How to Power Through a Book You Must Read

There are many of us, especially those in school, for whom reading is an essential part of our job. It may be a textbook. It may be a novel. It may simply be a report or research article. Sometimes they’re enjoyable reads, but oftentimes, the opposite is true. Sometimes we hate the reading or it bores us until we fall asleep. But no matter how we feel about it, we have to read it or suffer consequences in our grade or job performance.

So how do we get through the difficult books? I have a few helpful tips that have gotten me through many a difficult read.

  1. Make a plan. There was a study a while back that said goal-setting was an important step in meeting your goals. This is an excellent time to apply that idea. So take a step back and look at your required reading. Start with the due date. If there isn’t one, give it a reasonable due date based on either when you would like to have it finished or when it would be appropriate to have completed it. Next, evaluate how long the work is. Only a few pages or an entire novel? Then, break it up into manageable chunks. Figure out how much you need to read within a certain period to meet the goal.

    That was kind of abstract, so let’s look at an example. Let’s say you’re taking a literature class and you have to read a 200 page novel in a week. But you really really hate this book and would rather do anything else, like watch paint dry or stick your fingernails in your eyes.

    Due date: 7 days from today
    Number of pages: 200
    Pages per day to finish on time: 28.5

    So we calculated that to finish this book by the due date, you need to read 28 and a half pages per day. That sounds a lot more manageable, right? There’s your plan.

    Note: you can also base your calculation on number of chapters or number of sections rather than pages. Find what works for you.

  2. Schedule your time. Figure out when you are going to read those pages. Morning? Evening? Between classes? Before you go home? Just find a chunk of time that works based on what you have available and how long it will take you to read it.
  3. Do the reading. That’s it. Follow your plan and read those pages or chapters or sections each day or hour or whatever schedule you worked out. Pro Tip: you’ll be done faster if you can make yourself read past your goal. Once you hit your daily or hourly (or whatever) goal, see if you can do just a little bit more. It really adds up by the end of your deadline.
  4. Reward yourself every session. When you reach your session goal, make sure to give yourself something to celebrate. Eat a piece of candy. Go hang out with a friend. Or, my favorite (which also doesn’t use food as a reward, which is dangerous), now you get to read a fun book. Yes, once you finish the pages for whatever reading you are required to do, you can relax with reading you actually want to do!

A special note for the writers out there: these methods also work for getting yourself to write on a schedule! Woot! NaNoWriMo taught me that one. However, one different note for writing is that you could also base your goal off of daily writing time rather than word count, pages, chapters, etc.

Now, I know this isn’t the most timely post, since schools are finishing up (congrats, grads!), but these tips can be so handy at any time. Use them for school readings, for reading books for reviews or critiques (hey, looking at you, writing critique partners out there! and beta readers and anyone else this applies to), and for completing reading in your job. Personally, I used to have a lot of school reading and I currently do review reading, critiquing, beta reading, reading to build my internal library, and reading articles and protocols for work. Sometimes these readings can be rough, and these tips have seen me through them!

Your turn: tell me what tips and tricks you use to get through difficult reading. Share below! I can’t wait to see how everyone else deals with these things. 🙂 Happy reading!

How to Quit Reading a Book

Yes, you read that right. Today we’re going to discuss when to STOP reading a book.

As readers and writers, we’ve all encountered that book that just doesn’t move us. We struggle to read it, we dread picking it up, or we are reading “just to get through it.” It may truly be a terrible book, or it may be a book that just isn’t right for us or right for us right now. And I’m sure many of you can relate to the difficulty not only in finishing such books but in even considering the possibility of quitting it. We feel a compulsion, an obligation, even, to reach that final page. But it costs us time that we could be reading something that makes us happy. And we know this, but we are stuck, or so we feel.

So how do you quit a book you aren’t enjoying? When should you quit that book?

First, let’s explore when you should definitely NOT quit the book:

  1. It’s required reading. It may be required for your job, a class, or for a promised review, if you do that sort of thing. But here it’s important to distinguish reading for pleasure versus reading professionally. A book you read for pleasure is a book you chose to read on your own time. A professional read is something you have agreed to read either because it is part of your job, because you were asked and said yes, or because you signed up for the class. Do your best to finish those books (and we’ll discuss how in another post!). This is your reputation, work ethic, education, and professional image. Make it count. Exception: if you promised to review a book but don’t feel comfortable doing so because you dislike it so much, talk to the person or company who offered it to you. Discuss your options, then make a decision about how to proceed.

