How to Successfully Read Like a Writer


Reading is my passion. It calms me when I am stressed, it takes me to a magical world when I need a break. It is for me, one of the most rewarding hobbies I have. Years ago I was a one book at a time woman. Recently, I find myself having several at a time. I dip into the one I fancy. It could be about writing, history, or a good old fashion novel. It doesn’t matter if there is a book about, I have to read it. During news broadcasts from an expert’s home, I am more interested in what is in their bookcase than what they are saying.

I became addicted to reading at an early age. My earliest memories of my mum, involve her with a book in her hand. Whether she was reading to us or for her pleasure, she always had a book. As children, we had monthly visits to the library and bookshops. These are some of my fondest memories. In junior school, we had a visit from Nigel Hinton. He stated good authors see their books in their mind like a movie reel. I’m not strange, I thought. Those movies running in my head are books fighting to get out. It was several years later when these made it onto paper.

 

When I started on my writing journey, I struggled to have time to write and read. I love writing, but not reading affected my mental health. Like many of us, I felt genuine guilt if I was doing anything other than writing. That included reading. Then I read that you needed to analyse text to be a good writer. It was all the permission I needed to get back into reading.

Over the years of writing, my reading tastes have changed. I also read many books differently. However, nothing has got in the way of the pure pleasure I feel when I pick up a book and read. My partner states she always knows when I am coming to the end of a good book, as I get grumpy. She has a point. Recently I have noticed that my reading styles have changed. I have become more analytical in everything I read. Here are my suggestions to help your reading improve your writing.

How a Love of Reading Can Improve Your Writing.

Reading like a writer is a valuable technique. Some of the most successful people in history have been voracious readers. As a writer, why would you not consult and study the work of others? When you read you should be studying how a writer introduces a character, how they build suspense. Take every step of their work and analyse how they accomplish their novel. Do this if you love a book, but do it if you hate a book too. Analysing what puts you off a book, can be as valuable to your writing career as those you love.

A couple of years ago I wrote a post on first sentences. The post has to date been my most successful. The initial idea for the article came from studying the first sentences. Seeing which ones made me what to read more and which didn’t. Since then I have become obsessed with studying first lines in everything I read. I even keep a notebook of first lines. Not for those articles and books, I love, but for the ones I have never finished. What is it in a first sentence that makes me go, I can’t read that?

We must harness these analytical skills to read and develop our writing at the same time. There are ways though that you can increase this ability. Like any skill, it takes practice and patience, to make the most of your reading experience.

Increase your reading speed

If you can increase your reading speed you can devour more books. A word of warning though, do not increase your speed to a point that you do not enjoy your reading. The enjoyment of your reading should be paramount in everything you do. I will never understand why people struggle through books they are not liking. There are far too many books out there to struggle, move on to the next masterpiece.

If you enjoy a book this will also increase your reading speed. As you get better at this skill you can look at reading the classics or more challenging books. Practice the skill of reading faster, though with books you enjoy.

Another important tip to help increase your speed is to use a medium that is comfortable for you. You can learn as much from reading a newspaper, as you can from reading a novel. This is especially true if you want to be a journalist. If you are not into novels then read textbooks. When I speak about reading I am not all suggesting you pick up a novel, there are many other sources out there. I would suggest though, that you read the genre that you are going to write. It is better to analyse the text in your genre, to get as much help with it as possible.

When I talk about analysing text I mean just that, never copy, but learn from others. Finally, a practice of increasing your reading speed is the same as any other skill. To do it, you need to practice, practice, practice.

Study Language Structure

Once you have increased your reading speed it is time to look at what needs to be analysed. Depending on the genre you are reading, will depend on what you need to analyse.

The first thing I would study would be how the writer keeps you engaged in their writing. Whether this is fact or fiction, what keeps you reading. Alternatively, what stops you from reading. Analyse these facts and then use the skills and tips in your writing. With fiction, look at how a writer builds suspense and plots out the story.

As a writer, I find dialogue very hard to write. I never know whether I have the tone right, or the punctuation. By studying the work of other writers, I learnt how to write effective dialogue that pulls people in. I still have a lot to learn. Dialogue is something I will always work on. It is the reason I pay such close attention to it when I am reading.

Whether you are reading fact or fiction, look at how the writer starts the article or novel. What do they do that makes you keep reading. There have been many books that I have stopped reading after a couple of pages. What made me do that? What turned me off the book? I use these lessons in my writing.

Record Your Observations

It is not enough to simply make these observations, you need to record what you have seen. I have a beautiful commonplace book where I record everything writing-related. Beautiful prose that draws me in. Quotes that resonate with me. Anything to do with reading and writing I record in my commonplace book. I have even on occasion recorded signs and menus that have inspired me.

Commonplace is a translation of the Latin term locus communis which means a theme or argument of general application

It is important to record this information. The memory is a wonderful thing, but like a computer, it can only hold so much information. Read with a notebook beside you. Frequently I look back on these observations. Some may be the seed that starts an article or short story.

The information that you can gain from other writers is valuable. These are people that have been where you are and studied their craft. They will, in turn, have studied other writers. It is important that you study and do not copy what other writers do. This is a research exercise, not an excuse to copy the work of others.

Think about what are your favourite books?

Did these inspire you to write? Was it a particular novel that gave you the inspiration to write? If you are a writer then reading should be a big part of your life.

Reading has been my passion for so long. My first daughter was named Harper after Harper Lee. To Kill a Mocking Bird had such a profound effect on me, that it felt right to name my child after the author. Through books, I have been through good times and bad. There is nothing I like more than sitting with my mum discussing books.

Reading is not only good for our writing but our mental health. It aids our concentration and helps many relax. I have mentioned before about the health benefits of using reading as meditation.

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot — Stephen King

Sam H Arnold is a UK writer and blogger. Click here to take you writing to the next level and start earning three figures a month.  To follow all her work find her on Facebook or join her Email List for a copy of her writing tips book. 

5 thoughts on “How to Successfully Read Like a Writer

  1. I really enjoyed this article, Sam. Writing is tight, with no wasted words, and you lay out your points smoothly and logically. Have you ever read Reading Like A Writer, by Francine Prose (and what an appropriate name she has!) covers the subiect in great depth, and should be required reading for every writer.

    Liked by 1 person

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