Most writers will tell you that they grew up as avid readers. Not all, of course, but a lot of them. I am one of these writers. My parents were diligent. They’d read to me before bed, and I’d spend Saturday mornings wandering the stacks of the Hawaii State Library before my weekly ballet class.
Reading has always been a touchstone for me. The Harry Potter series was my first true love. I’d devour Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, and Ray Bradbury to soothe the anxieties that made it difficult for me to go to class or try new things. When something hard happened, I’d find a story that could help me feel my emotions and sort through them. The 9/11 Attacks, death, disappointment, broken hearts, every difficult thing that I went through, I had words to help me figure it out.
But when you decide to be a writer, it’s a good idea to sometimes approach reading with a slightly different mindset. It’s not that you should stop immersing yourself in books or stop enjoying your books, but you should think about them, too. Pay attention to books, especially books you enjoy and authors that you admire.
Since my reading has slumped, I’ve decided to read 45 minutes a day and record my reading. Part of it is to just log what I read. When I was at my peak, I read about five books a week, mostly speculative fiction and YA with some literature and non-fiction thrown in. That means that sometimes I can’t remember if I read a book or not until after I’ve started reading it again. This will most likely be a spreadsheet with titles, authors, my rating, and a few words about the book.
The second thing I’m doing is keeping a reading journal. This is what I think is most important for writers. Keep track of what you liked or didn’t like, talk about dialogue, characters, setting, style, anything, and (mostly importantly) write about why these things did or didn’t work. If something distracted you and took you out of the story, then write about it. These are just notes, so write about whatever you want.
The last thing is reviews. I don’t know if I’ll do them for every book or if I’ll post them, but I want to be able to remember a book by reading a few paragraphs. It’ll also help me when I’m asked to give recommendations or when I’m asked what my books are most similar. I may also research their publishing houses, publishers and agents, and keep that information here or on the log.
Questions to Ask Yourself
To help me focus on what I needed to focus on, I compiled a list of facts and questions to keep track of as I read. These questions are for before I start the book, before and after each day I read, and after I finish the book, so the only time I’m distracted from the writing are when I’m writing down a word or phrase I don’t know or taking note of writing I like.
Before Reading the Book
- Facts: Title, Author, Related Books (if in a series or the same world), Length, Date Started and Finished
- Why did I choose this book?
- Preconceptions of the Author, Series, or World.
- Thoughts on the Cover.
- Expectations of the book and author.
During the Book
- Define unknown words.
- Write (and answer) questions.
- Write favorite lines.
- Thoughts on plot & characters.
After the Book
- Would I read it again and why?
- Would I read more by this author?
- What emotions did the book inspire, if any?
- Did the book remind me of anyone or anything?
- Do I still have any questions and are they intentionally left by the author?
- Who should or shouldn’t read the book and why?
- What worked or didn’t work?
- Who are my favorite and least favorite characters?
- Identify literary devices and if they worked (don’t work too hard for it; this isn’t class).
- What was the significance of the title and the cover?
Of course, there are other things you can write about. I just use the questions as a guide and prompt for my notes and I often ignore or replace parts of it as needed (especially if I like the book), so feel free to go with your gut. I don’t know how long I’ll keep this up and how it’ll transform as I try the project out. Chances are, it won’t end up quite this thorough, but it’ll push me to read better. Just like everything else, I do better if I start off with insanely high expectations and find my sweet spot somewhere below it.
I don’t think that this level of thoroughness is for everyone, but I do think everyone should read. Read something, read in your genre or out of it. Read whatever you enjoy. I really don’t know what you’re doing writing if you don’t enjoy reading, too. And if you don’t enjoy reading, then you should read just for market research.
What do you think of my writing plan? Do you guys think I left anything off the list? Is there anything unnecessary there?
- The most enjoyable way to improve your writing skills (prdaily.com)
- Writer-Readers (christiansread.wordpress.com)
- Reading for Writers… (jamigray.com)