Friday, July 2, 2010

Reading Like a Writer

So, I figure I'm a well-read person. I have been reading for a long time, and I teach literature, so it's all good.

But just when I thought I was out of world-changing paradigm shifts (the last two being: motherhood, and film literacy, which forever changed the way I view visual media) along arrives another. For the first time ever I am reading and re-reading fiction from a writer's perspective. It goes something like:

Speech marks, moderately long sentence minimally punctuated, grade level vocabulary, attribution tag not necessary because of context, a short paragraph to punctuate the last three longer ones.

And at the same time, all that lit-crit stuff, like: plot, conflict, characterization, description, rising action, etc.

I've never read for chapter length before. Or how many turning points a middle grade plot can sustain. It's like The Matrix! It was there all along and I had no idea. So after decades of reading, I've finally logged my first full year of reading like a writer.


  1. I have always said that writers are better readers than literature critics are. Of course, that offends the crap out of non-creative writers. But I think it's true. You notice the mechanics and structure of writing a lot more when your read like a writer, and it improves your own writing an awful lot, too. And you're right in saying that reading like a writer adds a layer onto the reading process instead of being a trade off. Of course you still see all the plot, conflict, characterization parts. That's the top soil. But when you read like a writer, you also see how everything has been put together. It's eye-opening.

  2. Ha! I love the Matrix analogy! Last night, I started reading Elizabeth George's "Write Away," and I was thinking that I need to read more like a writer if I'm going to ever write that first novel. I've been telling myself I have to wait until I finish the dissertation, but last night I started wondering if I might be able to write it along side the dissertation--during my procrastination times? A crazy thought, I know.

  3. Fie: It's like a new filter has been laid over my eyes. How is your novel coming along?

    GEW: I must get that book! I don't know what to tell you. I did put off writing until I was done with my academic book, but ... now I wouldn't want to defer for anything. Perhaps you should just leap in? In any case, write two, because the first won't sell until you've written the second!

  4. Thanks for the tip! I was, indeed, thinking of trying to do a series of at least three (young adult suspense is my intended genre).

    Oh, and on a similar note to your original post: I think I'm much better at teaching poetry after have taking poetry writing classes and writing poetry.

  5. That is very interesting! From whence are the commentaries coming?

  6. GEW: Have you joined SCBWI? They are a great support organization and their conferences (national x2 or regional) and workshops are terrific. It's a must if you're in the YA field!

    Ink: My head! I just began looking for what I've never looked for before. But I've been reading, workshopping, conferencing, and generally working hard. I'm very fortunate that my department is fully supportive of the shift of direction in my career so I haven't been forced to choose!

  7. I imagine that would take all the fun out it. I think that is why, even though I am a prolific reader, I never really enjoyed English classes.