A new year has come and it is time to get motivated to make some good habits. I have often run into people who ask me how I read so much or how to explore these topics more deeply. Let me be clear: I don’t think I’m really anything special. There are plenty of others out there who are doing more things better than I. But, hey, I have an MA degree in Apologetics. I can consider myself qualified to give tips for scholarship, right? I’ve credited them to others if I picked them up from others (and noted that I forgot where I forgot).
Set a realistic reading goal for yourself, but make it realistic and shoot for the lowest end of what you think is possible. My philosophy professor from my undergraduate studies and good friend, Stephen Parrish, told me about his goal: 2 pages a night from several different books before bed. Does that sound doable to you? I should hope so. Think about it this way (I’m not trying to be crude here): do you spend any time in the restroom? Are you just sitting there? I bet you could read two pages instead of twiddling your thumbs.
The best part about setting a realistic reading goal at the low end of what you think is possible is that you will often do way more than your goal. If you say “I have time to read two pages right now” to yourself, you’ll often get away with 5 pages or even a chapter. Find those 5-10 minute portions in the day (at breakfast over a bowl of cereal is another possibility) and fill them with reading.
Also, be aware of your own enjoyment and interests related to what you’re reading. Don’t just continue reading a book because you started it. If you’re halfway through and feeling as though it’s a huge bore for you and you’re not getting anything out of it–then stop reading the book. Be sure to engage in the highly valuable process of skimming–simply reading one or two sentences per paragraph/page to get to the main points. In particular, this is helpful for those books you really want to get through but are having the problem of boredom. Don’t feel obligated to read everything from every book. If it’s not valuable to you, then stop. I admit I’m a huge offender for this: I do often force myself through books I’m not enjoying. Remind me to stop! You and I don’t have time for that!
Note-Taking for Reading
Let me emphasize the extreme value and importance of taking notes on your reading. Yes, it will slow you down. However, these notes will become invaluable going forward. Tim McGrew was one who really stressed to me the importance of reading notes. He suggested keeping a running file which had all your notes in it on your computer. That way, it is searchable and you can easily find where that quote was you were interested in as you’re doing your own writing. I would suggest keeping a separate file for each book you read, and then one running document with all the book notes together (just copy and paste each book’s entire notes into this document when you finish).
The way I take notes is simply by typing the page number and my very brief summary of what was written. I really need to emphasize this: these notes are absolutely invaluable. Although it will take you longer to read books, if you take notes you will remember the books a lot better and you also will have all your own thoughts on what was most important from the book at your fingertips. Do this. If anyone is interested, leave a comment and I’ll copy and paste a selection sample of my own notes into the comments below.
Listen to things related to your area of interest. There are almost certainly podcasts on the topics in which you are interested. Look them up. Listen to them while you’re washing dishes, brushing your teeth, or doing the laundry. You’ll be surprised by how interesting these can be, and you’ll also learn and retain quite a bit. Plus, you can listen to them multiple times to get the core ideas down.
Don’t limit your listening to podcasts. Audiobooks are a great way to supplement your reading if you’re afraid you really don’t have a lot of time. Text-to-voice is a great feature on Kindle (and probably other e-readers, though I am not familiar with them) that will read you books out loud in an electronic voice. It’s not the most exciting way to listen to books, but it will help you dive in and you’ll learn a bunch. Another avenue to explore is listening to debates. Look up debates on topics your interested in, or find your favorite scholar and see if they have done any debates. It’s a great way to learn how to engage. Finally, look for lectures available for free. Very often, you’ll be able to find lectures on topics your interested in just by using Google to search for them. Again, this will supplement the materials you’re reading and expand your knowledge of the areas in which you are interested.
I can’t emphasize how important I have found the practice of listening to lectures/debates/audiobooks/podcasts. I listen to them while I’m brushing my teeth, working out, doing dishes/laundry, etc. The amount of material you can consume in those times you might normally not be listening to anything is astounding. Use that time!
If you’re going to engage in apologetics (or, really, any other field), you should try to get a feel for the trends and interest of those who are working in the same area. Try reading a blog article or two each week related to your interests. Don’t make this take away from your reading goal for books above. Think about it this way: do you spend a lot of time reading pointless junk from Facebook? (I’ll confess right now: I really do.) Why not use that time to read a couple blog posts you’re interested instead.
While we’re on the topic of blogs, don’t forget to comment on others’ blogs. Not only will this draw them to reciprocate, but it will also help you practice writing in a way which engages you with the topics in which you’re interested.
Try writing a blog yourself. It will bring along people who agree and disagree and give you a feel for how to handle such discussions.
Utilize Facebook and other social media to engage with scholars in the field. Find groups which discuss your areas of interest and join them. You’ll be surprised by how much you can learn if you just look for a little bit.
Avoid Wasting Time
Look, I already admitted I’m a big offender from wasting time on Facebook, but let’s just promise each other we’re going to try to stop that. I’m not saying you need to ignore friends and family. But if you do what I do, you spend a lot of time just scrolling through your feed looking at things that really don’t interest you because it’s mindless and vaguely entertaining. Sound familiar? Why not use that time to read a blog post, listen to a lecture, or send a message to someone else whose opinion you value about a topic you’re interested in? I bet you and I can get a lot more done if we do that.
Whatever your time-waster is, try to cut down on it. There is nothing wrong with taking a break. Let me be clear on that. I find my best way to take a break is to play some video games or read some science fiction and just zone out for a bit. Don’t give up on the things you love for the sake of scholarship. But if you find you’re really just wasting time for the sake of wasting time; cut it out! You have better things to do, and so do I!
Do What You Enjoy!
Be sure to remember you don’t need to have your nose to the grindstone 100% of the time. Make time for the things you enjoy, whether that is reading science fiction novels or watching your favorite TV show. Keep some “you time” for enjoying things outside of scholarship so that you don’t burn yourself out.
Stay Focused on the Goal
What are you working towards? Keep that in mind as you structure your reading, listening, and other studying. It’s fine to read outside that area, but you should always try to remain focused primarily upon your goal.
It is also incredibly important not to become entirely engrossed in studying. As Christians, we need to keep our “eye on the prize” and pursue our worship of and relationship with our Lord and Savior. Make time to read Scripture. Have it be a daily routine: a time to worship through commitment to Christ.
How about you?
What are some of your tips? Do you do any of the things mentioned above? Drop a comment and let me know what you do to increase your knowledge.
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