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:
Are you ready for it?
Seriously, that’s it. Authors, editors, agents–they all say it. If you want to be a better writer, you have to read. A lot.
Got it? Great! Have a fantastic Tuesday!
…Just kidding, friends. Okay, “read” is good advice. But how can we do it well? And in a way that can benefit our writing?
3 Ways to Read Like a Writer
1. Don’t limit yourself.
We all have favorite things. This is a normal human function. Favorite things also include book genres. And while it’s super important to know the genre you write inside and out, and to keep an eye on what’s happening in your genre as you write, don’t limit yourself to only reading your genre.
You can learn so much about craft by reading widely, both inside and outside of your genre. Mysteries are amazing resources for learning how to foreshadow and weave in puzzles for your readers to solve. Thrillers teach us how to continually increase tension. Romance plot lines help us tap into complex emotions. Fantasy and science fiction can help us create rich, complex worlds, even if you write contemporary stories.
2. Take notes!
Okay, I know, this is starting to sound like homework, but if you want to get really good at something, a little extra effort goes a long way.
As you read, don’t just read for the enjoyment of the story. Of course we want to read for fun, but if you want to become a literary detective, you also have to pay attention to the stuff that’s happening behind the scenes of a great story. When you come across a moment you love or a major surprise twist when reading, pause and analyze it. Ask yourself what you liked about it and what the author did to make it work so well.
(This also totally works in reverse, and can be a great lesson in what not to do.)
When you’re done, look over the things you noticed and search for patterns. Eventually you will have put together a great toolbox full of tips from authors who have figured it out enough to get published.
3. Never stop exploring.
You will naturally reach a point where you’ll be tempted to feel like you’ve read enough and now you don’t have to. Don’t fall for this faulty logic! The writers I hear who say they “don’t have time to read” or–heaven forfend*– tell you they “never read their own genre” are usually the ones I discover later that don’t ever gain much traction in their writing careers.
Yes, we are busy. Yes, we would rather spend all of our time plunking away at our keyboards on our stories. But if you really want to enhance your writing, one of the best things you can do is to keep learning. Keep reading. Find things that challenge and excite you. Discover stories you hate. Learn from other people’s victories and mistakes.
You never know. You just might surprise yourself by finding a new thing you love AND enriching your own stories at the same time. 🙂
Read on, Pen Friends!
* “Heaven forfend” is a fun little phrase I picked up from P.G. Wodehouse‘s Jeeves characters. It’s an archaic version of “heaven forbid” but it’s oh-so-fun to say. Try it on with a British accent.
Dana, signing off in search of a good book.