enjoy it!

A reading goal should be fun, not something to stress over! If you find you’re reading too fast and rushing to finish one book in order to start the next,  you may  be missing out.

What tips can you share about meeting reading goals?

How are you doing on your own reading challenge?

Books for Writers: Writer with a Day Job

As writers, many of us dream of the day we’ll be able to give up our day jobs to write full time. We struggle to find time to write between, work and/or school, family, and the other obligations that fill our time. We often find (or make) excuses. How do we find the time to write when writing isn’t our full-time job?

I first read Writer with a Day Job by Aine Greaney in preparation for NaNoWriMo. I was grabbed by the title and subtitle: “Inspiration & Exercises to Help You Craft a Writing Life Alongside Your Career.”

This book lists challenges (read: excuses) writers with day jobs face and ways to overcome them. It offers suggestions to find time to write during your day. For some writers, that might mean waking an up an hour early to write before the workday starts, during your lunch hour, or at the end of the day.

Aine believes the two attributes which distinguish real writers from the wannabe are desire and discipline. It’s not enough to want to write, we must have the discipline to sit down and write day after day. That means we must find the time in our daily lives to grab that writing time whenever we can. Write something, anything in the time you have. Jot notes about your characters, map our your next scene. Make observations about the people/places/things around you.

I love her suggestion to “visit your writing.” On the days we can’t write, she suggests mentally logging out of other tasks to simply think about our writing. The best time for me to do this is on my drive home from my day job. I can think about my next scene, about my characters or work out  a plot problem in those few moments of solitude.

The greatest takeaway from this book for me is that having the discipline to write regularly, doesn’t mean writing dozens of pages every day. It means making the most of our day to find time for creative expression, and to have a productive writing life no matter how busy we may be.

Many of us will never be able to quit our jobs and write full time. Let’s face it, with exception of a very luck few, publishing a book will not allow you to quit your day job. But changing your attitude and the way you approach those extra few minutes of your day can make all the difference to finding balance between work and writing.

Are you a writer with a day job? How do you make the time in your day to write?

Check out my For Writers page to find other great books for writers and resources I have found helpful .

11/22/63, Stephen King

At 850 pages, Stephen King’s 11/22/63 is a commitment. It was more than three weeks before I finished it, but once I was finished, I was glad I had invested the time.

I’ll preface this review by saying, I’m not a huge Stephen King fan. Aside from this book, the only books of King’s that I’ve read are Misery and his memoir, On Writing.  But the premise of traveling through time to prevent the Kennedy assassination intrigued me more than most other King story lines.

Jake Epping, an English teacher living in 2011, learns about a portal to 1958 and takes on the challenge to prevent the Kennedy assassination on November 22nd, 1963.

11-22-63The book takes its time getting to 1963. And though I was hooked from the beginning, there is the underlying sense throughout, that much of the book has very little to do with the actual Kennedy assassination. If you’re looking for a book to learn more about Kennedy, this isn’t it.

For a while, I was okay reading along while King establishes life in 1958 and shows us the impact of Jake time traveling and changing events of the past. He spends the first section of the book laying the ground work – though it seems to me there might have been simpler ways to do this. Regardless, I was entertained and continued to read.

And I continued to read as the years ticked by and Jake finds a love interest and establishes a new life in Jodie, Texas teaching and directing the high school play. Again, entire sections that  have nothing to do with the main premise about the Kennedy assassination – but I didn’t mind. With Sadie as Jake’s love interest, Jake became much more human and likeable to me. What I was pleasantly surprised to discover is that underneath it all, Stephen King has really written a love story.

My biggest complaint about the book was the time spent focusing on the assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. I was patient with the many divergences from the main premise of the story, but it was Jake’s lengthy observations  Oswald that I became impatient with.

In the end, I can see King’s reasons for divulging into such tangents, although I felt the book most definitely could have been a tighter and, ultimately, (perhaps several hundred pages) shorter.

While the novel was much longer than necessary and a bit self-indulgent on King’s part, overall I found it to be an enjoyable and interesting read.

Stephen King is not a literary writer, but he is a good storyteller.

Setting Reading Goals

Sometime last year, I became curious about how many books I read in a year. I have never kept track and only had a vague reference of how long ago I’d read a particular book – last year? two years ago?

