read like a writer

5 Tips on How to Read Like a Writer (and Improve Your Own Work)

What did your love of writing stem from?

For many of us (myself included), it came first from a love of reading! Just flipping through a musty, old paperback copy of Fahrenheit 451 may be all the inspiration you need to become the next Ray Bradbury.

But is that all reading can do for you as a writer–just setting you upon the path? Or is there enduring wisdom you can gain by continuing your reading?

To claim that reading gives up all its secrets when you become a writer yourself is an outright fallacy. Reading is one of the absolute best ways to better yourself and your craft. It’s like a football team watching film of their opponents’ play. You can really dig in and analyze other authors’ literary movements and know how to utilize those tactics in your own works.

Why do you think our English teachers made us read and decipher Shakespeare? No, it’s not because they wanted to torture us as kids (although I wouldn’t put it past a few of them). It’s so we could have a greater understanding of prose, anachronisms, and other literary engines. Things that can help better our own writing.

Even Malcolm Gladwell stresses the importance of knowing how to read intelligently in his MasterClass!

But some of us have forgotten what we learned about how to read like a writer. So…here are 5 tips you can use to get started (or restarted).

1. Remember the Joys of Reading

You’d be surprised by how many people forget their love reading once they start writing. Seems kind of funny, huh?

It’s like, “Of course, I love reading! That’s why I’m a writer.”

The thing is though…Writing turns you into a critic. And when you read as a critic, you miss out on the things that actually made you love reading in the first place.

By always looking for the next critique, you often fail to immerse yourself in the story and simply enjoy it. So, next time you have a chance, sit down and read just for reading’s sake. I recommend starting with an all-time favorite of yours (my favorites tend to be sci-fi novels).

2. Reread Books with a Purpose

After you’ve read the book as a reader, you’ll know which sections you might want to learn from and which you might want to avoid imitating. Now, it’s time to read again as a writer and look for lessons you can apply to your own writing.

Look at symbolism and sentence structure, thematic sequences and word choice. Just don’t look for everything all at once. Pick an element to focus on each time you read. Compartmentalization is crucial here.

And don’t be upset if you don’t catch everything on the first go around. Just reread it again! This is why I’d recommend starting the process with a favorite story.  You’re more likely to actually commit.

3. Take Notes

Yep. It time to bust out that awesome book stand you got last Christmas and start taking notes.

(If you don’t have a sweet book stand, check these out for some great options!)

With your purpose in mind, jot down anything you find during your reread. Another approach many authors take is to use highlighters–if you’re ok with marking your books– or those little colored sticky flags.

But don’t spend too much time on each note point. This can be done afterwards. Don’t distract from your purpose. However, if you do see something outside your scope, that doesn’t mean you have to ignore it. Simply mark it as an area of interest and keep moving forward. Your note-taking should be swift and efficient.

4. Pay Close Attention to Dialogue

Dialogue is normally the easiest part of a book to read. It’s just natural. There’s a distinct difference between reading scene descriptors and following a conversation. But with this is a double-edged sword.

By being the easiest part to read, it often becomes the most overlooked.

So, put in that extra effort to find out what makes the dialogue so darn easy to follow. Does it build a natural chemistry between the two characters? Or does it clearly define their animosity? See what you can glean from another writer’s dialogue selections.

Without a doubt, learning how to master dialogue can propel your own writing to the next level.

5. Review and Repeat

Now after you’ve got all those notes, it time to break them down. Ask yourself questions and find the answers.

What did the author do well? Or where could they have improved?

Learn from their successes and improve upon their weaknesses. This is how you better yourself as a writer. And guess what’s next….

That’s right. Rinse and repeat. Maybe with a different book this time though. Remember, this is not an overnight process. This is a cycle that should last your entire writing career. So, no need to try pumping everything out all at once.

Take the time to learn how to read like a writer. You and your readers will be happier that you did.


Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

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