Reading and Writing – A Love Affair

Keyboard and Book

Two pieces of advice I hear most often from accomplished authors, when asked by novices like myself how to become a better writer, are 1) read constantly and 2) write something every day.

There is a strong connection between reading and writing. This seems obvious, especially to most writers, as most of us happen to be avid readers as well. Reading for the pure enjoyment of it is a pleasure all its own. And I certainly still do that. However, I have also found that doing a close reading of a text yields a wealth of insight that can be added to my tool-set as a writer. Sometimes I will do two readings of a text–one simply as a reader, enjoying a text, immersing myself in the story, loving and hating the characters, etc., and another as a writer. Reading as a writer is something different than reading as a reader. What I mean by “reading as a writer” is reading and paying close attention to the author’s use of  style, word-choice, language, themes, pacing, dialog, plot points, tropes, story arcs, imagery and a whole slew of other literary elements and devices–all the “magic tricks” of a good writer, or rather, tools of the trade. We learn these by reading, and paying attention to what we are reading, and then practicing on our own. Close reading is fast becoming a lost art in this digital age of click, click, click, short attention spans, and 140 character limit twitter feeds. Yet it is an art I hope to preserve in my own life.

Writing is a craft, a skill. It can be learned. It can be improved upon. It takes practice. It takes effort. So the second point–to write something every day–also makes a lot of sense to me. I have learned enough humility to honestly assess my skill-level as a writer. I have a long way to go. Yet, I keep at it, keep banging away on this keyboard, building my writer’s muscle, practicing what I find useful from those other writers that I admire, exploring on my own, sharing my work with my peers and allowing them to tear it to shreds so that I may come back to this keyboard and try again, and again, and again.

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14 thoughts on “Reading and Writing – A Love Affair

  1. I agree. Reading as a writer is something totally different than reading as a reader. And sometimes, I’ll catch myself reading as a writer when I don’t mean to and then have to pull back so that I can fully immerse myself in the story again. I find reading as a writer incredibly valuable, but just not as much fun. More like doing work that I love instead of pure relaxation.

  2. Hi Lauren,

    Thanks for stopping by, and taking the time to comment. I know what you mean. I never want it to be the case that I completely stop reading as a reader. Though I am a bit of a literary geek, so even reading as a writer is, in a sense, fun for me, but like you say, “doing work I love instead of pure relaxation”. Indeed, at least it is lovable work, rather than drudgery.

    I am going to pop on over to your website, and check it out. Thanks again for saying hello. I love to “meet” new people, especially writers! 😉

    • Lauren, yes, I am on Goodreads. I’m fairly new there, just having registered an account last April, so I still have a lot of sorting and re-arranging of book shelves to do, and have only done two reviews so far, but plan on doing more in due time. I joined a book club as well, which I’ll participate in more fully once this course I’m currently enrolled in is over. But I do use the account. You can find me here:

      http://www.goodreads.com/wcoles

      Feel free to send a friend request if you’d like. I’ll be happy to connect up there.

  3. You’re right, reading as a writer is different from pure reading. It’s steeping back and looking at the whole picture, analyzing how the pieces fit together. I find that, the more I write, the more I read like a writer, but only at intervals, so it doesn’t disturb the flow too much. I do feel that there is another important part of being a writer – observing what happens around us and immersing ourselves in real life. What do you think?

    • Heidi, yes, totally! That third point, about going out and living, and taking note of life, that is a big one! For me, in the end, all writing is one way or another about life itself. I sometimes sit around a bus station, or other public area, just observing people, taking notes for characters or scenes in a book. Also, just living my life (which so far, has been a wild ride at times. Isn’t it for everyone?). So much there to write about.

  4. I like that Heidi, ‘reading’ as in reading of all kinds of text, real and imagined, written, spoken and pictorial, sourced from nature or from machine, we read without being conscious of it sometimes!

    I doff my hat/scarf/wrap to all those who read intentionally and analytically that which is written.
    I feel that I do this ‘immersive’ reading of life so much that I inevitably do it to text, possibly unconsciously, loving ‘the word’ as I do. I definitely do it when watching videos, much to my children’s annoyance 🙂

    • Mama D, that’s funny about the videos (i.e. “much to my children’s annoyance”)! But you bring in another component here that I think is important, and one that we had some practice with in the rhetoric class–what is a “text”? Like the visual rhetoric project that was so much fun for many of us!

      More recently I have been re-focusing on fiction, both reading and writing. This was the context of my initial post here, but I totally agree with what you are saying, it goes even beyond that, expanding to a myriad other forms and mediums. A very postmodern/deconstructionist interpretation, I feel. 🙂

  5. Hahaha! I thought I was the only one who annoyed the hell out of my kids by doing that…. “Here’s the ‘scary stuff coming’ music!” “Look how that camera angle makes him look all small and insignificant!” “shut UP Mum!!!”

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