Friday, August 13, 2010

Reading Like a Writer

Before I began writing seriously, I had no idea I'd have to alter the way I read. I still read solely like a reader. I fell into pages, fanned my fingernails on the corners of the paper--Uhmm...NEVER, EVER fold the edges of a page. In my world, rabbit ears are a major no-no. If you've done it, I forgive you...but you must stop! find a bookmark.

So often I'd skip over paragraphs of setting, even some description, to 'get to the good parts'. *head hanging, tangles covering my shame* I'm way guilty, but pwwease don't haul me off to the APJ: Authors'-Pet-peeves Jail for the Disorderly Readers.

I'm a dialog hog. I love to see, feel, and hear the interaction between characters. That's what usually lures me into committing the ultimate reader sin. I even have nonchalantly skimmed to the end, flashed my eyes on the page to 'accidentally' see the ending. I. Am. A. Fiend. Yes, I know.

But that was before I learned the difference between reading like a reader and reading like a writer. It also was before I realized the time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears that went into a manuscript. Simply out of respect, I don't leap ahead anymore. It is, however, quite difficult at times. *grins, but still tells the truth*

Index cards. 

As versatile as these little buggers already are to a writer, I've found another use for them. Armed with index cards, I stay conscious as I read and then write down any interesting words the author chose to use. It may be a word I'm not that familiar with or it may be one I cherish but haven't used recently. This seems to keep me on my toes when it comes to vocabulary. I usually take two or three cards per book and leave them between the pages as I read, that way I have no excuse for not using them. Often I carry these cards with me, and if I'm at a light in traffic or waiting in some line I'll pull them out and scan, reinforce.

I also make note of a dialog strand that hooked me. Later, I go back and ask myself a few questions: why did it hook me? What was the introduction to that section of dialog? How many characters were involved? What was the setting, etc..? All sorts of questions. I'm sure you can come up with a few yourselves.

Taking notice of order of action--dialog, deepening scene, backstory, back to a deepening scene--is also extremely helpful. Then I can go back and see the points within the book where I was mesmerized and determine why. It's almost like handwritten hindsight. It's neat, and using this technique enables me see the story as well as plot, structure, and character depth more clearly.

Keeping an open mind while reading is not always easy, especially if you are totally engrossed within the text. But it can make a huge difference in how you read as a writer and how you write as a reader.

Tapping Fingers.

(Still on vacation. I MISS you guys. I think we're going to the beach, today. That should help. Enjoy your weekend!!)


  1. Hi Sheri,
    I miss reading like a non-writer. Ignorance was bliss. I didn't notice excessive use of adjectives/adverbs or any other broken "rules". I just read.

  2. I still often read just for the enjoyment. But I don't skim the description anymore. And I love carrying around index cards. Maybe I do read more like a writer.

  3. I still read for enjoyment, but there are times when the writer in me starts analyzing things. :D

  4. Writing has definitely ruined reading for me - at least part way. So so books are now unenjoyable, but those rare gems of amazing prose are now that much better for it.

    Today's guest blogger is Ted Cross!

  5. I find sometimes, I get so engrossed, I forget to notice why and have to read it again. I like this index card idea. Thanks! (I also was very guilty of skipping descriptive passages. I always just read the action!)

  6. I still read like a non-writer. I am terrible at skimming the text to get to the good part! It's a really, really, really bad habit.

    However, I often find myself picking up books now just to read sections of them. I am particularly interested in the tense chosen by authors. I have never written in present tense, and I am considering my first attempt. So, now I find myself picking up books to study verb tense.

  7. I think some stories I would have loved in the past are barely readable for me now. When they do everything "wrong" I get frustrated. Like, didn't you read so and so's blog?!? In the end I just appreciate the craft more.

  8. I so need to try your method! I've been noticing passages and vocabulary more now that I'm a writer, but I never thought of using notecards--that's so awesome!

  9. You all have some really good points. I do have a hard time reading like a reader, now. It kind of sucks. But using those cards seems to help me, keeps my mind on the story for enjoyment a tad more.

  10. Have a great time at the beach!

    I agree with the reading. Ever since I've started writing, I don't read like a reader anymore. I'm way too much a writer to step back.

  11. I know exactly what you mean. Before I started writing on a regular basis, I didn't have an issue with adverbs. Now, I see an overabundance of them on a page and they might as well be written in giant red letters.

  12. I, too, find myself skimming of descriptions...oops. lol

    I find that how much I "read like a writer" depends on how much I'm actually writing at the moment. The note cards are a great idea, if I can summon the self-discipline to use them.

    Have fun on vacation!

  13. If I'm in love with a book, I just read for the enjoyment of it. But then I'll go back to the parts that really pulled me in or amazed me and mark them with sticky notes and jot down why that passage worked, what the author did to deepen the character or the plot.


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