The Art of DNFing

"Not Finishing" a Book Can Help You Grow as a Reader

When To Step Away From a Book…

One of the most common questions I receive from people who know that I write book reviews and read to relax is this: “How do I get into reading? I want to read more, but the activity never sticks.” Now, does that mean these people do not read at all? No. They usually read for their job or for school, but rarely for pleasure or self-growth. Thus, when I get these questions, the people asking want to add reading to their list of daily relaxing activities.

I totally understand this desire to become a more regular reader. Growing up, I always liked reading, but it was never something I did on a consistent basis. I was more of a gamer when I had free time. I loved gaming, but deep down, I always wanted to read more. Sure, I would read a little for class or other books, like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, but nothing more. It wasn’t until after college that I really started to seek out books as a hobby and activity, since I was no longer buried under a stack of textbooks. At that point, I could finally read for pleasure, but I had to learn an important concept to become the reader I wanted to be. I learned “the art of DNFing.” (DNF means “Did Not Finish.”) In this context, it means that I had to start learning how to put a book down without finishing it and move on to the next book.

To some, this may seem like a “no brainer,” but to many others, it is almost inconceivable. To them, I’m suggesting that they become a “quitter.” I am here to encourage you that when you DNF a book, you are NOT a quitter. I believe books are written for two purposes: to entertain and to educate. If I am not gaining entertainment or education from a book… why keep reading it? I understand this concept of not wanting to give up on a book; it plagued me at one point! When I really wanted to dive into pleasure reading, I started with “The Hobbit” by Tolkien and “Leviathan Wakes” by Corey. They were fantastic and I greatly enjoyed them, but then I picked up “Hyperion” by Simmons and I just wasn’t into it. I stalled out, making very little progress, and eventually, I just… stopped… reading. The lesson I learned here was that I should have taken this book, DNFed it, and moved on to the next one.

(Side note: I want to get this out of the way now. The Bible transcends these ideas and is distinctively separate from normal books. It does not fit into this train of logic, though it certainly counts as reading! However, if you are struggling to read the Bible, I obviously would not suggest DNFing it. I recommend you talk to your pastor or a mentor for help and/or research ways to make the Bible a less intimidating and more enjoyable read.)

Stack of books with one book openHere is my encouragement for anyone who wants to become a more consistent reader or start reading as a hobby/activity. Go to your local library first because buying a book makes it more difficult to DNF. At that point, you physically own it and have financially committed. Grab SEVERAL books from a variety of genres you may like and try them all out to discover your interests. As many of you know, I love fantasy, but I’m a little more picky on science fiction. It took several DNFs to discover my taste there.

Also, do your research on a book, such as reading reviews or digging into what the Goodreads community says. (I can’t stress enough the greatness of Goodreads.) Researching will help you decide if a specific book has an appealing, well-written story, or if it may need some perseverance. You will see many reviewers say, “Muscle through half the book and if you are not hooked, drop it.” I’ve done just that. As a general rule, though, I give it 100 pages. If I’m not satisfied by then, I drop the book altogether or label it “I’ll try again later.” This keeps me from stalling out and lets me move on to the next one. I DNF books all the time, even popular ones. I recently DNFed “The Blade Itself” by Joe Abercrombie, which is wildly popular among fans of fantasy literature. I dropped it because I just don’t like grimdark fantasy, and that book is very much grim and dark. I knew it was grimdark, but I gave it shot, read 100 pages, and DNFed it. Sometimes I’ll come back to my DNFs, but not always. Just because a book has “high ratings” and is on the New York Times Best Sellers list, doesn’t mean it’s actually worth YOUR time. Research is very important to discovering what you like and picking up that book that is impossible to put down!

I know some people disagree with this approach and believe that it’s unimaginable to just “drop a book.” After all, authors work hard on these novels.  This is very valid, but if you’re not entertained, don’t suffer through a book. The burden is on the author to put together something worth your time and, in many instances, money. I love authors and appreciate the time they put into their works, but with the plethora of existing books, they must make something worthy of our precious time.

…And When to Reevaluate Your Role in Ministry.

I write this article as a response to the many questions I receive from friends and family, but I also think this concept broadens into our lives as laborers in the Church. As Christians, we are called to serve, as seen in Matthew 28: 18-20 and 2 Corinthians 4:5. Service can be done in multiple ways, but most of us serve through our local church. It makes sense, right? Our local church is where we gather to fellowship, disciple, learn/teach, and worship with the intent to go out and make disciples of all nations. However, for many, service within the church is difficult and laborious. In some cases, it can be a spiritual, emotional, and physical drain.

Drawing from our lesson above, it may be a good idea to “DNF” a particular area of service. DNF may not be the best acronym for this context, but the principle is the same. You are stopping your service in one area to either 1. Go on sabbatical for a period to learn, grow, and recharge or 2. Try something else that may be more appealing. I had a friend in college who tried out FIVE different areas of ministry in his church before he settled on doing sound and music.

Guitar with the caption "What are ways I can serve in the church?"

Now, do we sometimes have to serve in an area we don’t necessarily enjoy for the needs of our local church? Yes, there may be seasons of this, but usually you will be able to change your service area. I personally have been doing youth ministry for well over a decade, and I decided to step away and focus on new areas of ministry, one of them being parenthood. (My son is 11 months old… how time flies!)

Does leaving a ministry mean you are a quitter? No, absolutely not. “Quitting” in this context assumes that you are dropping something with no intention of serving elsewhere. Stepping back to find a new area of service, just like finding a new book, is actually a sign of intentionality. You are actively seeking where you, and your gifts, fit best in the Church, and that may change over time! Just like it is no help to stall out on a book, it is no help to stall out and become discouraged in ministry. If you are in that place, please talk to your ministry lead or pastor to see how you can get plugged in elsewhere, or maybe adjust your role in that ministry. This will not only help you get re-energized, but it will also stretch and pull you in ways that you weren’t being challenged before.

In conclusion, becoming an avid reader, which looks different for everyone — I read 10-12 books a year, while some read 5 and others read 40 or more — is a process of trying and DNFing books to find one that captures your attention. On top of that, your tastes may change over time! Ministry is similar. Sometimes it’s a trial-and-error approach to finding out what you enjoy, and you may feel God leading you to a different area of ministry after years of becoming an expert. Ministry, and reading, are lifelong journeys that feature a lot of changing and learning to stop for recalibration, both with the ultimate goal of moving forward without stalling along the way.

Mike Henry

Hailing from the quirky alien town of Roswell, NM, I became a Christian at the age of 16 and have been collecting comics and books for almost two decades. Got my degree from the University of New Mexico, which is also where I met my wonderful wife. Moved out to the east coast and decided to let a 130 lb dog live in my house named Goliath. My favorite superhero is Batman, closely followed by Spidey and Superman.

2 Comments

  1. John Alvarez on January 5, 2021 at 3:58 pm

    Thank you so much for this article! I’ve been part of the worship team for over a decade, and the idea of taking a break for a year seemed too much like I’m quitting on a gift God has given me (which couldn’t be further from the truth!). You wonderfully gave some much needed clarity on something that’s been on my mind for a couple of years. God has given me several gifts, and this may not only recharge my batteries on performing, but may lead to expanding on other things God has given me to do for His glory. Plus, it didn’t hurt to that your article helped remove a bit of guilt in how I read books in general. So again, THANK YOU. God bless you sir.

    • Mike Henry on February 11, 2021 at 7:35 pm

      Hey man! So glad this was useful and encouraging to you. Its a tough matter. I’ve never done music or worship in my church before, but i know from others that it can be a serious drain. I’ll be praying for you as you seek out what God has in store for you!

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