How to Read Like a Writer in Four Steps

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By  Catherine Matthews

To be a better writer, you must be a great reader. We’ve all heard that before, but what does it really mean? Just like the old adage ‘write what you want to read’, ‘read what you want to write’ is a deceptively simple phrase. No, it doesn’t mean copy-catting someone else’s style, tone, or premise—any more than it means that reading bestsellers will magically turn your manuscript into one…But there are some steps you can take to become a better writer, and it all starts with cozying up to your favorite books as Autumn rolls in…

  1. Identify the genre you’re writing in. Then ask yourself: ‘Who is my favorite author in this genre, and why?’

Get specific. When you think of who you love to read in the genre you’re working in, what about their writing makes you reach for their work? What do they do well, that you would like to emulate? Take those notes, and then begin to draw some parallels to your own work. Are you managing to do the things that delight you as a reader? You don’t have to copy your favorite author to recognize why they’re your favorite in the first place, and then turn those key elements into #writinggoals. 

  1. Find out how your favorite authors write. 

Literally. We’re all busy, after all, and sometimes the best of creative intentions get lost in the shuffle—so why not learn from the pros? Many authors have writing advice available right on their official websites or public blogs. Everything from what time of day they write, to how long they work, to how they deal with writers’ block is usually just a web search away. Go take a gander, and then experiment until you find what works for you—there is no ‘right’ way to write, but there are efficiencies that your favorite published authors may have already discovered. 

  1. Get judgy. 

Some books we love…and others we just hate. It happens! And it’s okay when that happens—great, even—because when you’re critiquing a book you less than loved, you’re able to get specific about what turned you off and try not to make those same mistakes. Being critical doesn’t have to mean being unkind. It helps you bring that same critical eye back to your own work and gets you producing prose that pops. 

  1. Would you want to read what you’re writing?

Be honest. If you weren’t writing this, would you pick it up in a bookstore? Really consider your answer. Are you writing something because you think it caters to the market and that it’ll get published faster? Are you incorporating ‘diverse’ characters or exploring hashtag trends just because it seems like a buzzword you can fit into your query, instead of an intentional choice to help your story reflect the world we live in? Be deliberate about your choices as a writer, and note how the most successful authors are those who innovate the genre while remaining true to their own unique voice. 

Take these steps, and you’re on the way to reading like a writer!

Catherine is an assistant at Holloway Literary.