And guess what? That’s it. That’s the only reason not to quit a book.

“Really?” you may ask.


Here’s a life lesson I have been learning over the past decade (oh, I feel old) while going through college, grad school, and my young professional life: your life is yours, and your spare time is yours, too. You should be able to enjoy that spare time, not let yourself sink in a bog of a book you hate but feel compelled to finish. You are not obligated to the author to finish a book. Or to the person who bought you a book. Really. Is it worth it to you to read what you hate at the expense of reading something you love?

So now let’s talk about the things to consider when you’re hating the book you’re reading, some things to think about in making that choice. By framing the idea in these ways, it may help you to justify or understand why quitting a book is perfectly fine (or even why you may not want to actually quit it).

  1. What value would finishing this book add to your life? Is it something that would be useful for you to read, such as a grammar book if you’re a writer, a classic you’d love to discuss or understand, or a book with a huge conversation you want to participate in? Is it written either so poorly or so well that, despite you not enjoying it, it would actually benefit your own writing to complete it? Or is it something you picked up for free, is terribly edited, and hurts you to open?
  2. Do you have other books you would enjoy more? Perhaps you have a whole shelf in your home filled with books yet to be read (I do, for sure). And maybe even without having read them, you know there are others that you’ll love way more than what you’re reading now. Do you want to waste precious time on a book that means nothing to you but that wasted time?
  3. Think of all the books yet to be read that you won’t read because you’re reading something you don’t like. Let’s be real for a minute: you will never read all the books you want to read. Life isn’t long enough, and no one can read that fast. By quitting a book you don’t like, you make time for all those other books.
  4. You are not obligated to finish everything you start. Your only obligation is to yourself, to do what is best for you. It’s your life. The book doesn’t own you.
  5. You can always pick it back up later. In all seriousness, maybe you just picked it up at the wrong time in your life. Maybe if you come back to it later, you will connect to it more. Give yourself the chance to love it. Let it go right now, and revisit it later.
  6. Is it painful to read? Like, is it so poorly edited or planned that you just can’t stand to look at it? Maybe move on to something better.
  7. You are not a greater person for powering through a terrible book. That’s just hurting yourself.
  8. You are not a lesser person for quitting a terrible book. Deciding not to finish something doesn’t make you a weak reader.
  9. Take action. Just put the book aside for a while and pick up something different. If it helps, tell yourself you’ll come back to it later, like in point 5.
  10. Start something you like better. If you can’t bring yourself to quit that book, just start a second book. If you really must finish the one you dislike, read one chapter of that one before reading something you love. It takes longer, but you’ll get it done and not hate your reading time every day.

I know it can be hard to quit reading a book. I spent most of my life going through those books I couldn’t stand, the books I felt obligated to read because I started them, the books I felt obligated to read because someone bought them for me even though they were never something I liked.

Make yourself stop and really consider. It will take time to get to a point where you feel okay quitting books, especially if it’s a big issue for you. But that’s okay. Start introducing the idea to yourself now, and work on it over time. Take small steps, like simultaneous reading. Understand that your life may get busier, and therefore your reading time may be cut shorter than it used to be. Think about how you want to spend that time. Make those minutes, those pages, into something that is truly pleasurable and happy for you, make it a place to go that doesn’t give you stress but relieves it.

It’s a process, and as I said, it took me a long time. But I can happily and proudly proclaim that I quit books all the time now. There are too many on my pile, on my radar, on my shelves, for me to waste what reading time I have on something I don’t like. Don’t you also deserve to find the ones you love?

I hope you can learn from my experience and all my own wasted time. Find the books you love, and give yourself the gift of enjoying every minute. Don’t let your books, that love of reading, turn into a source of stress for yourself.

Let it be your release.

