How writing changes the way you read

I have been a voracious reader since I accidentally learned to read at age three. Something about that experience also resulted in my being a natural speed reader, something I can take no credit for. As a result I have read thousands of books. I even spent a year of my life working in Scrantom’s hardcover book department (1974) in downtown Rochester. At the time it was the largest bookstore between New York and Chicago. But in the last six months my perception of reading has changed.

The change came about because of the novel I’m working on. Now, when I read I am noticing all kinds of structural things, how people handle story and voice, dialog, etc. Even when I’m visiting my mom (another inhaler of books), I pick up crappy mystery novels to see how they put them together. It’s not as though I never saw these things before but they are illuminated by my experience getting deeper and deeper into my story, a story that often surprises me as it unfolds.

As I’ve written about before, I’ve discovered that many writers I respect don’t plot ahead, don’t create character bios, don’t research, etc., in spite of all the advice handed out in writing classes (which I consider totally useless except as a form of therapy). They don’t keep journals either. Why? Because they need that energy to write. Get your word count done everyday and something will emerge. And never, ever think about it too much while you’re writing.

The best advice I found this time around (and I do not remember where it came from) was start with a good first line and a working title. Then write.

One other thing. The single best way to learn to write, besides actually doing it, is to read.

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