How to read like a writer

Reading widely and deeply.
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How to read like a writer.

By David Joel Miller, writer, blogger, and mental health professional.

Writers need to read widely.

As a beginning writer, I frequently saw the advice that I needed to read widely. I’ve really been trying. Honest. You would think that with all this isolation taking place the last few years because of Covid, we would all have had plenty of time to follow that advice. It didn’t work that way for me. Did you get it to work that way for you?

Reading widely has introduced me to many new authors and some very different writing styles. However, I’m not sure that’s really helped my writing. First of all, I’m trying to write in my own voice. When I say writing in my own voice, that’s both literally and figuratively. For me, writing means dictating.

While I thoroughly enjoyed reading a lot of these new-to-me authors and their unusual styles. But were it not for the high recommendations from writing coaches, these books are not the kind of thing I would usually read and, therefore, not the kind of thing I would normally write. Does that mean this was wasted time? I certainly hope not.

One thing I’ve learned to avoid is getting so caught up in enjoying the story that I stay up late at night finishing books, and when I’m done, I know how it ends but I have not learned much about how the author did what they did.

I’ve also learned that I need to read deeply.

Reading deeply involves slow reading and really paying attention to the techniques the author uses. I rarely get that kind of insight the first time I read a book. Reading deeply means picking up the same book and reading it again. This time with different eyes. Once you know what will happen and how it will end, you can pay more attention to how the author creates the mood, the suspense, and all those other techniques that beginning writers need to learn.

Reading deeply also means reading multiple books by the same author. You don’t get the full sense of how J. K. Rawlings crafted her books by reading just one of them. I’m in the process of reading the entire series of Harry Potter books. And to really understand the techniques, I’ve had to read some of those books more than once.

Does that mean I will turn into another J. K. Rawlings? Definitely not. I don’t know that I could write the way she does, no matter how many years of study and how many drafts of the manuscript I would go through. And I’m quite sure that wouldn’t take me where I want to go as a writer. What I’m looking for are ways to improve what I write, not ways to write like someone else.

I have followed that same process with a couple of other authors who write in totally different genres. The reading deeply process has taught me a lot about writing. Unfortunately, studying craft by studying other authors’ books reminds me of trying to become a basketball player by watching replays of a lot of Michael Jordan games. I may learn to recognize how people are doing what they do, but I still have to practice what I’m going to do repeatedly until I become better at doing what I do.

The challenge of reading both widely and deeply is that both activities consume a lot of time. Time that I’d also like to be spending writing and that I need to spend coping with my everyday life.

I’m also supposed to read a lot in my genre.

That’s another one of those things that’s harder than it looks. I’m not sure about the book I’m working on. What genre is it? I know I had the idea. I know it’s kind of like some other books I’ve read, but it’s also kind of different.

So I launched into a program of trying to read widely, hoping to snag the genre I’m after in this wider net. Unfortunately, selecting a genre is more like wading through the swamp than struggling with the two edge sword. You can put your feet in a lot of places in your writing efforts along with all that reading and still not make much progress.

Reading widely and reading deeply are two very different things.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller.

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now! And more are on the way.

For these and my upcoming books, please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

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For more information about David Joel Miller’s work in mental health, please visit the website.

For my videos on mental health, substance abuse, and having a happy life, please see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

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