One of my email subscribers recently asked me how they could critically read another writer in order to help them improve their writing, in other words, how they could learn to read like a writer. Here’s my response:
If you get halfway into a chapter and think, Wow this chapter is super creepy–I wonder how they did that. Or get to the end of a book and think, I feel the poignancy of the fragility of human life in an inherently volatile economic system–I wonder how the writer made me feel that way… Go back and re-read that shit.
#2 Read slowly
When you read like a reader, you read pretty fast. When you go in for your second, or third, or fourth re-read of a passage, chapter, or book that you want to know more about, read it slowly. Really. Slowly.
#3 Read for technique, not content
Readers read for content (”In this paragraph, Damien gave Harold a classified envelope.”). Writers read for technique. (”In this paragraph, the writer made me feel curious about the contents of the envelope by giving sensory details about its appearance and weight.”)
#4 Ask the right questions
They usually start with HOW: How did the writer make me feel? How did they accomplish that?
#5 Read small
Did a chapter make you feel sad? Find out WHERE EXACTLY. What paragraph, sentence, or WORD did it for you? Was it a physical detail? A line of dialogue? A well-placed piece of punctuation? Stories are made of words and sentences. Narrow it down.
Reading like a writer is a skill that takes time to develop. Over time, you’ll get better at it!
Hope this helps!