3 Simple Tricks to Read More Books

There are so many books being released every day, and personally, my list of books to be read is massively long. I know that I will likely never read everything I want to read, but I do my best to get to them. I have even learned one of the hardest lessons any reader faces: how to quit a book I’m not enjoying. But that’s a post for another day.

As writers, it is critical for us to read books in and out of our genre. We need to know what is being published in our chosen genre, what is selling, and what readers want. But you may wonder how you can possibly fit more books into your busy schedule.

Or maybe you’re not even a writer. You’re an avid reader who has no idea how to get to all the abundance of books you want to read. Maybe it takes you a while to finish a book, or maybe your list is just so long you don’t even know where to start.

Whichever group you fall into, I have three simple tricks that have helped me to read more books per year. Just last year, I read a total of 72 books, and I am on track to match, if not beat, that number this year.

Here’s how I did it.

1. Always have a book with you.

This one may seem a bit obvious, but it’s true. The easiest way to find time to read is by having the material available whenever you find yourself with a spare moment.

Now, I know it can be hard to carry a hulking hardcover everywhere you go. Or even juggle multiple books if you’re almost finished with one.

But here’s a helpful hint: install an ereader app on your phone, whichever one you like. I mean, you carry that thing around with you all the time, right? Most of us do. Whenever you find yourself with a dull moment or waiting for a friend or bus or train, pull out your phone and start reading your e-book-in-progress.

For me, I discovered this because of all the awkward incubation times while I’m working in the lab. There is no point in taking off your lab gear when you have five minutes of waiting time. By the time you make it back to your desk, you just have to go right back. So while I sit in the lab waiting for incubations or time points to complete, I read a book! It keeps me from getting bored, and I get to make progress on my yearly reading goals and enjoy a fresh new story.

2. Make the most of your time.

Another great way to increase the books you read is to start listening to audiobooks while you commute, clean, walk, or do other mindless work. Again, looking to my lab experience, I once ran an experiment for two months that required me to pay attention to something for four-five hours every morning. But it was absolutely mindless work, tedious and boring, so I downloaded audiobooks and listened to fifteen books in the course of those two months.

Another great time to use them is while you commute. Chances are if you’re driving, walking, or otherwise paying attention to where you’re headed, you can’t really look at a book. But you can listen. Instead of listening to music or the news every day, invest that time in a few books. And you can of course take breaks between books, go back to your music or news stations, but this is an easy way to rack up those pages!

If you decide (like me) that an audiobook subscription service just isn’t worth your money, there are alternatives. Many audiobooks are available online for free. Additionally, check with your local library. The Free Library of Philadelphia works with the Overdrive app so that you can borrow e-books and audiobooks without ever stepping foot inside a branch. One bonus of this app: no late fees. Books are automatically returned at the end of the loan period, and you can extend your loan straight from the app. Borrowing is also extremely helpful if you want to try a book or author before you buy anything.

3. Don’t be afraid to read more than one book at a time.

By using multiple formats of books, you can read multiple works at once. For example, I read a hard copy of a book at all times. I bring it with me to work, I read it at home or on trips, I love the feel of having it in my hands. But I also keep an e-book ready at all times on my phone or ereader, for those moments when I have time but can’t have my physical book, like in the lab. And the ereader itself is great for trips that limit your ability to carry the extra weight of a bunch of books (like when flying or going far away). And finally, I listen to an audiobook while I commute to and from work, which gives me at least 45 minutes each direction. And that doesn’t even touch the long car trips!

This can be a hard one for a lot of people, especially if you have trouble keeping stories separated in your head. But I have a trick for that, too. If you struggle to keep the details of stories straight when reading more than one at a time, use a different genre for a different format. To give you a quick example, if you are reading a fantasy story in paperback (or hardcover), you may choose to read a contemporary romance as your e-book and a non-fiction book as your audiobook. Or perhaps you pick classic literature as one of those other formats. By separating the type of books you are reading simultaneously, it may be easier for you to enjoy and understand the stories without mixing up those details. Definitely steer clear of reading similar books at the same time! Been there, done that, still can’t remember which is which!

So there you have it. How to read more books, Selina-style. So what about you? What tips do you have to read more books? Share below in the comments!

