Learn to Read Like a Writer

Hello, and welcome to lesson eight of the Writer Starting Guide series!

In this lesson, I’m going to talk about how you can learn to read like a writer. After all, everything you’ve written and everything you will write is influenced by what you read. If you put great writing in, great writing will (with practice) come out.

So let’s get started, shall we?

There are two aspects to reading like a writer: what you read and how you read. What you read often influences what and how you like to write. How you read can help improve your writing and storytelling abilities.

What to read

As a writer, it’s your job to read great works. It’s also your job to read widely.

DIY MFA has an amazing post on the types of books you should read to improve as a writer. I recommend starting there.

However, in addition to reading the competitive, contemporary, contextual, and classic books DIY MFA mentions, I’m going to add a couple more:

  • Read diverse books – Don’t know what I mean by this? Check out readdiversebooks.com.
  • Read something new – If you read science fiction, check out the memoir section. If you read romance, check out the mystery section. Just get out of your comfort zone every once in a while. You might find a new genre or author to love.
  • Read to learn about your craft – You can’t become a better writer in a vacuum. You must seek help and advice from other writers and people in the biz. Good news is, there are tons of books out there created to help you with your craft! Here are a few I suggest.
  • Read bad books – Yeah, you heard me. Read books that make you cringe. Read books that are so awful you can’t finish them. Why? Well, they give you a confidence boost, for one. (If they got published, surely you can do better and get published too). But you can also learn from bad books. I would even argue you can learn more from bad books than you can from good books as long as you think critically about them. Just ask yourself: Why are they bad? What is the author doing that you don’t like? How could it be improved?
  • Read for fun – If you’re not having fun, then you’re reading the wrong books. If you find yourself in a reading slump, return to your favorite reads.

How to read

When you’re reading a book, it’s important to think critically about it. Sure, you can become immersed in the pages (there’s nothing wrong with that, and kudos to the author for causing that reaction in you), but if you’re not thinking about what you’re reading, you’re not learning from it.

So, how do you learn from reading? Here are a few things you can try:

  • Keep a log of your favorite works and why you liked them – when you’re in need of inspiration, return to the log and give it a read.
  • Take notes – Keep a list of your favorite descriptions and dialogue from a book as you read it.
  • While reading, think about the overall structure of the piece – Is there a clear beginning, middle, and end? Are the character’s goals and motivations clear? How does the character change over time? Is the piece character or plot driven? If plot driven, can you identify the different elements of plot?
  • Think about each scene – How does each scene start and end? Can you identify the character’s main goal for each scene? Is there conflict? Does the character have a “choice moment” (a moment where they must make a choice to further the plot or build character)?
  • Think about each chapter – How does the chapter begin? How does it end? Does the author employ cliff hangers? Is each chapter a scene, or does a scene span multiple chapters?
  • Mark up the pages – Yup. Be the person who writes in books. If it’s not your book, take photocopies and write on those.
    • Underline beautiful sentences, dialogue, and description.
    • Annotate  your thoughts and questions.
    • Highlight paragraphs or sections that stick out to you.
    • Star writing that moves you.
  • Write a review – If you have time, write a review of a book once you’ve finished reading it. Just a simple, paragraph or two. Try to think about the following:
    • What did the author do well?
    • What could they improve on?
    • What were the story’s strengths and weaknesses?
    • Was it original? How so? If not, why?

 

I just gave you a TON of advice. You don’t have to do it all. In fact, you don’t even have to do half of it. Just do what you can, when you can, and you’ll be alright. By reading with intention, reading widely, and having fun, you’ll be the writer you always dreamed in no time.

Alright, that’s a wrap!

It’s been real, it’s been fun. Until next time, writers.

Be sure to catch the next lesson: Learn to Live with Writing Fears and Doubts.

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