So I began keeping a list of books I read in 2012 and was shocked at how short the list was. Twelve. Twelve months, twelve books. Was that all, really? Take a look at my 2012 list.

Admittedly, 2012 was a bad reading year and I blamed it on the fact that I spent the majority of that year planning my wedding. But I knew, wedding or not, I simply wasn’t making enough time to read.

Jennifer Kierecki Blog Reading GoalsSo I decided to make a reading goal this year. My goal for 2013 is to read 40 books. It’s not a terribly ambitious goal compared to some, but I chose 40 because that’s a little bit more than 3 books a month which seemed reasonable for me.

I’ll admit I was late to the Goodreads party, but it is a great way to make a keep track of reading goals. It will tell me if I’m behind or on track, and right now, at 18 books under my belt, I’m right on track!

If you like to set reading goals, I recently learned about a blog called A Novel Challenge which is a great place to find all the latest reading challenges. I love the idea of challenging myself to read books by a particular author whose work I am interested in, or books related to a certain topic or genre. Maybe it’s not too late to set a summer reading challenge (or maybe I should stick to one challenge at a time!)

With my reading challenge for 2013 well under way, this may not have been the best time to read Stephen King’s 800+ page  11/22/63. Considering I could read two or three books in the time it will take me to read this one, it may set me back, but I’m enjoying it nonetheless.

I recently wrote about how good readers make good writers. And now that I’m really making time to read as much as possible, I’m finding that it is making a huge impact in my writing. Not only am I writing more, I want to write every chance I get.

I’m a believer now that it isn’t enough for a writer to simply read a book or two here and there. Reading is part of the creative process.

How many books do you read in a year? Do you have a reading goal? Please share your goals in the comments below!

What I’m Listening to in Audio Books: Tell the Wolves I’m Home and Heaven is for Real

A few months back, I wrote about my new found appreciation for audio books. I love that audio books allow me to find extra reading time in my day. I rarely listen to the radio in my car any more, and instead spend my driving time “reading.”

Tell the WolvesI recently finished the audio book version of Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. This is a book I’m not sure how to review, but I can certainly recommend. It is the type of book that a plot summary won’t do the story justice. Tell the Wolves I’m Home is moving, emotional and a beautifully written debut novel.

It is a book about love, about loss and grief and finding yourself through the loss. The relationships are complex, the characters are flawed and real. The main character, June, is caught in the transition from childhood to becoming a young adult. She is a romantic, happier in her imagination pretending to live in a simpler time than she is in the real world. I loved seeing and learning about the world through her eyes. But the death of her uncle Finn leads June to discover, like most teenagers eventually do, that her family is not perfect.

The story is not only about June’s relationship with Finn, it is a story about siblings: June and her sister Greta; the girls’ mother Danni and Uncle Finn.

I’m glad I listened to the audio book version because I was able to hear aloud the beautiful prose in which it was written. But I would love to read the book again just to highlight and underline those mesmerizing passages.

I also just finished listening to Heaven is for Real,  a story about a little boy who undergoes surgery for appendicitis and afterward claims he has been to heaven. Over the weeks, months and years following his surgery, Colton tells his parents about his trip to heaven in the simple words and nonchalant tone of a young boy. Heaven_Is_for_Real_(Burpo_book)_cover

I’ll admit I was skeptical going into this book and I was still a bit skeptical coming out. Colton describes heaven, and talks about meeting Jesus and John the Baptist. His parents are astounded at the stories he recalls from his trip to heaven and how closely they match scripture.

What dilutes the story for me, is that Colton’s father is a pastor. Colton’s parents claim he describes things he couldn’t have possibly known, like the color of Jesus’ sash – but growing up within the church with a pastor for a father and attending Sunday School each week, I imagine a perceptive young child could pick up on certain things without his parents even knowing. But then there are things Colton couldn’t have known, like what his parents were doing while he was in surgery.

Diluting it further is the fact that Colton’s father, Todd Burpo, is the author and narrator of the story, not Colton. By the time this book comes out, Colton is eleven years old, old enough in my opinion to tell the story himself perhaps with the help of a few adults.