Why I Decided to Publish on Wattpad

This Cursed Flame began with a love of sitcoms, specifically that old classic I Dream of Jeannie. I loved that show growing up, loved that there was an astronaut and a genie and the silly antics and the unique feel of the show. And I still love it, though as an adult I can certainly see how the times influenced the portrayal of Jeannie and her role (but that’s a discussion for another day). Regardless, my feelings toward the show were always fond, and it was even a comfort to me in hard times (I watch classic sitcoms when I’m upset or have a bad day, they cheer me up).

And then one day in college I had an idea. What if I wrote my own story with a genie as the main character? I stewed and simmered the idea for a while, fleshing out the character, her world, and, eventually, her story.

This Cursed Flame was born.

Originally, I called it Elemental, but as much as I loved that name, it wasn’t unique and it certainly didn’t convey what I wanted it to. No, eventually I shifted this focus. Because the elemental magic in the story isn’t simply magic, and it certainly isn’t loved by Janan.

You see, Janan, the genie protagonist in the story, never wanted to be a genie. She never wanted to have magic. She just wanted to live her life. And now that her life was stolen from her, she wants to pretend she can get her old life, and her humanity, back.

But sometimes you can’t go back. Sometimes you have to take what life gives you and work with it to move forward. Her magic is a curse, but it’s one she has to learn to use. If she can’t, the world will pay for it. If you read the story, you’ll understand why.

But enough of that. Why am I moving this story to Wattpad? I’ve been working on it since 2011, it’s gone through countless drafts and rewrites (the most recent being this summer), and I’ve even queried the story.

The truth is that this story doesn’t seem to be a good fit for the publishing world at the moment. And if you’ve ever tried to publish, you know how true those words can be. It hurts when you’re told your writing is good but it’s not right for the agent or publisher right now. But that’s part of writing. Even if you love something you wrote, it doesn’t mean others will think it’s marketable, and really that’s what it comes down to.

But I didn’t want my story to die or to sit unread on a shelf indefinitely, though I was tempted to do just that. I’m in love with this world and my characters, and I wanted it to do what I’ve always wanted it to do: speak to people. Tell them they’re not alone in their experiences. Encourage and empower people to face their demons and live their lives.

I’d been hearing about Wattpad for years, and eventually I decided this was the way to go, at least for the time being. I want my story in the world; it’s already spent six years kept to myself and only a few other people. This seems like exactly what I want for this story at this time. And who knows, I may come back to publishing this in the future. But until then, I’m not going to hide my work.

If you’re interested, you can read This Cursed Flame on Wattpad for free here. I will be publishing one or two chapters every Friday until the entire story is uploaded. I hope you’ll take the journey with me.

❤ Selina

The Best (and Worst) Books I Read This Summer

Summer is a magical time, ever since we were kids. Then, it was a break from the tedium of school and homework. Now, if you’re out of school, it’s a chance to get outside and enjoy some sunshine and have an adventure. If you’re a bookworm like me, then most of your summer adventures are probably in the pages of books. I didn’t get as much reading done in June, July, and August as I would have liked, but I did read a few very good or disappointing books in that time.


My favorite book of the summer: Eliza and her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

All you Fangirl fans, this is the one. This is the one we’ve been waiting for. We get to follow another awesome creator/artist in her journey to break out of a world she can control and grow into a world she loves. We see the joy and the heartbreak of storytelling. We see the passion and the dangers of creating and sharing a piece of work. And we get a cute little romantic plot right in the middle. Seriously, if you liked Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (my own personal favorite book, now tied with this one), you’ll love this book, too. If you want to see the review I wrote, you can find it here.

My second favorite book of summer: Born of Earth by A. L. Knorr

This one came as a surprise to me. It was a free download I stumbled across through a different indie author’s website. I had been eyeing A. L. Knorr’s Born of Water for a while, but without knowing much about the books, I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend the money. This offer was the perfect opportunity to give them a try. And oh, was I pleasantly surprised! The book was exciting and filled with magic. It was a fantasy concept I hadn’t seen most other places. Other than a kind of awkward romantic subplot, it was everything I was looking for in a book. It was so good that I went back and purchased Born of Water as soon as I had finished reading! Just be aware that Earth is book 3 in the series, so there are a couple references to the other characters you might not understand. But! It totally works as a standalone. I can’t wait to see where these girls are going!

