Monday, April 08, 2013

Reading Like A Writer

Honesty. What does it mean to you? I don’t mean the dictionary’s definition. What does it mean to you?

I’ll tell you what it means to me: an open mind, balance, objectivity, and exploration. Basically, it means I need to take a step back and look in places I don’t ordinarily look. It’s very eye-opening, and I apply this concept every time I sit down to read.

When you pick up a book, what are you intending to get out of it? Just enjoyment or entertainment? Or do you want to see how published authors manage their craft? For me, I like to read for entertainment, but it always come second to craft. So, I tend to view reading as a learning experience with the added bonus of good entertainment value. :)

But how do you turn reading into a learning experience?

It’s not easy. But, since nothing about writing is easy, that should come as no surprise. :) In order to get the most out of a reading experience, I have to embrace every aspect of honesty. This manifests in a few ways.

Put yourself in the author’s shoes.
Since writers do this kind of thing all the time, that shouldn’t be too difficult. :) Putting yourself in the author’s shoes helps you to be in the right place so you can better understand the story. In order to get the most out of this exercise, two things must happen. 1) Figure out what the author intended to accomplish with his story. 2) Look at the story itself and figure out what it actually accomplished. Yeah, it’s hard, but there are always little clues that help us along. When you first start out, it might require a re-read or two. Once you’ve done this, though, you can move on to the next point…

Put on your critiquing hat.
I firmly believe that critiquing can teach us as much about writing as actually writing, so I try to critique as much as I can. When I read a book, I basically treat it like I’m reading my critique partner’s work. I start out with the assumption that there’s going to be both good and not so good stuff, and make mental notes accordingly. Reading a published book is different from critiquing because the author can’t take the book back and make changes. BUT, he can improve his writing going forward. So, if you review books, you can write an honest review in the vein of a constructive critique, and learn something in the process. :)

Be objective about what works and what doesn’t.
There are two aspects to this. 1) Strong reactions, either positive or negative. Take a good look at why the story evoked such a strong reaction from you and explore it. If you loved it, or if you hated it, figure out why. There are likely several aspects to this. 2) Don’t let the weaker reaction slip away. Even if you hated the book, what did it do right? If you loved the book, what could have been better? There are always two sides to the coin, and we need to be objective and honest with ourselves by looking at both of them, because that’s the key to maximizing our learning experience.

To be the best writers we can possibly be, I think we need to read widely and analyze everything. What did we love, and why? What would we have done differently? Be honest with yourself, and with the books you read, and you’re on your way toward creating a good learning experience, which will ultimately make you a better writer.


Anonymous said...

Great article! My biggest problem is trying to find all the time to do this and write as well!! Maybe a post on time management?!1 :) Edith xxx

Tabitha said...

That's an excellent idea. Perhaps that will be next week's topic... :)

Anonymous said...

This is just how I love to read! Great post!

Unknown said...

I think when you're learning to write fiction, the reading process is teaching you how NOT to write. It's easy to pick things out in a book when so many writers, editors, publishers, etc, are telling you what to do and what not to do.

If I find a style of writing I enjoy, I will stick with the author and their books. It's the voice I enjoy, and the no nonsense "this is how it is" feel I get when reading. I want the author to be an authority on the story I'm reading. If I get that feeling, I will forgive anything else. :)

Unknown said...

Great tips. I find it easier to learn from the books I don't enjoy as much because the good ones suck me in too much to pay attention. :)

Jessie Harrell said...

I'm not nearly as detailed as you, but I do tend to find myself line editing here and there. Particularly words used repetitively. It really reminds me to be careful about my own word choices and how many times I use a word.

Becky Shillington said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Becky Shillington said...

(Sorry--I misspelled your name the first time around!)
Wonderful post, Tabitha! I often find myself "editing" books I am reading. It is a treat to read a book that is seamless enough that I forget to pick it apart--from those books I learn what really works!

Kim (YA Asylum) said...

To be the best writers we can possibly be, I think we need to read widely and analyze everything
I completely agree with this! If you don't read what's out there and what's popular, it'll be harder to write something that might get picked up by a lit agent or publishers or something readers in general will want to read.

Whenever I'm reading, I try to turn the line critiquing part of my mind off (but I'll take note of something that happens repetitively that bothers me) and look at the bigger picture and concepts.

Great post :)

Anonymous said...

I struggle between reading to become lost in a new world and carried away, and reading as a writer to see how the author put this together. Usually if I'm carried away, I just carry on, and don't read as a writer until the book is finished. But if I'm not carried away, then a begin critiquing to find out why not, and I do learn a lot that way.

Ruth Schiffmann said...

Reading like this is so hard for me! I always start out with a mind on critiquing but then I usually get swept up in the story, get to the end and think, "Arg, I forgot to keep analyzing." Although, I am getting better at it than I used to be.