Reading as a Writer
In the same way an engineer or architect might study how a machine or high-rise is built before building one of her or his own, so must writers study how stories, poems, and plays are put together. You may have heard of the saying “you are what you eat”. Writers often are what they read. Reading widely helps you to develop your craft by letting you see how other writers use language to create meaning.
Every piece of good literature can seem like a phenomenon to a reader. A good work can make the reader forget that there might have been other ways in which the story or poem could have gone. But in reality, each work is a series of choices made by the author. That is to say, for everything that “is” in a story or poem, there is something that the author chose to exclude. What are those other possibilities? What is the effect of making one choice over the other? How do writers make such decisions? A writer must read carefully and analytically to find clues that may lead to answers for these questions. Here are some guidelines to reading as a writer.
Read for enjoyment.
The first time you read a piece of literature, read it as if it were strictly for fun. Imagine that you just ran across the work and decided to read it because it interested you. This might often be the case anyway. But, as college students, we often are asked to read works for class or we choose to read them only because it appeared on a list of books that students should read or perhaps someone has told us that we should read them. Regardless of why you have chosen to read the work, open yourself up to the experience it offers. See what effect the work might have on you.
Analyze the effect
How did the work make you feel? Happy? Sad? Disturbed? Thoughtful? What parts of the work made you feel that way? What kind of language is used? How did the first line make you feel? What effect did the ending have on you? Did you like the characters or speaker in the work? Did you dislike them? What made you like or dislike them? How did the structure work? Were there a lot of flashbacks or jumping around in time or was it straightforward? How did the point of view affect how you experienced the work?
Read the work again with a critical eye. Pay close attention to the sections that moved you in your first reading. How did the writer create that effect? What can you tell about the language the writer uses? How do the choices the writer makes create meaning in the story? Are the writers choices effective?