Next, my least favorite book of summer: A Brush with the Moon by Raquel Lyon

First off, the good. It has a stunning new cover! Seriously, gorgeous. The other great thing about this one, and the reason I was so looking forward to it, was the concept. Instead of the usual paranormal or urban fantasy tropes, this one had a twist: the main character became a fox shifter, and one chosen by a goddess at that. But despite the promising concept, it fell flat for me. I didn’t find it exciting and the writing style and I didn’t get along. Ultimately, I did not even finish reading this one. I’ll just keep writing my own story about fox shifters…

Honorable mentions:

Other summer reads of 2017:

Just a note: just because I didn’t list a book as a favorite or honorable mention does not mean I didn’t enjoy it, and just because I didn’t enjoy something doesn’t mean it is a terrible book to everyone! Read what you want to read and have fun with it! Don’t let my opinion sway you from loving something or hating something.

Your turn: what books did you read this summer? Which ones were your favorites (or least favorites)? Tell me in the comments!

Now, I have a lot more books to catch up on this fall. So if you’ll excuse me…

Reading Like a Writer

Time to read Stephen King.pngWriters are quite often first and foremost avid readers. Many of us grew up carrying a book (and a spare or two) everywhere we went, regardless of whether we would actually have to time to read it. This immersion in the fictional worlds we craved perhaps led us to create our own fictional worlds, to fill voids that no book in existence could fill. And so we became writers to create those books.

But even as writers, we are still readers. And we should be. How can we possibly write well if we do not continue to immerse ourselves in the worlds of books? But while our love for reading has not changed, perhaps our style should. Now the question becomes how to read as a writer.

In general, reading like a writer means examining other authors’ writing so that you can apply their knowledge of the craft to your own writing, thereby improving it. The focus isn’t on the story itself or the content or message. It is on the actual construction of the story from a wide (story structure) to a narrow (sentence structure and word choice) level. You read to learn how to write. How do we actually go about doing this? Here are five simple ways to read like a writer.

  1. Read outside your genre. Writers often start by mimicking the styles, settings, and characters of our favorite authors. But the true key to becoming a writer is to grow past this stage, to find our own characters, our own voice. One of the best ways to do this is to keep on reading everything. And I mean everything. Don’t just stick with stories within your preferred genre of writing. For example, I write mainly fantasy, and while I read an obscene amount of fantasy, I also read nonfiction, historical fiction, science fiction, contemporary, children’s books, and anything else that can hold my interest. I learn so many new things and glean so many ideas from these books that I never would have encountered had I not read outside my genre.
  2. Read inside your genre. It is important to also keep up to date on the new releases in your preferred genre. Even if you don’t read all of the new books that are released, have some idea of what is out there, what publishers are buying, and what readers are consuming. This will help you to compare your book to similar books when it’s time to query (many agents prefer that you use comparison titles released within the last couple of years) and understand how your book might fit into the current market. How do you keep up to date on this? Follow people. Follow everyone. But on social media… don’t actually stalk people. Look for publishers, agents, authors, and book reviewers on any social media outlet, including (but not limited to) Twitter, Tumblr, WordPress, Instagram, and Facebook. Make yourself an attractive author when it’s time to market your story by knowing as much as you can about industry trends.
  3. Re-read. The idea behind this is to choose a story that you want to use as a model for your own work, to re-read it and actively observe the pattern of the plot and development of the story. Since you’ve read the story before, you know ultimately where it is going and can sit back and pay attention to the details in between. Another personal example is when I was preparing to begin my current WIP, Foxfire. I wanted to write urban fantasy, but I wasn’t sure how to structure it. I re-read some of my favorite stories within the genre, writers who are well-known and well-received (Patricia Briggs and Anne Bishop), and worked from there.
  4. Take notes. Now, I don’t care if this is directly in your book or on a notepad you keep with you while reading. But the point is to specifically notate the story with your own questions, comments, and observations as you read. This makes you an active reader (like active listening). Even if you don’t write it down, pay attention to your own thoughts and experiences as you read.
  5. Take it all in. Examine the details of what you’re reading, how each scene was composed and how it fits into the overall story. Notice the development of the characters and how the story changes them. Follow the plot arc and how each important point is achieved. Map it out, if that helps.

