It’s not a coincidence that most people who write are also big readers. Besides providing entertainment and that window into lives other than our own, there’s a lot that reading can teach us about how to be better writers. To do this though, we have to learn to read critically even as we read for enjoyment. Here’s a few techniques you can use when reading to improve your writing.
This one may be obvious. The more you read, the more words you are exposed to in the correct context and so the more your vocabulary grows. Having a larger vocabulary gives you more words to draw on when you go to write. Now as you read, you tend to pick up some of these words subconsciously, but why not take this opportunity to learn them consciously? As you’re reading, if you come across a word you don’t know, or don’t know as well, see if you can gather the meaning from the context and if not, take the second it takes to look it up and commit it to memory. Heck, you could even make a list of these words for future use.
I learned this one in a creative writing course in University. We were asked to picture an
apple, hold it in our minds, and then afterwards describe it in detail. This is one example of how visualization can help your writing, but even more powerful than doing this exercise is to do it every time you read. As you read, let the words form pictures in your mind. Try seeing the story like it’s a movie, or a dream. Some people do this naturally, but if you don’t, it is a skill worth practising. The more easily you can visualize something, the easier it will be to describe it later when you are writing.
If you want to be a romance writer, read a lot of romance novels. The same goes for any other genre of writing. Once you’ve read enough romance novels, or if you’re reading them critically enough, a pattern will begin to emerge. This pattern will teach you what people expect from the genre you want to write in. Once you know this, you will know how to write in the pattern of the genre and how to break the pattern in new and exciting ways.
4. Foreshadowing and symbolism.
Another skill you can learn from reading a lot, or reading critically, is how to effectively foreshadow events in your own writing. If you pay attention, you can also pick up on common symbols used by storytellers. For example, crossing water tends to indicate a transition of some kind and wearing white can indicate purity or sacrifice. Symbolism can be used to convey themes, for foreshadowing events, or just to clue the savvy reader in to what you are trying to accomplish. Pay attention while you’re reading, especially if you are reading something for the second time to see places where the author leaves you hints for what’s to come. If you can learn to spot these, you’ll be in a better position to know where to put them in your own writing.
5. How the experts do it
Perhaps the most beneficial thing a writer can learn from reading is how the experts do it. Reading critically or not, you can already tell which books you like and which you don’t. Reading critically will tell you why you like them and why you don’t. Then, you can use the good books as examples of how to do things well and the rest as examples of what not to do. Reading a lot of books and paying attention to what works and what doesn’t will go a long way towards helping you realize what works and what doesn’t in your own writing. And this is priceless to any writer.
Do you have any tips or tricks to share? Do you read critically, or just for enjoyment? Please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section below! Thanks for reading.