How to Read Like a Writer


If you’ve hung around here at The Spinning Pen at all, you’ll know a fun fact about us that isn’t very surprising: we all LOVE to read.

Last week, Caleb talked about the Reading Only Challenge he’s embarking on, and I thought I would add a little writing tip to go along with his fantastic idea. Missed his post? Check it out at the link above.

The Most Common Writing Tip I’ve Heard

When you move into the Writing Neighborhood, you start to hear things about best practices, strategies, and tools to help you become a better writer. After going to conferences and reading blogs for a number of years now, I’ve noticed patterns of advice that crop up. And here’s one that comes up more than just about anything else when someone asks how to become a better writer:

Continue reading


The Reading Only Challenge

Not the catchiest challenge title, I know, but I think it gets the point across. This challenge is pretty straightforward: stop watching Netflix, log off social media, and start reading.

I already lost about half of you. To the other half, thanks for sticking around to at least read why anyone would do something so preposterous. But you’ve been warned- you’re about to be challenged to do something that will benefit your writing career more than anything you’ve tried yet, and it’s not going to be easy.

“How will this help me?”…

…you might ask. Good question.

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” – Stephen King.

That’s a quote from one of those authors a few of you might know. Chances are, you already knew reading was a good way to become a better writer. But if you’re like me, then you also don’t read as much as you should. You might say something (also like me) like…

“I don’t have time to read.” – Every other writer.

That might be valid, but only at a glance. The truth is, we all have snatches of time here and there, but we spend them on social media and Netflix. Maybe you only have 30 minutes between classes, 15 minutes on the subway home, or 20 minutes between dinner and when you need to get to bed. Those bite-sized amounts of time are consumed by Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Tumblr to name a few. Why not spend these 15-30 minutes gaps reading a chapter or two of a novel?


That’s not even including the times when we hunker down and watch a few episodes of The Walking Dead or New Girl. Those 30 min or even 2-hour gaps are absolutely crucial. If you used all the time you spent watching Netflix to read books, you would see an increase in the quality of your writing almost immediately.

“But Caleb, reading takes energy now-a-days. I can’t focus! I just want to relax.” – Possibly You

That’s exactly how I felt when I first started this. My mind kept drifting off and thinking about other things- did I hear my phone go off? Did I remember to respond to the comment on my Instagram? Man, I’m hungry…

The truth is, reading isn’t like it used to be. We aren’t kids anymore. The world got fast and complicated, and now we have to keep up. The rabbit-hole nature of the internet has shortened our attention spans and limited our focus.

So here’s my advice- TRY! I’ve been doing this challenge for about a week, and I have already felt the results! I can focus longer each time, and I look forward to when I can crack open my book and escape for a while to another world. This is drastically different than when reading was a chore on my checklist. How did this happen? Well, when you don’t have the instant gratification (I know, I hate that phrase too) of social media and the binge-y qualities of Netflix, reading becomes the best form of entertainment available!


“Something amazing happens when you keep reading. The magic returns, and you feel like a kid again.” – Caleb.

Cheesy? Absolutely. True? Absolutely-er.

The truth is, reading lengthens your attention span and improves your ability to focus. This has transferred into many aspects of my life, namely my studies! Calculus 2 problems that take 15 minutes a pop seem manageable, and reading my textbook is actually not that bad. But more important than that…

“Reading improves your ability to write. You develop a keen ear for how your genre should sound.” – Caleb.

I know writers that, when you read their work, it feels like you’re reading writing. Reading should never sound like writing, it should sound like a story. Truthfully, I’m guilty of this too sometimes, especially since I’ve been slacking on reading. But now, just after a week of reading about an hour a day, I already feel like I have a better understanding of how to capture that magical essence of a story.

“So what’s the actual challenge?”- You.

I haven’t made the challenge official, but I’m thinking of doing it in March (comment what you think). But until then, here’s your “free trial” if you will…

  • Log out of Netflix for a week
  • Log off all social media for a week
  • Block YouTube on your computer/delete it from your phone
  • Read 30 mins – 1 hour a day (or however much you can manage)
  • Sit back and enjoy the results

Obviously, there are a few small exceptions (like if you manage accounts for your work). For those, I would say to do only what you must, then log off before you get sucked in.

Well, I hope you all give this challenge a shot! If you already read, awesome! Keep doing it. For the rest of us, I would love to hear how this affects your life!






Until next time! – Caleb Robinson

Author Interview: Gloria Chao

Pen Friends ~ The Lovely Debut Author of American Panda is our guest today! Welcome, Gloria Chao! Her first book, American Panda will be out very very soon, and you can get the inside scoop!

77dfoo2T_400x400.jpgSP: Hi Gloria! Thanks for joining us. First, can you please tell us a bit of who are you and how long have you have been writing? 

GC: Thank you so much for having me! I’m so excited to be a part of your wonderful blog! I’m a young adult author based in Chicago, and I’ve been writing for the past five years. I write contemporary stories featuring Taiwanese-American teens struggling with identity, always with humor because life and books are so much more fun with some laughs. Continue reading

Write A Novel Workshop 2018 & Travel Writing Contest

Pen Friends ~ Nova, here. In today’s post I wanted to share a) exciting news b) an international writing contest where you can make a difference c) a final note of encouragement…OK? Thanks!

Write a Novel 2018 Nova

This year, in May, I’ll host an International
Write A Novel Workshop 
In Chengdu, China…
Lorie Langdon & Carey Corp
& Self-Published Amazon #1 Best Seller, Laura Frances, & Upcoming Debut author, Ellen McGinty!!

Check workshop details @ WRITE A NOVEL 2018


*This idea has been brewing in me for a couple years now, and wow, it feels good to see an idea become reality!

As for the amazing international opportunity, look down.

Extravagant Yak Travel Contest 2Free trip to Tibet by writing a 1-2 page story on the theme of transformation? Too good to be true?(It’s legit–I helped organize the contest.) The men who run Extravagant Yak Travel are my dear friends. I can’t express how awesome they are and how much they do for local Tibetans. The winner (s) get a pretty sweet deal and by just entering YOU get to help Tibetans too! So if you have a story to tell, get on it! They want to hear and spread it! You just might end up on the roof of the world!

Check it out @ Extravagant Yak


Friends, there is a right time for everything–for your writing breakthrough, to find your agent, for your novel to come into the world, for it to cross oceans….& for fun writerly challenges, contests, & projects. For those of us crazy enough to dive into the writing & publishing world, I want to say, Don’t give up. Good & right things take time. You’re strong enough. Just keep going. Just keep writing. Keep querying. Your time will come!

Happy writing!


Nova, signing off.


Does Your Protagonist Have To Be Likeable? Guest Post by Aisha Tritle

feedback protagonist photo

“She gets on my nerves…”

A reviewer wrote this about the protagonist of my first novel, Occidis. Nice, huh?

I’ve also received feedback from many readers who appreciate the very characteristics of the protagonist, Sophia, that seem to annoy others.

Several writers that I know have experienced this same situation. It’s hard to create a main character that everyone in your audience will fully appreciate. For every person who goes for the classic supernaturally athletic and brave protagonist with the aesthetic of an undiscovered model, there’s going to be a person wishing for someone who wasn’t quite so athletic or brave or ridiculously attractive.

But does every protagonist need to be likable? Continue reading