Now, there are plenty more resources out there for learning how to read like a writer. Writer’s Digest offers a variety of resources on writing and publishing, including on this topic. However, the biggest piece of work I would recommend today is Mike Bunn’s “How to Read Like a Writer.” He gives some interesting background and explanation in more detail than the tips I share above.

Now go forth and read books!

Words Save Our Lives, Sometimes

-Neil Gaiman (title quote)

“Books have a funny way of finding you when you need them the most.”
-Jon Acuff (3 reasons to give someone a book this Christmas)

It never ceases to amaze me how, sometimes, you can find exactly the book you need at exactly the right time. Personally, I believe that has something to do with God speaking to me. But I have yet to meet a reader who hasn’t experienced this deep and astonishing connection to a pile of ink and paper.

One of my most recent encounters with this kind of situation was with Rainbow Rowell’s book Fangirl. I had heard so many things about that book, mostly good, and for a couple of months I wanted nothing more than to read it.

Well, I finally got it in August of 2014. And I read it. And I read it again within two weeks. And then I loaned it to a friend and obsessed over reading it again as soon as I got it back.

There was just something about Cath, about the story itself, that connected with me. Cath is like me in many ways. A writer. Somewhat lacking in self-confidence. Going through a time of great personal change and questioning. Learning how to be on her own. The story went through some major ups and downs, so much like my own life.

And in the end, Cath found her voice. She found what made her happy. She took a step out into the world as a new version of herself.

And I loved it so much that I am still obsessed with the book a year and a half later.

You see, Fangirl was exactly the story I needed at the time I read it. It pulled me in, heart and soul, it gave me anxiety, it made me cry, but, most importantly, it gave me hope about my own life, that things would be okay. It left me with that warm fuzzy feeling of well-being. So much so that merely holding the book was encouraging to me.

Now, isn’t that what every writer wants? To affect their readers in such dramatic ways that they can look and say, “Yes, that book saved my life. I read it right when I needed it most.”

I think that if we, as writers, focus on the things that matter to us, if we honestly use our experiences and voices to craft our stories, if we don’t run away and hide the demons lurking inside every human, then we can truly create those kinds of stories. Yes, it can be gut-wrenching and embarrassing to bare those parts of our souls. But without that, all we have is a flat piece of writing that someone will read and forget, if they even finish it. If they even pick it up in the first place.

So what about you? What books have truly impacted you in such a way? How do you use your own experiences in your writing to make an impact on the reader?

Publishing in Installments? What?

So, I recently came across a really interesting book by an author I hadn’t read before. And I loved the book. It was original. It was beautiful. It was unique. It played to parts of me that don’t get nearly enough attention (my music). I loved it.

Except for one thing.

It seems that this author is dividing his books into parts (like, not just multiple books in a series, but stopping partway through as a “Part One”) with no indication of when the next part will be released.

This bothers me.

This bothers me because now I started a story I love and I don’t know when, or if, I will be able to finish it.

It bothers me because, instead of writing the story he wants to because he loves it, he is writing a whole slew of stories in installments and waiting for readers to tell him what they like and don’t like… presumably so he knows which stories to kill and which to continue.

It bothers me because now I may never know where the story is going because I don’t know when he’ll get around to continuing this one again, in the middle of his at least 5 other “Part One”s.

It bothers me because it feels unfair. Because it feels like the author is not being true to himself and his stories. Because it feels like I’m being cheated by someone more concerned with pleasing a crowd of unknowns than pleasing his own inner storyteller.

Why is this a problem? Because if you can’t love your story simply because it is the story you have to tell, and not because other people love it, than how can you expect to be seen as a confident writer? How can you expect people to fall in love with stories when you are so unsure about them yourself that you won’t finish them before getting input?

I mean, beta readers are one thing. But literally these books are being sold on Amazon as Part One of a story (I got them because I bought them on a day they were free… I don’t think I’d pay for an incomplete story, even if it was only 99 cents).

Am I completely crazy for thinking this? Have you ever encountered such a publishing method before, outside of serials?