Read Like a Writer

What does it mean to “read like a writer”?

It does not mean reading aloud at an author event, although I now have a new idea for another Teaching Corner article.

To read like a writer means to read material not for pleasure, but for education. It requires a different skillset altogether.

Rather than immersing yourself in a story or reflecting on an idea put forth in a self-help book, a writer can choose to use published material as a master class in writing. A self-guided master class, to be clear.

How to Plan Your Master Class in Writing

1. Find writing material in your genre that wows you. This could be a novel, a short story, a personal essay, a blog post, a poem. You get the idea. Obviously, this means that you have to read in your genre.

The next time you’re reading for pleasure, bookmark or highlight a passage that stands out to you. Don’t worry about analyzing it in the moment. Just mark it for your next learning session.

2. Set aside a block of learning time. This can absolutely be part of your daily writing, but the material you produce may not end up in your current manuscript.

3. Pull out the passage from #1. Read it again slowly. Reflect on what you like about it. Maybe it’s dialogue. Or setting description. Or the use of time transitions. Or a well-orchestrated fight scene. Or a complex idea that’s easily accessible to the reader because of the writer’s prowess.

4. Once you know what made this material stand out, analyze it further. What makes this snappy dialogue? How does this character’s choice fit into the character’s overall arc? What word choices did the author use to engage the reader? Are the sentences long or short, and how does their length affect overall pacing?

5. Play.

Imitate what the published author did that you found so engaging. Read your practice attempt aloud. How’d you do?

Try again.

For most of us, we learn best through expert modeling and personal practice. So look to the masters of the written word to be your expert models. Then playfully give it a go in your own notebook.

If you want to improve your writing craft, don’t be afraid to try new things. Some will flop, of course. Or feel stilted. But others will become a part of your own writing toolbox.

A Note about Plagiarism

I’m in no way suggesting that you copy published work and use it as your own. Nor am I saying, just change minor details and publish it. No.

Use published work as a textbook. Once you’ve identified a writing craft lesson you’d like to try, use your own ideas in your attempt. You’re mimicking style, not copying material.

What will happen as you try out various styles and voices is that your own unique style and voice will get stronger and clearer.