Reading with Open Eyes


When people talk about being writers or authors, they often in the same breath mention that you can’t be a writer without also being a reader. But reading for pleasure isn’t exactly what they mean. What kind of reader do you need to be in order for that time to be useful to you as a writer?

Yes, reading in general is beneficial as a writer. Even if you are simply reading for pleasure, you will absorb things unconsciously that may come out in your writing.  We are all products of our experiences and our environment. But, it’s important to learn how to be a conscious critic and analyst when it comes to studying a genre, a character archetype and more. These skills will help you understand writing as a whole and give you greater comprehension of your chosen genre.

As a former English/creative writing major, I am well-versed in the art of analytical reading. Actually, a big part of a number of my fiction writing classes involved reading different pieces of fiction simply for the sake of dissecting the author’s process. We even went so far as to analyze the structure of a novel. When your professor tells you that a novel is nothing more than 40 scenes and each scene is 5 pages and that’s how you get a 200 page novel, the curtain isn’t just opened, but it’s tossed aside with a flourish that knocks it off the rod. The magic is gone – at least for a time. Then you remember how much you like stories anyway and you keep moving forward with your life.

In addition to the many revelations I had as student of literature, I acquired what is perhaps the most important skill of being a reader as an aspiring author: how to maintain a sense of awareness when reading instead of being fully immersed in the story. Believe me, I much prefer the full immersion. But, when I’m reading  in order to glean a particular something out of it, I have to approach it with a different mindset.

Here are a few tips that might come in handy.

  1. Remind yourself of your purpose in reading. You have to keep your head above water all on your own. A good writer will draw you in, so you have to fight this inclination.
  2. Think about what you’re reading as you’re reading it (and afterwards too!). If you are intentional as you read, you will find that you start to pick up on details more easily and more quickly. Be conscious of the mechanics of what you are reading. Style, structure, voice, tropes. Make note of them for these all will help you in your quest for writing your perfect novel.
  3. Talk it over with a fellow reader/writer. There’s a reason why English majors flock together to talk books. Discussion yields great fruit, particularly if it’s a book that your buddy has also read. You both may glean something different from the text, but that’s just even more food for thought.

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Reading with awareness and intention takes practice and conscious effort. I still have to work at it because I love being enthralled and lost in a story. But once you master the skill, I think you’ll find that your reading will help your writing even more. Good luck and happy reading/writing!

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