reading like a writer–part 1

Here’s another one of those odd coincidences: It was January of last year that I did a post on James Salter who wrote one of my favorite novels, Light Years, and who in July of 2004 at the Tin House Writers Workshop told the audience: “I don’t read for pleasure anymore. I read because I want to see how they did it.”

When I heard him say that and again when I wrote the post, I thought how sad.

Although I still think the idea of not reading for pleasure is sad, now I understand.

What they are doing and how they are doing it are two questions at the heart of how to read like a writer.

Writing this blog has made me a better writer because I have learned that just writing, “I like this sentence,” doesn’t tell my reader very much. What is it about the sentence that I like–its use of detail, its word choices, its rhythm? Still, my starting point is generally a phrase, a sentence, or a paragraph that I underlined while I was reading.

I knew I was supposed to look at the books I liked to see how those writers were doing what they were doing so I could learn to do it too. I even developed a collection of books–fiction, not craft–that I refer to when I’m writing. I thought I was reading like a writer.

And I was, but I was just beginning to overturn the stones…

Other posts in this series:

Part 1: Reading like a writer

Part 2: Taking it to a new level

Part 3: Questions to ask

Part 4: Reading a story

Part 5: Taking a story apart

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