Read Like a Writer

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Earlier this week I posted a Madeleine L’Engle quote about her advice to aspiring writers. Madeleine thinks that writers should keep a personal journal, write some every day and read.

But what to read?

A lot of writers have weighed in on this. Stephen King has said, if you want to be a good writer you have to do two things … read a lot and write a lot. N.M. Kelby says that books provide the writer with an education, the ability to hone your skills and sensibility.

I agree. I also think that reading a variety of different things is important. Just as writing on a regular basis helps you to become the best writer you can be, reading gives you equal parts inspiration and mini-lessons on what makes a piece of writing work or not. Some people only read in the genre that they write. I think this can be limiting. It’s important to know what is out there in your genre, but I feel that it’s also essential to try out books that you might never pick up as a book for pleasure. You can still enjoy the things you are reading as writer, but when you’re reading as a writer you’re looking at each word, sentence or chapter with a critical eye.

Once you shift your focus from reading as a reader to reading as a writer, you see things in other people’s work that inspires you to write differently and to write better. We can learn just as much from the amazing passages in someone else’s writing as we can from the stories that leave something to be desired. In identifying what might be missing in another writers work, we are better able to look at our own work and make those tough decisions.

I have had a lot of synchronicity around the idea of magical realism recently and I realized today that my wip (that has me a bit blocked) might work within this genre really well. I have been reading all that I can about magical realism, including Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate. I’m learning a great deal about this particular form of writing and I’m being entertained. I will read as much magical realism as I can in the coming month and see if I can use what I learn to unlock my own story.

Reading as a writer is good advice.  As Madeleine said, other writers are our greatest teachers. We have access to print at our fingertips every day – newspapers, blogs, short stories…Taking the time to read a variety of different things as a writer gives us an valuable opportunity to be the best writer we can.

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2 responses »

  1. I hear you! I long for more TIME!!!

    I’ve noticed that depending on the source – I can still enjoy a book or other piece of writing as a reader and a writer at the same time. Sometimes I’m just wanting to read for fun, but there’s a great phrase or a metaphor that gives me goosebumps. Then I dog ear the page or underline the passage. Like a trail to lead me back when I’m looking for inspiration as a writer 🙂

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