If you’ve been hanging out with me for a bit then you know my current series of blog posts are designed to give you the advice you need to become a better writer in the most manageable, efficient, and affordable way possible.
Last week I taught you one of the easiest and most effective ways to become a better writer: reading. This week I’m going to give you the tools you need to read like a writer and make every book your personal writing tutor.
Why It’s Important To Read Like A Writer
Like we discussed last week, as a writer you need to be reading. Every book you pick up is an example of what readers are reading today, the kind of characters they relate to, the kind of plot lines that have them clamoring to read the next book.
Every $10.99 book you buy isn’t just an adventure – it’s a binder full of writing lessons just waiting to be learned. But to learn them you need a concrete system that teaches you why you respond (or don’t respond) to certain things in the book.
That is what you’re going to get today.
Step 1: Mark Anything You Like
This step is simple. Anything that excites you, sounds like beautiful prose, has you turning the page, makes you smile, makes you laugh, makes you cry, makes you stop and think – mark all of that down.
How you choose to mark is up to you. Though I prefer hardcover books, I’m extremely lazy so I get everything sent straight to my kindle and that allows me to highlight texts and passages that I think are amazing and can’t wait to learn from. Others choose to underline or use post-it notes. Whatever you choose, just make sure it’s easy to find that page later.
Step 2: Mark Anything You Don’t Like
Same as above – mark anything that doesn't resonate with you. Anything that doesn’t flow quite right, anything that doesn’t make sense, dialogue that sounds a bit too heavy-handed, anything that takes you out of the story in bad way.
No matter how amazing a story is, there’s a good chance you’ll find at least one thing in 300 pages that you don’t jive with (I know I just used the word “jive,” but bare with me). You learn as much (if not more) from the things you don’t like, so be intentional and mark these passages up as well.
Step 3: Finish The Book
Obviously step 3 is self-explanatory, but there are 2 reasons I recommend finishing a book before you stop and figure out what's working (or not working)
Reason 1) You want to read like a writer, but you also want to have the same reading experience as a reader.
Remember in high school when your teacher would force you to annotate a book you already didn’t want to read and it was the worst thing that ever happened in the history of the world ever? Yeah, we don’t want to do that.
Reading is supposed to be fun and just because we’re being super efficient with our time and learning doesn’t mean we can’t have fun. If you only stop to highlight what you love and what you don’t like you don’t mess up the flow of the story
Reason 2) You’ll understand everything you highlighted when you have the full context of the story.
Writers have this nifty habit of “planting” things throughout their stories. So that random rock mentioned in chapter 3 that is the key to saving the world in chapter 17? Yeah, that’s completely intentional.
Often times the things you like or don’t like will be altered when you have the full context of the story. In order to avoid wasting your time and drawing incorrect conclusions, it’s best for you to wait until you have all the pieces before you start figuring out why certain things worked for you and certain things didn’t.
Step 4: Ask Yourself The Following Questions
Why did I like this? What did it do well? / Why didn’t I like this? What didn’t it do well?
This question is one of the most important questions you must ask because it’ll teach you about who you are as writer. It can show you a good example of elements you want to have in your own stories, it can show you what you hope to avoid. It’s the key question for dissecting what works for you and what doesn’t, so if you only ask one question make sure it’s this one.
What effect did it have on me as a reader?
This question is an extension of the question above and can help you decipher what exactly it is about one sentence or passage that resonated with you. Did it connect you to the protagonist in a powerful way? Did it grab you by the neck and pull you into the story? Did it distract you and make you put the book down?
Figure out what each section did well or didn’t do well and you’ll get a valuable writing lesson from everything you mark.
How can I implement this into my writing/avoid this mistake in my writing?
Here’s where you get specific.
Now that you’ve learned something valuable how are you going to implement this into your next story? This is another crucial question to ask because it forces you to take the next step and actually apply what you've just learned to your own writing.
Without this step your new knowledge might just float in the back of your head. You might remember it, but you might not. Taking this step ensures you make your writing better.
Alright, so are you ready to read like a writer?
I created this free worksheet to help you with every book you read. Click below to download it and you’ll be on your way to reading like a writing master.
I’ll see you next week for even more efficient writing tips.
But before you go, let me know in the comments:
Which step above excites you the most? What other ways do you try to read like a writer?