When a writer needs to read like a writer

The most profound lesson that any writer should be learning is to read. But not only to read, good writer needs to read from a writer’s eyes. And it’s hard.

I was not born to read. In fact, I used to not like reading. I read when I was young, partly because my sister likes to read, and as a jealous little sister who wanted to have the same skills as her, I began to read, too.

But the books that I read are not many. If I have to redo my youthful years, I would force myself to read more, because at that time I have all the time in the world. Just like what Ben Carson‘s Mom did.

During high school, I began to know Mitch Albom. I love all his books. I began to read Harry Potter, and proudly I can say that I’m a fan, I read most of the books twice or three times. Then, I fell in love with the Inheritance Cycle. Christian Paolini just blew my mind. The completely different world that he has created, was just, fascinating.

But I never read widely.

Every writer has already been told of this: you want to be a good writer? Read widely. Read nonfictions, read fictions. Read memoirs, and science fictions. Read those crime novels, savour Agatha Christie. At least read one of Shakespheare’s, Jane Austin’s, and Hemmingway’s. Well, I haven’t read even one of theirs.

That said, I love nonfiction. I love memoirs and autobiographies. But I hate fiction. Science fiction is a different story, because it is imaginative and creative. But fiction? It’s just an imagination of something that may or may not be happening. While science fiction will not happen, fiction stories may. Or may not. And I just I couldn’t live not knowing that. In sum, when I go to a bookshop, I ignored fiction section completely.

And I hate complicated English. Well, it just doesn’t make sense. I’m not a fan of some fancy words. I hate it when people describe a scenery in three long pages, because I know, I will skip it altogether and jump to the section when actions happen, because that’s the most interesting part. Partly, maybe, because my level of English is not as good, and I have no idea of the writer’s use of simile, metaphor, or any other linguistic techniques; they are just too damn complicated for me.

So when professional writers all around the world tell me that as a writer, I need to read like one, oh, if only doing it is as easy as writing it down…

In a sense, to become a better writer, I need to be able to become a better reader. Not only losing myself into a good book, I need to take a step back and analyse the reason why I’m being absorbed towards that book. That way, I can adapt some techniques that will work for my writing, and improve even more.

What about you? Do you read like a writer, or do you read like a reader?


7 thoughts on “When a writer needs to read like a writer

  1. Hi Marcella. I could not help but notice the similarity between our reading habits. I am a 21-year old engineer from India. I also have a sibling who reads voraciously. I also love Harry Potter. Even I want to go back into the past and read more. I also like non-fiction more than fiction.

    And the answer to your question – I read like a reader :-)

  2. I have changed over the years. When I was younger, I would read anything, and devour books, sometimes 3 a week.

    When I hit 16, I discovered computers and the internet and I stopped reading. It was only within the last year that I started to read again (I am 35), I would dabble in book,s and read maybe 1 or 2 a year, but nothing major.

    It was not until a year ago I started to write again. I had written many stories and pieces in my teens, but all that stopped.

    Now when I read, I read as a writer. I am constantly looking for reasons, why a paragraph works, how I would have described it differently. And I think it has made the reading experience both better and worse.

    Well written words are wonderful. The mastery that someone uses to tell a story amazes me. However badly written fiction makes me scream in anger whereas as a teen i would have skipped the bad prose.

    So tha’ts a long winded way or saying I dunno :)

  3. Hi Shashank! Wow we do have a lot in common in terms of our reading habits…maybe you can tell me some of your favourite books for me to read (I don’t usually read books randomly, but through recommendations lol) – perhaps we have the same taste :p

    And hi Phil! I totally agree with you on loving to read a well written piece – it’s just a beautiful piece of art that enables you to use your imagination! And well done for reading like a writer, I should really start trying to do that :)

  4. Hello Marcella, I did an Honours degree in Literature so that I could learn to read like a writer but it helped that I have always loved Literature. There is fiction out there which you will truly love, you simply haven’t found it yet – it’s a bit like finding a soulmate.

  5. Hi Marcella.
    In my childhood, I was a huge fan of Enid Blyton books. I read a large number. I also read and liked Nancy Drew mysteries for a brief period.
    As I grew up, I was less into fiction and looked towards reading stories of great men and establishments. I read Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography named “My Experiments With Truth” – if you like non-fiction and know a bit about Gandhi, this should be a very good read. The only complaint I have is that the translator has not done a very good job. The book was originally in Gujarati (a regional language in India).
    I have also read “The Polyester Prince” – it was a biography of Dhirubhai Ambani, the great Indian industrialist (and indirectly my father’s employer and our family’s bread source). But, the book was not available. I had to read the e-book.
    I recently read “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson. It is a wonderful read. The language, the narration and the neutrality maintained by the author makes this book a must-read. Please do read it, if you haven’t already.
    I am currently reading “It’s not about the bike” by Lance Armstrong. I will let you know how I found it. Cheers :-)

  6. Hi loonyliterature! :). Maybe you should give me some suggestions? The only fiction books that I’ve read are… The Notebook, PS. I love you, … Atonement. …I can’t even remember anything more on top of my head. And oh, of course all four books by Mitch Albom’s, they are the exception. :p

    Hi Shashank! My sister is a HUGE fan of Enid Blyton. Too bad that I haven’t read any ;(. I hope now is not too late. Steve Jobs’ memoir is definitely next on my book list (right now I’m reading “Escape from Camp 14”, which is about the first North Korean prisoner who ran away from concentration camp)… And Lance Armstrong’s book looks interesting! =D.

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