230: How Do You Read Like a Writer?

Writing230: How Do You Read Like a Writer?

230: How Do You Read Like a Writer?

You’re a writer, so you write. But do you read?

Silly question, I know, because of course you read. A better question is how do you read?

Do you read like a writer?

There are ways writers can read that can be both inspiring and instructive, and that’s what we’re going to cover today, so you can see how reading, as Stephen King says, can serve as your  “creative center.”

As we learn to read like a writer, you might be a little afraid I’m going to ruin reading for you—that you’ll no longer be able to read for pleasure, but don’t worry. You’ll still be able to read for fun and distraction.

You can listen, read, or watch to learn more.


Read to Collect Ideas for Your Work
If you want to read like a writer, you’ll benefit from reading with an analytical eye, but before we get into that, the first way to read as a writer is to go ahead and read for inspiration and information, just like you always do.​

You need to understand a topic better, so you research and read about it.
You want to expand your knowledge, so you read and take notes.
You want to improve yourself, so you grab a book that’s going to help you gain a skill or solve a problem.

We writers are always collecting ideas and content. All that you read can feed into your writing.

In fact, we’ve done this our entire lives. If not consciously then subconsciously, we’ve been doing all this collecting.

Now I want you to be more intentional about it. Even as you’re casually reading the back of a cereal box, a tweet, or a magazine article, start to take notes about where this content came from, who wrote it, and how it impacted you, because this is material that you can use in all of your work.
Authors Are Your Teachers
Another big way we can read as writers is to start viewing other authors and writers as teachers. They can instruct us. Francine Prose in her book Reading Like a Writer said this:
I’ve heard the way a writer reads described as “reading carnivorously.” What I’ve always assumed that this means is not, as the expression might seem to imply, reading for what can be ingested, stolen or borrowed, but rather for what can be admired, absorbed, and learned. It involves reading for sheer pleasure, but also with an eye and a memory for which author happens to do which thing particularly well.
So we read and pay attention to the choices an author makes that results in such engaging work.

In literature, especially in poetry courses, we talk about a “close reading,” where every idea, every sentence—even every word—is examined. A close reading reveals all: from the highest level of themes, ideas, organization, and structure all the way down to the details of sentences and word choices.

We see what works and why it works.

And while we do want to look to the best to be able to level up our work, we don’t have to always be reading Shakespeare and Dickinson to improve as writers. Our teachers, our model texts, can be from the kinds of writing we want to pursue. We might find a blog post that serves as an excellent example and study the tone and topics that were covered as well as the length and the layout.

And we can learn from that. So find your experts, your teachers, your models, your mentors…wherever they may be.
Read Close by Annotating

Another way we can read like a writer is to annotate. Mortimer Adler in his book How to Read a Book, written with Charles van Doren, wrote this:
Full ownership of a book only comes when you have made it a part of yourself and the best way to make yourself a part of it, which comes to the same thing, is by writing in it.
He claims that full ownership of a book happens not when you purchase it. It happens when you interact with it on the page. You annotate, you underline, you write in the margins, and in that way you make it your own.

And the book becomes a part of you.

But let me tell you something: I grew up in a household where we did not write…

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