How to Read Like a Writer

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You know you should read, but how do you read like a writer? Is there some magic trick to suck up all the grace and finesse of your favorite authors, or is it like a race – the faster you read, the better you write? Just as everyone writes differently, everyone reads and learns in their own way. These few tips, however, can help you glean more from every volume.

Read for Fun

Reading is – and should be – fun. Anyone who groans when they pick up a book is doomed to fail as a writer. Keeping your love of fiction, characters, drama, and intrigue alive is one of the most important things you can do as you work to improve your prose. A lot of learning takes place subconsciously, and you don’t need to turn your favorite pastime into a grueling lesson to make progress.

Read casually. Read voraciously. Nibble at a book chapter by chapter or binge it in one night. Enjoy yourself, and rest assured you’re doing something right.

Reread Great Stories

When you find a great book, keep it. If you got it from the library, find a copy of your own. After you’ve enjoyed the story, go back for a second read armed with bookmarks, post-it notes, etc. When something really grabs your attention – a line of dialogue, a sassy aside, a scene that makes you cry – bookmark it for closer examination. By all means, keep reading, but mark those gold deposits for later digging.

Ask Questions

You don’t have to approach a book armed with pen and paper, but taking notes isn’t a bad plan. As a writer, you already know ideas can take new and exciting shapes that lead in surprising directions when you dedicate them to paper. Regardless of whether you take physical or mental notes, however, be prepared with questions.

  • What do I like about this?
  • What drives this content and gives it meaning (character, humor, tension, theme, etc.)?
  • What is the technical language doing (sentence structure, punctuation, word choice, etc.)?
  • How would I write a scene like this?

Start with these four questions and expound on your answers. You like a scene because of the character interaction. So, what has the author done to make you excited about that encounter? Are the characters uniquely relatable? How is the dialogue constructed? What clever little story strings led you to this point, and what strings will follow to the next exciting moment?

Read Widely

You’ve heard it before. I’ve suggested it before. You’ll hear it and I’ll suggest it again.

Read widely.

If you write YA fantasy, by all means – read YA fantasy! But don’t read YA fantasy to exclusion of all other genres. Visit the regular fantasy section. Check out nonfiction books. Have you ever read a good romance novel? Maybe some spies or ghostly frights will flesh out your to-read list. Bookstores and libraries are not 4-star restaurants that serve you a set number of courses. There’s no need to limit yourself. It’s a buffet, and you can literally keep going back for more until they day you die, so don’t be shy.

Read more. Read for pleasure and read for craft. You can even read whole books on craft. Just keep reading, keep trying new things, and don’t be afraid to ask a million questions.

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