Read Like a Writer

“All the scenes. All the scenes that never occur, but wait in the wings of possibility.”

~ Graham Swift in Mothering Sunday

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

I have always loved reading very, very much. However, when I was in school, I was not too pleased with my reading speed. Some of my friends could finish a book in one day while it took me three. I would hope to get through a long list of books during the holidays but I would barely manage to get through half of it.

Several years later, I was sitting at a dinner table with some of my spouse’s colleagues. The discussion gravitated towards hobbies. When I mentioned ‘reading fiction’, someone asked me what was the most recent book I had read. Giving the name of the book, I added, “It has been ‘recent’ for me for quite some time now. Slowly, but steadily, I’ll get there.”

With a friendly laugh, I helped myself to some potatoes.

“How so, Nita?” someone around the table asked. “Is the book not interesting enough?”

“Actually, the opposite,” I replied. “And it is the parts that I love in the book that slow me down the most.

I keep reading those lines over and over;
then I stop reading and start visualizing;
then I say some of it out loud,
trying to feel the words, not just read them.
Sometimes, I start to wonder if the lines would feel the same if different words were used.
Sometimes, I open my journal and start writing some of the lines from the book.
Sometimes, I skip ahead and then scramble back to find those lines again.”

As my eyes went around the table while saying these words, one person raised his eyebrows and pointed his fork at me — in a polite sort of way — and asked, “Do you like to write?”

Putting down the pepper I was sprinkling on my potatoes, I looked directly at him and said, “Well, now!”

He smiled. “Well, the way you are describing, you read not like a reader, but like a writer.”

It turned out that he had been a professor of English for a long time and had been encouraging his students to read this way if they were interested in doing some good writing.

This was like a breath of fresh air. It strengthened my belief about two things:

  • It is an astute thing to take your time reading — enjoying, visualizing, analyzing — instead of taking reading as a chore, as a task to be crossed off the list, or as a book that “has to be gotten through”.
  • Let your reading nourish you — let it nourish your reading self as well as your writing self.

Next Steps

The school teacher in me decided to firm things up with the action-oriented retrospective technique of “Start, Stop, Continue”:

Start

Honouring the creative spirit when it shows up during reading.

Reading privileges can boost writing creativity. So, use those privileges to the fullest. If creative thoughts start bubbling while you’re reading a book, do not snub them.

Let them surface. Watch them. Play with them. Let them energize you.

The book will wait.

In fact, the book has probably already given you what it was meant to give you.

Stop

Wanting to ‘get through’ a book quickly.

It is good to ask yourself once in a while, “For whom am I making a list of ‘books that I have read’?” If the process prevents you from nourishing your creative soul, then the reading is futile.

Continue

Dwelling on the minute details within the book.

Yes, go on. Read like a writer.

Let the creative inside you see and then write what you have not read with your eyes. Create those scenes that lie hidden to be explored within the lines in front of you.

Let your writing be all the better for the reading you have played with.


At The Writing Cooperative, our mission is to help each other write better. We’ve teamed up with ProWritingAid to do just that. Try it for free!