4 Reading Tips That Will Make You A Better Writer
Writing is a skill that takes practice, but there is more to being a great writer than simply putting words on a page. Reading is an essential skill for every author, no matter what stage of the writing journey you’re on. There’s so much to learn from the work of others that you can incorporate or build on in your own work. Here are four reading tips that will make you a better writer:
Spend time in your genre
The more familiar you are with your genre, the easier it will be to write well within it. Whether it’s historical fiction, romance, horror, or sci-fi, reading widely within your chosen genre gives you a firm foundation on which you can build.
That’s not to say you should only read from the genre you write in. Supplementing your reading with other books is also a valid way to read, and of course, there’s nothing wrong with reading simply for pleasure. But when it comes to your writing, whether you’re a single or multi-genre author, getting to know the genre that you write is the best start you can give yourself.
Intimate knowledge of your genre through extensive reading will give you a feel for common tropes and audience expectations, and give you the tools for subverting those expectations when needed. A writer who has spent time deeply exploring their chosen arena is far better poised for success.
Taking notes is the best way to keep your reading focused and intentional. It means that you approach the act of reading differently than when you’re reading for pleasure. Reading for fun means you can immerse yourself in the story and let it carry you on the waves of your imagination, but when you take notes, you’re more likely to look at a story’s details and really pay attention to the nuance.
Some writers can get very granular, with colour-coded notes or extensive lists of questions for each chapter that they compile as they go along. Others prefer to keep it freeform, noting things like favourite phrases or moments that pack an emotional punch. Either way, you’ll pay more attention to the details and notice what works (and what doesn’t) in other people’s writing if you’re writing things down as you go along.
There’s no right way to take notes, but here are some ideas:
- Underline passages that have emotional power for you.
- Jot down metaphor use and identify which metaphors are used most effectively.
- Note down moments of descriptive writing or instances of overused clichés.
- Annotate with questions about characters’ motivations/reactions as well as descriptions of settings.
- Ask yourself questions. Why was something included in a particular scene, or why did a character make a particular decision?
- Flag instances where you found yourself surprised by an unexpected twist.
You get the idea. Just make sure whatever method makes sense for you is part of your reading routine.
Re-reading is a common and effective way to focus on the writing rather than the story. Re-reading a book similar to the one you’re writing can help you pay more attention to the specifics of storytelling, especially if it’s one you’re familiar with.
A familiar book means you don’t need to worry about following the plot. You already know how it ends, so you’re in a better position to really delve into the nuances of what you read. You’ll be able to pay more attention to things like how the author builds tension, how characters interact with their surroundings, and even how clues and red herrings are used within the plot that you may have only subconsciously picked up on first reading.
The best book to re-read is one that you know well and resonates with the project you’re currently working on in terms of genre, tone, or subject matter. Seeing how someone else has tackled story development in a similar wheelhouse to you can serve as a blueprint for how you build out your own plot. Let yourself learn from those who have already put in the hard work.
Pay attention to pacing and structure
It’s important to keep in mind the pacing and structure of a story while you’re reading it because this will help you build it into your own writing.
As you read, here are some things to ask and jot down as you go:
- What are the key story beats?
- What are the story’s subplots, when do they start, and how do they resolve?
- What is the inciting incident?
- What is the story’s central conflict?
- How does each character grow and change from the beginning of the book until its end?
- If there are lulls in the novel, ask yourself why they occurred and whether those events could have been better structured or written differently.
You might find some interesting insights by analysing the pacing and structure of an existing work. It’s a great way to find out what works, what doesn’t, and incorporate it into your own work. If you’re interested in reading more about these techniques, I can highly recommend the wonderful Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose
Remember that writing is a skill that can be learned, just like anything else. And the best way to learn from other writers is to read. If you’re looking for the most effective way to help build your writing skills (beyond actually writing), the best place to start is with a book.
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