Wednesday, September 8, 2010

How I Read

Ever since I got serious about my writing, I have found myself reading differently. At first, I made a conscious effort to read like a writer, but now I can't help it. I just do.

I recently realized though that there are two main ways that I do this.

The first way is really purposeful "writer reading". This type of reading happens when I'm faced with a challenge and I don't know how to solve it.

My favorite example of this type of reading was when I was first starting to write rhyming poetry and all my poetry fell into an ABAB rhyming pattern. I knew my poetry needed more variety, but I didn't know how to do anything other than what I was doing.

So I scoured the pages of Cricket and Spider and Highlights for wonderful poems. Then I figured out how they varied their rhyme, and I imitated their rhyming patterns.

After a few of these, I must have internalized how to vary my rhyme. After that intense reading and purposeful writing, my rhyming poetry no longer felt so similar. Hurray!

But not all my reading like a writer is quite so focused. A lot of times I'm just reading. Often something that has seemingly nothing to do with the kind of writing I tend to do.

For example, right now I'm immersed in "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society". It is pretty far from the wacky picture books and sweet easy readers I tend to write. But I still read it like a writer.

As I read, I can't help thinking that I want to write a book in letters someday. That I love a book that plants clues so slowly in the beginning that I have to really work to figure out what's happening. I wonder how much I could challenge my much younger readers like this before they would give up reading in frustration. (After all, I went through several false starts before I could get past page 5.)

Maybe these ideas are just that, ideas. Maybe they'll never become part of my writing. But maybe they will.

After all, for years, I read all sorts of poetry-- rhyming and non-rhyming. I loved how subtle some of it felt and wished I could write that way. But I didn't know how. Then one day, I started a poetry collection that had a very different feel. I'll never know exactly where my new voice came from, but I was very excited to find it in me. Somehow, it must have come from all that wonderful "purposeless" reading.

So, I read like a writer no matter how I read. Please share, how do you read like a writer?


  1. Brianna,

    I am subscribed to this blog and enjoy it very much. I would like to suggest it to some readers of a new blog I post for one a week. Here is what you might like to know:

    I am a member of a planning team for Write2Ignite. This is a conference for Christian writers of children's literature. We will hold our third annual conference in February 2011 in Greenville, SC. Recently, we decided to add a blog post spotlighting a different writing resource each week. We would like permission to link readers to your blog as an inspiration for forming a blog group of their own or to join your readership. May we do so? I am sending a link to Write2Ignite's website.

    I look forward to your response.

    Linda Andersen

  2. It's funny. I had the same reaction when I started reading "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society". After the first few pages, I thought I would have a tough time getting through it. By page ten, I was hooked, flew through the rest, and hated to see it end.

    How do I read like a writer? I'm a library regular, borrowing about a half a dozen or so books each month. I read quickly, mainly for my own enjoyment. But I make a note of books that can really teach me something. Those are the books I buy and dissect. I examine how the author made a certain aspect work -- where the clues were planted, how subplots were woven into the main plot, how setting became a character -- whatever hit me over the head and made me want to learn more.

  3. I am a true convert to the reading game. Anyone who's followed this blog from it's beginning can trace my progress. Now I read YA all the time. And not completely because I have to for school. For VCFA, I have to keep an annotated bibliography of all the books I read, commenting on what craft aspect I learned from each book. I'm going to keep doing it once I'm done with the program.

    Some books I get lost in immediately, like THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY. Those are the ones I know I have to go back and read again, to find out what the author did to pull me in and make me forget I was reading a book.

  4. Brianna or other blog members,

    I left a comment earlier asking permission to link to your blog on a blog post I am writing. Are you okay with that? Could I send the blog post to someone before posting it? If so, would you contact me at

    Linda A.

  5. It's hard and actually rare that I can shut off my writer's mind when I read. Sometimes I'm amazed how beautifully written something is, or a metaphor, or a plot twist that I didnt' see coming. On the flip side I also think "how did so and so get away with this" and "I wouldn't have done it this way".

  6. Hi All,

    Sorry I've taken so long to respond to your very thoughtful comments. I managed to put up my post right before Rosh HaShanah started and I've been crazy with guests and the holiday ever since.

    Linda-- So glad you're enjoying the blog! How wonderful that you want to link to our blog as an inspiration for your readers to form a group blog of their own. (It seems like only yesterday we were all so nervous and uncertain about starting out on this whole blogging adventure. :o)) I hope our site can give your readers some ideas as they start out on their own blogging adventures!

    J.A.-- I love how you dissect books. I definitely need to do that more. I guess I do it when I need it, but I would love to to do it more formally. Right now, if there's a part of my story that's giving me trouble, I go back to a book that has something similar and really analyze how the author did it.

    Meg-- As I mentioned to you after our last meeting, I have so enjoyed seeing how your attitude toward reading has transformed in recent years. It has been fascinating and inspiring to watch the change!

    And on a reading note, I finally read, "The Hunger Games". Wow! What an incredible book! I had to reread it immediately after I finished. As for reading like a writer, I was totally lost in the story, and yet, I couldn't help but admire how well Suzanne Collins handled so many things (especially weaving in backstory and building suspense). Well, off to "Catching Fire" I go!

  7. I agree with you that The Hunger Games was an amazing book. In addition to what you said, Brianna, I also admire how Collins handled the extreme violence of this world, which was essential to making her point. After reading her Gregor books, I also found her shift in tone and genre (from MG to YA) to be incredible.

  8. I like Collins's Gregor books more than the Hunger Games.

  9. Thanks Meg and J.L. for the comments on The Hunger Games.

    J.L.-- I completely agree with you about how wonderfully she handled the extreme violence of the world. What a challenge and she handled it perfectly!

    Meg-- Now you've got me curious about the Gregor books... but I've got to finish the Hunger Games trilogy first. (I read Hunger Games over Rosh Hashanah, so hopefully I can read Catching Fire over Sukkot. :o) )