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!