A year or so ago, a friend of mine asked a question on Facebook about establishing a non-fiction reading habit. As I pondered her question I was, first and foremost, encouraged by her admission. She’s one of those people I rank very high on the “smart preacher’s wife” list—but here she was struggling with non-narrative reading just like I always have! I’d always felt “less-than” on the intelligence scale because of my struggle with non-fiction. It was encouraging to see that even smart people sometimes struggle with non-fiction.
Secondly, her question opened my eyes to the fact that I have actually achieved a long-desired turning point in my own reading habit. I have gone from struggling greatly with non-narrative reading to establishing a needed habit of it to truly enjoying it! For the first time in my life, I look with excitement on my growing list of non-fiction titles instead of feeling overwhelmed. How exactly did I get there?
More Than Fiction vs. Non-Fiction: Starting with My Strengths
Fiction lovers often talk about preferring our novels over our non-fiction. But there are more distinctions than simply fiction and non-fiction. It’s not so much that I prefer fiction. It’s that I prefer story. I love Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place just as much as From Dust and Ashes by Tricia Goyer, my long-time favorite World War II novel. One is non-fiction, the other fiction created from memories of men who lived it. But both are stories. Narratives that bring history to life.
Recognizing that reality helped me take my preference and pick out non-fiction authors who paint word pictures. Even if they don’t tell stories in purely narrative form the same way The Hiding Place does, they do bring words to life, turning them into images that explode in my visual mind, helping me grasp abstract concepts.
The biggest challenge was that the recommended “greats” of Christian literature don’t always write like that. I had to realize that there was no failure in going with my strengths. I was still challenging myself by breaking out of my fiction restriction and moving to story-telling, non-fiction writers. As long as I was challenging myself, I was not failing, no matter what authors I was “ignoring” at the time.
My goal was to read for a set amount of time each morning, so I chose books that fit well with my morning devotional time. I never dreamed what kind of doors that new habit would open!
Going with a Theme
As I became more comfortable with non-fiction, I began to branch out by choosing books based on current themes rather than writing style. I’d read books by word-picture artists like Mark Buchanan and Ken Shigematsu that greatly challenged my approach (or lack thereof) to rest and Sabbath. So, I began to intermingle other books on the same theme. Although not all of these were by authors who were great at painting word pictures, the familiar themes helped me make connections. I could take the new information and convert it myself into imagery that worked well for my method of learning.
These themes have morphed and adjusted over the years. Sometimes while working through one theme, I “accidentally” pick up on a new one, and that directs me to my next book. Some of those directions have led me to books that are very much outside of my natural inclinations and reading styles. Reading those books, especially when first starting, can be a challenge. But, the more I read, the more I get used to different writing styles and am able to better and more quickly process the information before me.
The growth didn’t stop there. Once I’d firmly established the devotional non-fiction reading habit, I added a second book each morning. This one is not always “spiritual.” Not automatically written by a Christian author. But, it always contains something that will help me become a better…something. Strengthen who I am as a wife, a mom, a writer, a homeschooler, an organizer…you get the idea. But, because I read it at the end of my morning quiet time, I always approach it with the perspective of what I have just finished studying in God’s Word and reading from my spiritually nourishing non-fiction.
Voila! A Habit is Born!
I didn’t intentionally follow these steps. I just wanted to start reading non-fiction. And, honestly, I didn’t really realize what I’d accomplished until I saw that question on Facebook. I stand now in amazement, though, as I realize just how one little action—the decision to read a non-fiction book for five minutes every morning—has helped me grow so greatly.
Small actions can produce powerful habits. What small action can you take today?