If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.
~ Stephen King
I think we’ve all heard some kind of advice like this, at one time or another: “If you want to be a good writer, be a good reader.” And while it does sound true, I always wonder what exactly being a good reader means. Yes, reading is important to writing, but how do you read in such a way that it actually helps your writing? Welcome to my attempts at figuring out the answer.
1. Slow down. This is the one I have the most trouble with, but it’s also the most important. I’m a fast reader, which can be useful for school, but a handicap when I try to savor each word. All of me wants to speed up, breeze through the book, but I know that I will glean more from it if I force myself to read every single word on the page and pause to marvel at how well a sentence or scene or character is constructed.
2. Underline. I hesitated to put this on here, because I know that the “Should You Mark Your Books?” dilemma can be a heated one in bookworm circles. However, provided that it’s your own book, underlining is a powerful tool to help you find and dwell on well-crafted sentences and passages. Starring and bracketing are helpful, too, as they force you to stop and think about whatever scene you’re highlighting, but nothing makes you reread each word like underlining does.
3. Copy quotes. As you all know, I adore good quotes, and I have a special notebook dedicated to literary treasures I’ve unearthed. Not only is it delightful to page through, my quote book also helps me write better. The act of copying down someone’s writing, word for word, is so powerful. It engrains the words in your brain and lets you feel what it is like to create such a sentence or paragraph. Preferably, you’ll copy down quotes by hand, because handwriting uses more of your brain than typing. If you’re too tired, or the passage is really long, then by all means, go ahead and type it up. However, try to copy most of your quotes the old fashioned way.
4. Memorize. This has the same idea as all the others—by memorizing a passage in a book you particularly like or think is well-written, you’re imprinting it into your brain even more deeply. By reciting the passage out loud, you’re getting a feel for its rhythm, structure, and flow. I have actually never done this with books, but recently I’ve been memorizing a lot of poetry, and it has definitely helped all my writing, not just poetry. Of course, memorizing can take time—but hey, summer’s coming!
5. Recap. Once you finish a book, it is so useful (and fun!) to go back and think about what you liked and didn’t like about the book. Even better, write all those thoughts out. Often, I shy away from this because it feels like a school assignment. However, this doesn’t have to be a formal essay—it can be a random collection of your impressions about the book, jumping from one topic to another. You don’t have to write about every aspect of it—dialogue, characterization, plot, etc.—just whatever you want to remember for your own writing.
So, my fellow writers, do you agree or disagree? Do you have any other tips you use to get the most out of books?
Oh, and because I couldn’t resist: