The Return of SSR

When I was in elementary and high school, they used to make us read. In an era before well funded fights over defunding education and teaching students to pass standardized tests to qualify for government assistance, our administrators felt taking time out of the day to encourage reading was a good idea.

Girl ReadingTwenty minutes a day, we would stop all other learning for Silent, Sustained Reading, or SSR as it was commonly known. At such times, you had to take out a book and read quietly for the duration of the period. It couldn’t be a schoolbook. It had to be something — usually fiction, but not restricted to that — that you picked out and were ostensibly reading for pleasure, despite the fact that this was a forced activity.

The theory was, teaching people to love reading was a good idea, and the best way to do that was to require it for 20 minutes a day, five days a week. There was no homework assigned from this “class,” but as we matured into middle-grade readers, we were required to do book reports, so SSR was an excellent opportunity to get the work for that in.

Being the teacher’s pet that I was (as well as a kid who found exciting adventure stories more interesting than math problems), I loved SSR. It was 20 minutes a day where I got to read! That was almost as good as recess.

Moreover, I could devour science fiction and fantasy novels, and it was treated as something I was supposed to be doing. SSR was way to the good in my young opinion.

I’m an adult now, and things have changed. As an entrepreneur, I have an insanely busy schedule of writing and editing my own books, marketing them, managing sales, and overseeing the short- and long-term strategy of my publication schedule.

I’m also a parent of teenagers, whose schedules I have to manage and make sure everyone is getting where he or she is supposed to be on time on the correct day with whatever it is he or she needs. I also prepare dinner for the family and generally run the household.

Reading has taken a backseat to all those concerns.

Moreover, what little reading time I have, I usually spend reading my own books. That’s not because I’m a narcissist. Rather, it’s because you can’t just write a book and put it out into the world. It requires a lot of shaping and crafting, and the only way to find the parts that suck and fix them is to read it — usually multiple times.

But you know what piece of advice I hear constantly about how to be a good writer? Read.

By which they mean, read other people’s books.

And I’m down with this idea. I don’t like reading any less than I did as a kid. In fact, I really enjoy it on my Kindle. I can instantly look up words I don’t know, I never lose my place, and I can update my progress in a book on GoodReads at the end of each session. Plus, the advent of digital publishing has put an even larger wealth of reading material at my fingertips for less than it would cost me to buy a book at the store.

But it still requires time. You still have to actually make some time to sit down and read.

So I’ve revived SSR. Every day, I block out at least 30 minutes to read. I make a to-do list every morning, to map out my day, and I now consciously put SSR on it, so I remember to make the effort.

And it’s working. I’d been reading a novel I quite liked, but it I’d only cracked about 10% of it after several weeks of calling it up on my phone and reading a few pages while waiting on something else — like my daughter to get out of school.

Since I instituted SSR a week ago, I’m 94% done. I have other books on my Kindle I can’t wait to get to, and I’ve agreed to beta-read a sci-fi novel for a colleague. I’d never have done that two weeks ago. I just didn’t have time.

But now I do, because I make it. Like my teachers when I was in school, I recognize the value of taking time out of my day and reading for pleasure. It’s relaxing, it’s fun, and it’s positively impacting my work. I find my mind racing on my own novels, because the book I’m reading now is inspiring me.

Before we decided to fight over Common Core and school vouchers, our educational system was teaching the simple joy of reading and, more importantly, that you needed to make time for it on a daily basis.

I am glad I finally remembered that lesson. I hope not to forget it again.


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