Reading for Writers: Guest Post by Leah Merrill

I CAME, I READ, I CONQUERED: READING FOR WRITERS

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who enjoyed literature class, and those who despised it with the kind of hatred usually reserved for evil dictators and traffic jams. Both these kinds of people become writers. And if you’re a writer, you’ve probably heard that becoming a better writer comes in a two-prong approach: writing every day and reading everything you can get your hands on. But if you’re a literature-class-loathing writer-person, how do you read critically to better your craft without destroying your love of the written word?

  • Otherwise known as the “lazy technique,” osmosis requires only one thing of you: that you read, and read often. Simply by reading as many books as you can, in all different genres, you will not only greatly enhance your reading experience, you’ll be picking up new words and exposing yourself to new ideas and narrative techniques without even trying. Read on!
  • List what you love. Instead of tearing apart everything you read for themes and symbolism and “how-did-this-make-you-feel,” start a BookLove journal. For every book you read, start a new page and list everything you loved about the book—snappy dialogue, lyrical nature descriptions, split timelines, etc. By accentuating the positive, you’ll be able to hone in on what worked for the author, and the kinds of details and styles you might want to use in your own writing.
  • Read the WHOLE book. Just as being a writer in the Internet age isn’t only about putting words on paper anymore, so a book is more that just the story it contains. There’s all kinds of information about the business side of writing tucked away in the “extras.” Read the acknowledgments and the author’s note; see if there are any resources the author used that might be helpful to you. Check out the copyright page and see what imprints publish the kinds of books you like. Who created the cover art, and where did they get that fabulous picture of a vintage bicycle? You’ll start to recognize the names of agents and editors and get a feel for the publishing world—all by reading your favorite books!

 

In the end, writing and reading—and your ability to read critically—go hand in hand. The more you read, the more you’ll learn about writing, and the more you write and learn firsthand what goes into crafting a well-plotted narrative filled with engaging characters, the more you’ll be able to appreciate the books you read. With experience comes the ability to spot writers at work behind the curtain, and rather than ruining reading for you, you’ll feel a new kinship with your favorite authors and a deeper appreciation for those moments when you put down a book and think, “I don’t know how she does it!” Keep reading, keep writing, and someday, someone will be saying that about you.

 

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Leah Merrill is a Kansas City native and writer of more than six impossible things. She leads the LGBT+ writers group QUILTBAG Writers, and can be found blogging her feminist agenda at www.leahmerrillwrites.wordpress.com and on Twitter @la_mer92

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