Friday, April 26, 2013

W: Wreading like a Writer

Couldn't resist playing with the spelling there.  Call it the Two Ws.

I've not written much this month on being a writer, but "W Day" seems like the obvious time to get back at it.  Thanks to the Progressive Book Club, I've been thinking more lately about reading as a writer (which is yet another task from reading in order to review, though the two are related).

What do I mean by reading like a writer?  Are there really different ways of reading?  You bet--I can think of at least 4 big ones without even trying.  Let's start with the way I read when I just want to shut my brain down so I can go to sleep.  This is what I think of as reading in lieu of watching TV.  I'm letting a story unfold, not putting a whole lot of myself into it.  Just absorbing and enjoying.  Beach reading.

Other times I may read for information or education. That's not just how I read things for work, it's also how I read a lot of non-fiction.  I want to know things, to increase my understanding of the topic at hand.  This requires a conscious engagement, and I usually try to avoid falling asleep.  Still, I'm reading for content, still not reading as writer, though I may look up at times to acknowledge the writer's use of language, if it's that kind of book (I'm fond of natural-history with a literary twist).

Occasionally these days I'll read a book primarily to review it (though mostly I review books I've read for fun).  In that case, I'll read with special attention to the effect on the reader.  If it's a kid's book, I get to try to imagine how a kid would react.  I pay more attention than if I'm on a mental beach.

So what more do I do when I'm reading as a writer?  I pay attention to everything.  How did that plot twist work?  Why that word?  What did the author do to make my pulse increase there?  It's a bit like what we did in school, and there's no question that it's not the same experience as just reading for the fun of it.  But a writer needs to sometimes (not always--by all means sometimes you should just read for the sheer joy of absorbing a story!) look at how other writers' technique works.  Ask yourself what that scene did for the story.  Why this character here?

I like to read mysteries, and I'm writing mysteries too (the first one that might make it to publication is in the final-edit stages).  It's more fun to read them without thinking too hard.  But if I want to learn how to make those false clues and red herrings work, I have to pull back sometimes and study them.  It's easier to do this on a re-reading, but I think at times it's helpful to ask those things of a fresh text.

Reading as a writer isn't easy.  It requires thought and effort, just like everything to do with becoming a good writer.  When it's too much--I just relax and enjoy a book.  But I also remind myself that learning a craft takes time and effort.  If I pay my dues, study with the masters, and really work, I might become the sort of writer someone else might point to and say "see?  That's how it's done."  I can think of no higher praise.


 Also: Only a few more days to enter the Princelings drawing and win a copy of the Ninja Librarian!
a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. This is interesting. I never really thought that there were different kinds of reading before, and your differentiations made sense.


    1. Dee, I'm ashamed to say it's kind of new thought to me, too, at least with regard to reading as a writer. I was an English major for about a decade and a half, so reading critically isn't new--but writing has changed my approach on that, because I'm interested in different things.

  2. Hi, Rebecca,
    I like the title of your blog. It's true that as writers we have to learn how to read as both reader and writer. When my eyes start to glaze over when I'm editing, I take that to mean the reader will feel the same effect. Good thing is, we grow with each novel we write and it's easier to edit each time.

    J.L. Campbell writes Jamaican Kid Lit

    1. Hi, J.L. You are right about it getting easier to edit. My first novel (mercifully dumped in the bottom of a drawer) took 10 years to write and 5 more to edit because I just cringed every time. I've mostly attributed my greater comfort with editing to learning to separate myself from my work--but I'll hope some is because the writing really is better!

      I checked out your blog--I'm going to have to go back and look over the whole month. It looks like you have some good info on there.

  3. I love good non-fiction, but sometimes it can be tedium and I can quickly get sleepy. When I read good fiction I think "I wish I'd written that!".

    An A to Z Co-Host
    Tossing It Out

    1. I am totally addicted to reading in bed. It's always a tough choice: read non-fiction and fall asleep before I've read enough to matter or read some exciting bit of fiction and end up staying up too late!

  4. Ah, the different ways of reading! Yes, there are different mindsets when I sit down to read, as well, but I will say that the vast majority is "beach reading" for me. I like to get lost in the book without having to analyze it, if I can.

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse

    1. Oh, me too. This is more about needing to make a commitment to read more thoughtfully a little more often.

  5. Yes, I don't do enough Wreading as a Writer... but then again if I want to review it I think that's fair. Reading like a reader is hard enough for me! I shall explore this concept in the next book I read... or maybe the one after that ;)

    That looks like a great Giveaway, btw - and your book's a prize? Well, it's in good company, I see!

    Jemima at Jemima's blog

    1. Yes, what a great givaway! Seems to me there's a real cute book about a couple of guniea pigs being given away, too. . . :)

      Thanks so much for running that giveaway, Jemima.

  6. I don't know that when I read like a writer, I go quite so in-depth, but I find since I've fully immersed myself in writing, it's impossible to read something without dissecting it.

    Have fun with the rest of a-z. :)

  7. Thanks, Jessica! I'm not sure I ever get all those elements in my mind at once, but I'm trying to pay a little more attention.

    Right now I'm trying to read a book in a day and half, so I can review for Monday. It will be a bit easier when the A to Z is over--but it's given me lots of momentum and lots of ideas!


We want to hear from you! Tell us your reactions, or whatever's on your mind.