My family and friends criticize me for my cruelty to books. The reason is that I read for pleasure first, but then I read the same novel as a writer. To do this, my favorite books are held and read countless times; they hold my post-it-notes with my scribbled observations; they are highlighted, underlined, and pages are—I confess—dog eared. I believe great writers must read great writers. This skill of reading as a writer is an important skill we must develop.
Reading for pleasure is a passive activity. We allow ourselves to fall in love with characters, to be emotionally affected by words and sentence flows, and to be surprised by plot twists. As readers we are in awe in the same way one watches a magic show. After the last page is turned, the passive reader closes the book and stores it on the shelf possibly never to be referenced again. The magic is never examined or questioned.
On the other hand a writer is an active reader who uses books as learning tools to better hone their own skill set. They take the time to identify key craft elements and assess how they have been successfully applied, or poorly developed. Writers analyze the story and in the process question: how did the author do that? Unlike a passive reader, writers will open a book again and again to reference those key elements that made the story work.
Oscar Wilde said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery..”
How writers read is important. We develop our craft by respectively digging into other writers’ plot points, examining word choices and sentence flows. Beginnings and endings? Do they circle back? Maybe they don’t. Why not? What is important, is these books help inspire us. They influence the way we write and help us become the writers we hope to be.
Do you have a favorite author who has inspired you? How has their writing affected your work?