All of that aside, it was a quick and interesting read.

After reading this, I have added Proof of Heaven to my To Read list. While the premise is the same, Proof of Heaven is written by a neurosurgeon who comes from a scientific, not a religious, background.

For the Love of Reading

I’m a book worm. An avid reader. A book-a-holic.

Whatever you want to call me, I love to read.

I have loved to read since I was a kid and if it weren’t for my love of reading, I don’t think I would have discovered my passion for writing. The two go hand-in-hand, after all. As writers, we can appreciate the qualities that make reading so rewarding – we want to emulate those things in our own writing, we want to create good reading.

I’m not exactly sure when my reverence for reading began. I think it may have been in the third grade. I vividly recall our teacher reading to us, The BFG by Roald Dahl. It was even more enjoyable because he read the dialogue of the giants in funny voices – it was pure, engrossing entertainment.

It was around that time in my life I began to invent wild stories about grand adventures, keys to secret rooms and trips to unknown lands. These were the first short stories I ever wrote. I don’t think it is a coincidence that my love of reading and my passion for writing started right around the same time.

if you want to be a writerIn his book, On Writing, Stephen King writes, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

I’ve been making a point to read as much as possible this year. I listen to audio books on my way to (and from) work so that each morning, I start my day with words, plots, and characters circling in my brain. I read before bed and end my day with my creative mind at work  as I fall asleep.

I’ve written three short stories in the past three months. And I’m certain my increase in reading has contributed to  my increase in writing.

Susan Sontag says, “Reading usually precedes writing and the impulse to write is almost always fired by reading. Reading, the love of reading, is what makes you dream of becoming a writer.”

Someone – was it Anne Lamott? – also said, that when we read good books, good books will come out of us.

I read the lyrical prose of Janet Fitch in White Oleander and I wanted to write beautiful words. I read The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and I wanted to write a modern love story so heartbreaking it leaves you breathless. I read Water for Elephants and wanted to write a story about a time and a place in the past that feels so authentic it doesn’t feel at all like fiction.

Is there a special book that made you want to be a writer? What books inspire you to write, or to be a better writer?

An Evening with Cheryl Strayed

Last week, I had the opportunity to spend the evening with Cheryl Strayed – along with about 450 others.

Cherly StrayedStrayed, author of New York Times Bestselling memoir, Wild, was the recipient of the prestigious Art of Fact Award from my alma mater, The College at Brockport, State University of New York, in recognition of her excellence in literary nonfiction.

I read Wild last year when it was all I seemed to keep hearing about. Strayed tells the story of her solo 1,100 mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail with no training or hiking experience. Her impulsive decision to hike the trail came after her own failed marriage and the sudden death of her mother which left her family shattered.

It becomes remarkably clear how ill-prepared she is for her hike before she even gets to the trail, when she finds herself unable to even lift her backpack. As I was reading, I found myself wondering what she was thinking, hiking alone? As she hikes through mountain, desert and snow, I was shaking my head in disbelief that she kept going. In her filthy Bob Marley t-shirt, despite the blisters and the loss of several of her toe nails she kept hiking with her destination in mind. I continued reading, knowing I could never have endured the challenges of the Pacific Crest Trail, and certainly I could not have done it alone.

My favorite parts of Wild are the sections in which she talks of her mother. I was devastated, sobbing as I read the passage where she describes losing her mom. It was some of the most heart-wrenching writing I have ever read.

What I realized, listening to Strayed speak about her book, was that she never had one, life-changing “Aha moment” on her hike. I think, as a reader, I expected this single moment of realization that is so often found in these sorts of stories. She explained that it was a journey, both inside and outside, of coming to terms with her life. I had my own Aha moment in hearing her describe her journey this way.

Strayed is often asked why she waited so long to write about her hike and she said she had to learn to be the writer who could write this book. On her website she writes, “It took me years of apprenticing myself to the craft before I could write a book.” She also says time gave her the perspective she needed in order to write about the experience. As a writer, it’s encouraging to realize that our experiences, while they may be initially difficult to write about, can make great material down the road.

Have you read Wild? What did you think?

If you haven’t yet read Wild I highly recommend it.

For more about Cheryl Strayed and her books, visit her website