When facilitating Writers Write, the first thing we tell delegates is that writers write. The second thing we tell them is that writers read. Here are three ways to read as a writer.
Our love of storytelling comes from reading. Under the covers at night. On trains and planes and buses. During lazy Sunday afternoons or on holidays. Books become your best friends.
The spark …
Reading, or rather the love of reading, is the spark that ignites our own creativity. Then we decide we’ll try our hand at writing ourselves — we sit in front of the blank page, with a dry mouth and our heart beating a little faster, and make our first attempt at entering the world of the novel.
The leap …
The only difference is that this time we’re doing it as artists and not readers. Eudora Welty, the famous short story writer, calls this the ‘leap into the dark’ — those first cautious, often tentative, sometimes clumsy, steps into penetrating the mysteries of fiction.
The lessons …
Of course, once you start writing — and understanding the techniques and structure of storytelling — you’ll never read a story or novel the same way. Yes, books still remain your friends — your door to a world of escapism — but now they are also your teachers. And if you pay attention, they have innumerable lessons to teach us as writers.
3 Ways To Read As A Writer
- The good, the bad, the ugly. Don’t just study books you love, but also books you didn’t enjoy. Why did you have such a reaction? What was the author doing to make you feel so strongly? Was it the style? Characters? Plot?
- Keep a pen and a sharp mind. For those who don’t like to write in books, keep a note book — jot down descriptions or dialogue that stood out for you, mark the points of the story twists or mini climaxes … or mark the points where you lost interest and were bored. Make notes on the characters, especially the main character.
- Colour codes. Take coloured highlighters and start marking up a novel you’ve read (make sure it’s not your first edition or favourite copy): use different colours for plot, character, dialogue, and so forth. In this way, you’ll see how other authors are ‘assembling’ their books.
An imitation game?
No. Not at all. Imitating or copying other writers is precisely what writing isn’t, Welty stressed in her essay ‘Words into Fiction’ — and that’s not what we’re encouraging. But by studying other books with your ‘writing hat’ on you’ll start to see more clearly what elements you need to structure make a story and you can make sure you have these in your novel.
You’ll be ready to make your own leap into the dark from reading to writing.
Top Tip: If you want to learn how to write a book, sign up for our online course.
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