How To Read When You Re Writing

How To Read When You Re Writing

Many writers say it: "I don't read when I'm writing". They think it​ will contaminate their voice,​ that whatever style they're reading will somehow seep into their work and it​ really won't be theirs. That's only a​ problem if​ you're writing a​ 21st-century urban romance and last night's reading of​ Pride and Prejudice has you making your characters sound like they're in​ an​ English drawing room and not a​ Miami nightclub!

In fact,​ if​ you're not reading while you're working on​ your book,​ you're missing out on​ the​ many ways you can learn from authors past and present who have dealt with the​ very same issues you're struggling with. I once heard that if​ a​ writer is​ stuck or​ has writer's block,​ it's because he or​ she hasn't done their homework,​ and for a​ writer homework is​ reading. But how do you know what to​ read and how to​ make use of​ it? Here are 4 easy tips to​ getting the​ most out of​ your reading.

Identify the​ Strategies/Techniques You're Using in​ Your Book

Take out your book's outline (or notes or​ whatever pages you have written so far) and highlight the​ writer's tools you are using. Now you may not see them as​ tools. For instance,​ your character is​ sitting in​ a​ car and she's having a​ memory of​ a​ car accident that happened when she was little and you tell the​ story of​ the​ accident. That's a​ flashback. Maybe you used internal dialogue,​ maybe you're telling your novel in​ the​ 2nd person voice or​ your whole book is​ historical fiction so getting the​ setting right is​ crucial. Once you've identified your main tools,​ ask yourself,​ "What tool do I want help with the​ most?" Then...

Find Books in​ Which the​ Author Has Used a​ Similar Technique

Sometimes the​ right book will come to​ you automatically. Writing in​ the​ 2nd person voice? Then Jay Mcinerney's Bright Lights,​ Big City comes to​ mind. It's a​ great example of​ a​ strategy that's very tricky to​ pull off. I would definitely want to​ read it​ if​ I wanted to​ be as​ effective as​ he was with his novel. Great examples of​ historical fiction include the​ Known World by Edward P. Jones and anything by Toni Morrison. When I was learning how to​ use flashbacks effectively in​ my novel I re-read Pat Conroy's the​ Prince of​ Tides and the​ Mourner's Bench by Susan Dodd. Ideally as​ a​ writer you are reading extensively and the​ books that come to​ mind for you will be ones you have already enjoyed and know well. if​ you need a​ few ideas you can try referring to​ a​ compilation such as​ Book Lust by Nancy Pearl where you can find books listed and discussed by their characteristics.

What's the​ Best Way for You to​ Learn From What You're Reading?

Ask yourself this question to​ help you develop a​ way to​ work with what you're learning from the​ book you're reading. it​ may be a​ matter of​ taking a​ few notes on​ the​ types of​ words the​ author uses or​ the​ kinds of​ details he or​ she uses to​ create an​ effective scene setter. or​ it​ could be more complicated. When I was learning about flashbacks,​ I was trying to​ figure out how long you could keep the​ reader in​ the​ past without losing the​ tension in​ the​ present day storyline. So I took the​ Prince of​ Tides and did a​ rough outline of​ it,​ counting out how many chapters and how many pages Mr. Conroy devoted to​ his past and present day story lines. I also noted what the​ reader learned or​ what was revealed in​ each chapter so I could get a​ sense of​ how he paced the​ book. That's just what made sense to​ me--to create a​ visual that could help me grasp the​ whole book. What would help you best understand what a​ writer has done? This is​ important because it​ will help you with the​ last tip...

No Beating Yourself Up!

Reading is​ NOT helpful if​ you spend your time marveling at​ how good an​ author is​ and how you "could never do that." Focusing on​ reading critically and understanding the​ craft will keep you in​ the​ mindset of​ being a​ writer trying to​ learn from another writer. You'll soon see that reading the​ book of​ a​ great author is​ kind of​ like examining a​ designer gown. if​ you look closely you'll see the​ gown has seams just like any other dress--it's just that the​ stitches are smaller and the​ workmanship impeccable so the​ seams aren't as​ evident. as​ you read you too will see the​ workmanship behind the​ art and allow yourself the​ opportunity to​ improve your workmanship likewise. And while it's still possible you "could never do that",​ I can tell you for certain you will "never do that" if​ you don't practice and keep writing!

© 2005 Sophfronia Scott

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