How do you read books? With greed? Devour them? Or skim? Or dive in, here and there, when you have breaks, to snatch out a sentence or two? Or get lost and let yourself be absorbed? I suppose, all of those. Because I know. It's how I used to read too. Used to. Not anymore. It's a curse, in a way, I hate it. But I also love it. I'm a writer now. I can't skim or devour anymore, for two reasons. One, even if I try, I can't help noticing story elements, structure, new words, all these things that permeated my system. I write now. I do the same things. I know. Can't unknow it. It's there. It's like watching a movie and being aware of camera angles, and length of scenes, and continuity lapses, and actor's hair. Or socks. Or both. (Or lack of any clothes.) Anyway. I can't. At first I resented it. Until I realized the second thing, second reason why I can't read fast anymore. I'm learning how to write better, when I read. The more I read, the more I learn, the more I see, the more I read and learn again. It keeps growing like a snowball. Finally, I gave up on reading fast and am now savoring each book and also studying it, like I'm back in college. Only better. It costs next to nothing, I get to sit at home and do it at my leisure.
So, you might ask, how DO you read like a writer?
YOU NOTICE THINGS.
NOTICE, PAUSE, THINK, READ ON.
PATTERNS. That's the one thing you need to be aware of, to catch it, to listen for it. Like in music. There is a rhythm. You will see it in poetry, but it's also there in novels. You have to feel it, and the only way to feel it is to read a lot. Everything and anything you can get your hands on. It will beat at you, a certain tempo, and you will notice it in your own writing to. Listen for it. The best thing to do is to read aloud. If something struck you, and you paused because you noticed it, read it aloud. RIGH THAT MOMENT. So what if you're in a public place, people love hearing stories. Read it several times, to notice the rhythm. You don't have to do anything else, simply notice and move on. Every time this happen, read aloud. Then, to compare, read aloud your own work. Don't worry about the story, listen for the rhythm. Where do you stumble? Where you stumble, is where you need to fix it. Now. DO NOT OBSESS OVER HOW TO FIX IT. This will block you. You can't afford to be blocked, you need to write. Just know that the more you read and write, the better you will know how to fix that snag that bothered you. That's it. Move on.
VOCABULARY. Since English is not my first language, I'm crazy about learning new words. I learn new words every day, I write them down, and I try to use them in my own writing, immediately. Look up each word you don't know, look at its history. On top of it (for those of you whose first language is not English) look up its translations. It's fascinating to see how one word can be used so many different ways. When you write new words down, to use later (it's what I do), always include the word going after it, or before, or the actual phrase. Instead of using a dictionary, try to understand how the writer has used this word and derive its meaning from that. It's a beautiful exercise, it lets you get the feel for the word. You have to get it under your skin, to use it. To bend it. To include it in a metaphor. Once you used it, cross it off you list. MOVE ON. Don't fret. You will do more reading, and you will learn more new words. It never stops.
CERTAINTY. Oh, I suffer from this one a lot. So many times I'm not quite sure what to write or how to write it. Let me back up. I mean, I do know what happens in the story, I do see an image in my head, I feel the feeling, but I'm not quite sure how to put this to paper. A few sentences? One sentence? Should I describe more of the action? The surroundings? More dialogue? What? When you read, you will see how writes are absolutely sure about what they want to say. It rings clear. There is no hesitation. This comes after many many drafts, so don't compare your draft to the final polished published books you read. But as you read, think about the millions of things that have been omitted, crossed out. There is a certainty. It comes with time. Don't force it. Don't squeal in frustration. Notice it. Revel in it. Pause. Think about what the writer wanted to say, how did she say it. What is it you want to say? How? Slowly, as you read more, you will get it. Don't rush, take your time. It does take time. For now, read as much as you can.
GRAMMAR. I used to be afraid of it. I didn't really get it. Russian grammar is so different from English one. But to shy away from knowing it is nonsense. It's my toolbox. I'm a writer. Grammar is my paint and brushes, if I painted pictures. I need to know the names, the types of hair used in the brush, the width of the stroke. I'm still learning. Pause and notice the use of words, nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, articles, prepositions, conjunctions. How are they strung together? What is used most? Least? Every time you stop and have a question, look it up. My biggest struggle in English is the use of a/an and the, and the use of it/this/that/which. I just don't get them. We don't have articles in Russian. I stumble on it every day. But I look it up, and read about it, and I'm getting better. I hope. This clarity of word is important. Many indie written and self-published books suffer from bad grammar. It's easy to overlook little things. But those little things trip up the reader. They will make the reader set your book aside. Yes, an editor will catch those things. Most of them. Editors are human too, they're not machines. However, it's your responsibility as a writer to know them, to write cleanly. Read. Read a lot. It will help. It will silt up your brain with patterns. With time, it will become automatic.
VOICE. Read to hear the voice. There are as many voices as there are books. Read a variety of books to hear all these different voices. It will help you develop yours. Its that voice that draws the reader in. Like a separate universe. Don't try to copy it. Don't tear your hair out when you compare the strength of the voices, yours versus the others. It's futile. It will only make you feel bad. Just read. Read and listen. You will start hearing your own voice, soon. What reading will do for you, it will help you see that its okay to have a voice that's unlike any other. Its okay to be YOU, YOUR way. It's the only way to write, really. It will give you courage.