It's an understatement to say that reading can help you improve your writing ability immensely and that without reading a writer won't reach their full potential as a writer.
But is there a right and a wrong way to be enjoying that book sitting on your bedside table?
Is there a benefit to reading that novel, not as a reader enjoying a relaxing story before bed, but as a writer?
Writers are always given the advice to read as much as they can, but now they're being told to read as a writer - to be a better writer.
It may seem confusing so I'll walk you through it, but you'll be surprised to know you already learned how to do this.
What It Means to Read Like A Writer
Reading like a writer is almost as simple as it seems.
Reading not only to be entertained or escape into the world of fiction but also to learn while you are there.
It means to read a novel or story from the point of view of the author that wrote it. What were they trying to accomplish with a certain scene? What emotions were they trying to convey to the reader in the body language of the character?
It means to think about the thoughts beyond the work from the viewpoint of a writer.
How To Read Like A Writer
There are several strategies you can use to help you on your journey to read like a writer.
The simplest way to read like a writer without having to annotate, keep notes, or drive yourself crazy going down the rabbit hole of metaphors is to simply write a review for each book you've read whether you liked the book in the end or not.
Even if it's just in bullet points, make a note of what you thought of the story beyond the plot.
- What did the author do well?
- What could be improved on?
- Was the novel evenly paced or did the ending feel rushed?
Writing a review if only for yourself will teach you the art of analyzing a novel and thinking more about aspects of the book other than whether or not you liked the overall story.
Look Deeper Than The Story
Pay attention to small details that make up the story more than the overall scenes. What about the author's character depictions that let you know just what type of person they are that you don't learn through dialogue and actions.
This one should be memorable from your middle grade and high school learnings. Not only should you be reading the story but you should be looking beyond it. This doesn't always have to be down to the smallest detail such as wondering why the author put their character in a blue shirt, it doesn't mean the character has a deep repressed sadness, it just means that the author put them in a blue shirt.
If you're reading poetry then, by all means, analyze each line down to the smallest detail, but with long works of fiction, some things are there just because.
In my novel Loving Ana (Set to be released this October) my main character Lizzy wears a black hoodie with a Jack O' Lanturn printed on the hood. This doesn't mean that she feels hollow inside as if she were a carved pumpkin. Although there is that factor in the story, it simply is because I love Halloween and would have wanted to wear a hoodie like that when I was in high school.
Break It Down
Keep a notebook nearby and write down important aspects of the novel as you read them. How was the protagonist introduced? The antagonist?
What about the setting made you feel grounded and not as if you were floating in the middle of an empty room?
You can break a novel down by structure such as following the Hero's Journey or the Three Act Structure and trying to place the scene into the right spots or simply by making a note after each chapter about what techniques stood out to you.
Target A Skill You Wish To Improve On
I'm not the best at writing dialogue. I'm not ashamed to admit it. I sometimes write unnecessarily long conversations until I sometimes have an entire chapter that is nothing but a conversation between a few characters.
(Editing for me involves a bright red highlighter with the label CUT DOWN beside it.)
Whenever I read a novel I try to make sure that I am paying attention to how the scenes with dialogue are written.
Keeping a skill in mind that you wish to improve on as you read can help you notice how it's done so you can study it and apply it to your own work.
If you've already read a book go ahead and pick it back up and notice all of the things you missed the first time.
Sometimes we can get so caught up in a story that we didn't know the answers were in front of us the whole time.
I love doing this, especially with mystery novels, I go back and try to figure out if I would have been able to solve it sooner if I had been paying more attention.
How Reading Like A Writer Makes You A Better Writer
Like with all things the best way to improve on a skill is to study and practice.
You practice writing by taking the time every day to write, or making the time as often you can and putting your thoughts into words that are recorded somewhere in print. This can be pen and paper, or through any number of the digital screens at your disposal.
You study by reading, analyzing, and understanding the words of others.
If you are writing a thriller and you are not sure how to create the suspense and tension that you want in your novel, study the technique as it was done by another author.
This doesn't mean copying exactly what they did, but drawing inspiration from it and applying it to your own text in a way that is unique to you.
Reading already will make you a better writer, but reading as a writer will help you improve your skills in a way that no creative writing class could ever teach you.
Best of luck.
Keep writing and keep reading.
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