You want to improve your writing, and one of the best tools at your disposal is reading.
This article will give you practical tips on how to hone your writing skills by reading intentionally and analytically.
Why does reading matter for writers?
Let’s start by understanding why reading is essential for enhancing your writing skills.
1. Expand Vocabulary
Reading exposes you to new words that you can later incorporate into your writing. A rich vocabulary adds depth and nuance to your work, allowing you to convey ideas more precisely.
2. Understand Structure
Pay attention to how skilled authors organize their sentences and paragraphs. This will give you insights into creating a flow that keeps readers engaged and makes your arguments more compelling.
3. Gain Insight into Different Styles
By reading a variety of authors and genres, you get a sense of different writing styles. Understanding these styles can help you develop your own voice and adapt your writing to different contexts.
4. Learn Effective Storytelling Techniques
Storytelling is more than just stringing words together; it’s about crafting a narrative that resonates. Reading allows you to study how successful authors build tension, develop characters, and create satisfying conclusions.
5. Cultivate Empathy
Reading gives you a window into different perspectives and experiences. This can enrich your writing by helping you create more authentic characters and more relatable scenarios.
How to choose what to read
Now that we know why reading is important, let’s discuss how to choose the right material.
1. Read Widely
Don’t limit yourself to one genre or subject. Reading across a broad spectrum exposes you to different writing techniques and broadens your understanding of various topics.
2. Select Quality Works
Choose books that are well-reviewed or come highly recommended. These works are more likely to provide valuable lessons on effective writing and storytelling.
3. Consider Relevance
Select reading material that aligns with your writing goals. If you’re a sci-fi writer, for instance, focus on classic and contemporary works in that genre to understand its conventions and innovations.
4. Annotate While Reading
Take notes on aspects of the text that catch your eye, such as unique phrases or effective plot devices. This active engagement will make it easier to remember and apply these elements in your own writing.
5. Ask Critical Questions
While reading, pause to ask why the author made specific choices. Was it to develop a character, build tension, or highlight a theme? Understanding the ‘why’ can help you make more informed decisions in your own writing.
6. Look for Underlying Themes and Techniques
Identify recurring motifs, symbols, or literary devices in the text. Recognizing these can deepen your understanding of thematic development and how to use similar techniques effectively.
7. Practice Mimicry
After finishing a book, try writing a short piece mimicking the author’s style. This exercise will help you understand the nuances of that style and how you can incorporate similar techniques into your own work.
How to read with a writer’s eye
Reading isn’t just about consuming content; it’s about analyzing it. Here’s how to read with a writer’s eye.
1. Annotate While Reading
Don’t just glide over the words; interact with them. Use sticky notes or annotations to mark passages that stand out in terms of language, plot, or technique.
2. Ask Critical Questions
Always ask ‘why’ when you encounter a powerful sentence or a plot twist. Understanding the author’s intention will make you more conscious of the choices available when you write.
3. Look for Underlying Themes and Techniques
Identify motifs, symbols, and recurring phrases. This teaches you how authors create layers of meaning and how you can do the same in your writing.
4. Summarize Each Chapter
After you finish a chapter, summarize it in your own words. This forces you to distill the key points and understand the core of the narrative, which can be invaluable when constructing your own stories.
5. Compare and Contrast
Read works by different authors back-to-back and note the differences in style, tone, and structure. This exercise sharpens your critical eye and helps you appreciate the breadth of techniques available to you.
Translating reading into writing
Knowing how to read is one part of the equation; applying it to your own writing is the other. Here’s how to bridge the gap.
1. Practice Mimicry
After reading, write a short piece mimicking the author’s style. This will deepen your understanding of the nuances in their work and how you can adapt similar techniques.
2. Incorporate New Vocabulary
Use the new words you’ve discovered in your own writing projects. This not only enriches your vocabulary but also makes your narrative more engaging.
3. Apply Learned Techniques
Implement the storytelling methods, character development, or structure you’ve noted from your reading. Purposeful application helps solidify these techniques in your own skill set.
4. Get Feedback
Share your work with peers or mentors to see if your writing has improved. Constructive criticism can highlight areas where your application of reading insights has been successful or needs tweaking.
5. Rewrite Existing Work
Take an old piece of your writing and rework it using techniques and insights gained from your reading. This can offer a tangible measure of your progress.
Don’t be afraid to blend styles or techniques from different authors. Experimentation helps you find your own unique voice.
7. Reflect and Journal
Keep a writing journal to jot down your observations, struggles, and triumphs as you apply what you’ve learned. This reflection is key for ongoing improvement.
How to set up a reading schedule
To make all of this work, you’ll need a structured reading plan.
Consistent Reading Time
Set aside specific times for reading each day or week. Consistency is key in developing and maintaining the skills you pick up.
Balance Reading and Writing
Your reading shouldn’t overshadow the time you allocate for writing. Maintain a balance to ensure you’re actively applying what you’re learning from your reading.
Review and Adjust
Regularly review your progress in both reading and writing. If you find that one is not enhancing the other, it’s time to adjust your strategies or your reading list.
You’ve got the tools and the tips—now it’s time to act. Integrate reading into your writing routine and consciously apply the techniques you learn. There’s no shortcut to becoming a better writer, but reading offers you a roadmap. Follow it.