You’ll often hear that in order to write, you need to read. Many prominent authors stick by it and advise aspiring writers to make a practice of always having a piece of literature on the go. It’s good advice, as long as you know that if you are reading to write, you need to look at the writing that you are reading differently. Here’s how I do it:
-Accept and note the areas that you have trouble with, whether they include dialogue, structure, characterization, setting, etc. Know and embrace the fact that you have room to improve.
-Pick a story or a book (or a few!) that really made an impression on you in terms of style, tone, and connection. It should be something that you don’t mind reading again, and that you would give a glowing review.
-Read the story slowly. Take your time. Figure out how that story works and how you could use those tools to better your own. If you have trouble with dialogue, compare the dialogue in the book to yours to see where you are having problems. Note how the writer avoided those problems.
-Now look for things that you would change or improve in the book you have picked. Would you have written a certain scene or character differently? Would you have added more detail, or less description? Would you have chosen a different, easier to pronounce, name?
-Remember that your tone, style, and story are unique. Your voice needs to be different than every other author out there. Your story needs to be your own. Don’t worry about why your writing isn’t at that level yet, worry about how you can get it there.
-Don’t base your solutions on only one book. Reads hundreds, thousands. Read articles, blog posts, newspapers, signs, billboards, short stories, flash fiction, etc. Read everything, and let it all influence you to be a stronger, more confident writer.
Obviously, you don’t want to steal from other authors. If you make your story too much like an existing one, it’s not really yours. What you should take from reading to write is how to fix the problems that you have with your own writing. Figure out where your shortfalls are and learn how other authors have overcome or avoided them.
Although many of us see books and writing as an art form, it is also like a complicated piece of machinery. Just like all of the parts of a machine need to work together, so do all of the elements in your writing. Maintain it, improve it, and never believe that you have reached the top because there isn’t one. You can always get better, you can always improve, and you can always learn from what others have done, are doing, and will do.
How do you read to write? Do you practice it consciously? Who is your most loved author in terms of style, structure, and/or tone?