Reading Like A Writer

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Blogger Tabitha Olson writes some of the best book reviews I’ve read. Even when she doesn’t like a book, she manages to analyze it so thoroughly, that half the time I still want to read it, just to be able to fully appreciate the insight on craft that she so eloquently shares. I also know that when I read her reviews, she isn’t going to cheer for something that she doesn’t feel is quite there. But she’s never insulting or offensive. She always strikes a great balance.
Today she’s here to share her thoughts on reading, writing and reviewing. Take it away, Tabitha!
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Honesty. What does it mean to you? I don’t mean the dictionary’s definition. What does it mean to you?
I’ll tell you what it means to me: an open mind, balance, objectivity, and exploration. Basically, it means I need to take a step back and look in places I don’t ordinarily look. It’s very eye-opening, and I apply this concept every time I sit down to read.
When you pick up a book, what are you intending to get out of it? Just enjoyment or entertainment? Or do you want to see how published authors manage their craft? For me, I like to read for entertainment, but it always come second to craft. So, I tend to view reading as a learning experience with the added bonus of good entertainment value. 🙂
But how do you turn reading into a learning experience?
It’s not easy. But, since nothing about writing is easy, that should come as no surprise. 🙂 In order to get the most out of a reading experience, I have to embrace every aspect of honesty. This manifests in a few ways.
Put yourself in the author’s shoes.
Since writers do this kind of thing all the time, that shouldn’t be too difficult. 🙂 Putting yourself in the author’s shoes helps you to be in the right place so you can better understand the story. In order to get the most out of this exercise, two things must happen. 1) Figure out what the author intended to accomplish with his story. 2) Look at the story itself and figure out what it actually accomplished. Yeah, it’s hard, but there are always little clues that help us along. When you first start out, it might require a re-read or two. Once you’ve done this, though, you can move on to the next point…
Put on your critiquing hat.
I firmly believe that critiquing can teach us as much about writing as actually writing, so I try to critique as much as I can. When I read a book, I basically treat it like I’m reading my critique partner’s work. I start out with the assumption that there’s going to be both good and not so good stuff, and make mental notes accordingly. Reading a published book is different from critiquing because the author can’t take the book back and make changes. BUT, he can improve his writing going forward. So, if you review books, you can write an honest review in the vein of a constructive critique, and learn something in the process. 🙂
Be objective about what works and what doesn’t.
There are two aspects to this. 1) Strong reactions, either positive or negative. Take a good look at why the story evoked such a strong reaction from you and explore it. If you loved it, or if you hated it, figure out why. There are likely several aspects to this. 2) Don’t let the weaker reaction slip away. Even if you hated the book, what did it do right? If you loved the book, what could have been better? There are always two sides to the coin, and we need to be objective and honest with ourselves by looking at both of them, because that’s the key to maximizing our learning experience.
To be the best writers we can possibly be, I think we need to read widely and analyze everything. What did we love, and why? What would we have done differently? Be honest with yourself, and with the books you read, and you’re on your way toward creating a good learning experience, which will ultimately make you a better writer.
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Thank you, Tabitha! You can read more of her book reviews (and sign up for this month’s giveaway) at her blog, Writer Musings.
Monday’s a holiday so I won’t be posting, but I’ll be back Wednesday. Hope you all have a fabulous Memorial Day weekend!!

13 thoughts on “Reading Like A Writer

  1. I love the idea of this process, although I wouldn't go so far as to post my results online (personal preference). But vigorously analyzing an author's intent, and their execution of that intent…awesome!

  2. Excellent points and it's funny I came across this today. I just downloaded my favorite book to my Kindle yesterday. I hadn't read it in a few years, but I love the author's style of writing. Reading it last night, I can see where she has influenced me, and also I can see how much I have yet to learn.

  3. Thanks Sherrie. Thanks Tabitha.

    I've been reading like a writer for a long time now. Which is why I don't do book reviews. I haven't learned the fine art of finesse.

    Have a great weekend. See you Wed.

  4. I am with Anne about reading. I don't want to write reviews on the books I read I think it would take away the wreck less pleasure I get when I am reading. I love reading, aside from music; it is one of my most expensive indulgences. I do love the insight to the reading process here, Tabitha. I hadn't thought of is structurally as you presented it, but I think we readers at some point whether we realize it or not, may consider these things… hmm, maybe not.

  5. I love this learning-approach to reading and reviewing, and I definitely appreciate a well-balanced, honest review.

    Thanks for sharing this with us. I'll definitely check out Tabitha's blog! Have a relaxing long weekend!

  6. Whether or not to post reviews is a very difficult and personal decision. I took several deep breaths before my first review. 🙂 And then I decided to keep doing it because I wanted to promote books, even the ones I didn't care for. So I keep posting them. 🙂

    Christine, author/book bashers drive me up a wall, too. There's just no call for that. If someone doesn't like a book, even hates a book, that's fine! There's no reason to throw around insults…

  7. I also try to read as a writer, but I think for me, the entertainment usually comes first and the critiquer second. Or maybe the reader who wants to be entertained (or moved, or enlightened) is sitting up there arm-in-arm with the critic, since I hear from both of them while I read!

  8. Great advice! I, too, think we can learn a ton from reading other writers' work, and studying it with a critical and admiring eye!

    Thanks, Sherrie and Tabitha! Have a great weekend!

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