Learn from other writers
Published: January 15, 2010
|Reading nonfiction by and about established authors can teach you what it means to live the writing life. For any writer, reading is a constant source of inspiration and instruction.|
"I get the world from reading: I get a look at other writers' techniques, the words and phrases they use to lay a line of text on a line of feeling," says Susan Cheever. "I get an escape from my world into another world, a world of English manners or a world of war; I get the most delicious feeling on earth, which is the feeling of listening to a story-someone has had the generosity and skill to create a story for my benefit, and now I am 'hearing' it as I read. In reading, I am in awe of what other writers have done."
One of the most important ways writers learn is through critical reading with an eye toward craft. Notice how the author achieves particular effects, such as transitioning through time or developing characters. Many writers read with pen in hand, underlining and making notes on what they're learning as they read.
"How do people learn? When? Reading is clearly one of the best ways because so much of it happens in this secret underground way. The lesson becomes a part of the person, and they don't even know it's happening," says author Aimee Bender.
Flip through a book you've read and find an underlined passage that taught you some aspect of craft you'd like to develop for yourself. Now, give yourself a task related to what you've observed. Here are some ideas:
Analyze a piece of writing you admire, then find a place in your own work that could benefit from this analysis. Try to employ the new technique in your own work. Notice how an author describes gestures in such a way as to deepen character. Find a place in your own writing where you can draw a specific and singular gesture that will bring your character to life.
Notice how an author begins and ends paragraphs, chapters, sections and the book. How can you improve your openings and endings?
Think of ways to put what you're learning to work!