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How to Read Like a Writer

Updated on May 2, 2013
You don't have to like the book you choose to read like a writer and you can always choose to read as many as you like for this purpose.
You don't have to like the book you choose to read like a writer and you can always choose to read as many as you like for this purpose. | Source

Book Writing Tips

Not all readers are writers, even though every writer should have at least a little bit of the reader inside of them in order to be successful. Almost every article or book out there on writing tips tells us that we must read in order to improve writing. What they forget to mention is that, in order for this advice to take full effect, you must read like a writer to gain that useful knowledge hidden between the lines.

Whether you studied literature, like myself, or have taken a literature class or two, you know what it means to read like a writer. The most basic component of this exercise is to read in order to analyze and dissect the book you have chosen, rather than read for pleasure. Here are five basic tips to reading like a writer so that you can learn from what you read and take those skills with you into your own writing.

A pen and notebook are essential to good note taking while you read like a writer.
A pen and notebook are essential to good note taking while you read like a writer. | Source

Reading to Improve Writing

Have you ever read a book in order to improve your own writing?

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Read Like a Writer

Before you begin reading like a writer, it is important to take a good look at the book from the outside. Read the reviews that may be on its cover and take special note of the summary that is provided. You will also want to read this summary after reading the novel because it will provide insight for you to create your own summary for your novel, which is essential when it comes to impressing publishers.

Remember that, in order to properly read like a writer, you must take every piece of the novel you are reading and recognize what you will or will not want to use in your own writing. Don't be afraid to reread the book or read a couple of books in this manner in order to get the best idea of what you want in your own writing and how to get those thoughts organized enough to create a book of your own.

1. Get Pen and Paper Ready

In order to get the most out of your reading, you must be prepared to engage the text much more seriously than you would with your everyday reading. To read like a writer, have a pen and highlighter handy to take apart the text as you read. You want to use these tools to take note of any parts of the text that stick out to you, whether it is something you particularly enjoyed or something you did not like at all.

Highlighting, underlining, using sticky notes and tabs, or writing notes in the margins makes it easier to get back to those parts of the novel when you are finished reading and take better note of what you would want in your own writing based on this author's work.

2. Don't Be Afraid to Recognize Flaws

If you have chosen to read your favorite novel and/or author as a writer rather than a fan, remember that every writer has flaws. You won't learn anything from what you are reading if you aren't at least a little bit critical. To read like a writer, you want to make sure and recognize those parts of the novel that work for you as well as those that don't. This can help you develop your voice as you determine what you value most in a piece of writing.

Once you have found what you like and don't like, make sure and examine exactly why you feel this way. Even if you hated the entire novel, you can learn from it only if you recognize just why you hated it and how this can help you write your own novel that outshines that one.

3. Dissect the Novel

When you read like a writer, it is important to also note how the author takes the story from beginning to end, keeping your interest going while making it all flow together into one cohesive piece. Sketching out a diagram or outline of the novel can be really helpful and give you clues into how you might plan out your own book when it comes time for you to finally sit down and write.

Furthermore, taking each character (or just one or two) and creating character profiles can really help you understand how to develop characters for your own novel down the line.

4. Talk About it

Talking to others who have read the book, especially if they liked it even though you did not (or vice versa), can help give you insight into other perspectives on the book you have chosen to read like a writer. Knowing what others may like or dislike in a piece of writing may further your knowledge into what you would like to include in your own writing or what you would want to improve.

5. Research it

Taking a look at reviews online can be just as useful as talking about it with a friend. Research is especially handy when you don't know anyone who has read the book. Take a look at Amazon or personal blogs where reviewers have given positive and negative reviews to get an idea of what really works for the novel and what does not.

Writing Benefits of Reading

Overall, it is not difficult to understand how to read like a writer. As long as you read with the purpose of improving your own writing or understanding how to write a novel of your own, you are on the right track. There are many benefits to reading. As a writer, reading like a writer is the best way to learn from the pros before putting together your own book.

© 2013 Lisa


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    • Anne Harrison profile image

      Anne Harrison 

      6 years ago from Australia

      Very true! Writers read, even books they don't enjoy, to learn their craft, just as painters copy front eh masters to learn their techniques. No matter how often I read Tolkien, I always learn something.

      Voted up, thank you

    • Marion Reads profile image

      Marion Reads 

      6 years ago from Canada

      What an interesting article. One of the reasons I began writing is because I got to the point in my reading where I felt I could write as well or better than the authors I read. Perhaps I could have chosen to read other authors instead of writing, but I enjoy putting my own pen to paper so much. The challenge now is to publish. I continue to read and analyze writing with red pen criticisms, check marks for what I like, and a notebook at hand to list outstanding quotes and insights as well as to add new words to my vocabulary list.

    • profile image

      kenrique maling 

      6 years ago

      Awesome site which i ever encountered...its really a helpful one and at the same time interesting too...genuinely loved this site that's why just joined in this page by signing to be part of it..

    • Tony DeLorger profile image

      Tony DeLorger 

      7 years ago from Adelaide, South Australia

      Good advice Lisa, and an excellent hub. I have been writing for many years and after 12 published books and over 1100 hubs I must say, I cannot read for pleasure without dissecting everything I read. I guess it's what happens when you're a writer, but it does give you a sense of belonging to know and understanding what another writer is doing and the decisions they are making. Happy to follow as well. I'm primarily a poet these days so have a look at what I'm up to. Cheers.

    • OMGirdle profile image


      7 years ago from United States

      Thank you for sharing this tip. I can't help but read everything as a writer. I only hope not to pick up the good techniques of other authors and embed them into my writing. That is my only fear in reading. I want to be as unique as possible. Good Hub!

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      7 years ago from Nepal

      No one becomes a writer without reading. However, reading for enjoyment is different to reading like a writer. Thanks for sharing your interesting tips.


    • GoodLady profile image

      Penelope Hart 

      7 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Oh yes. I go back time and time again to my favorite writers and re read their writings and analyze their tactics, ploys and tricks. It's a way of absorbing a style I'd love to emulate. I can't help analyzing all narratives; I love story and am fascinating with how the author works their story, how they use genre, characterization, tone, words, style, plots. Non fiction books make me particularly picky, but, yes, if you are a writer, it is important to read critically. It is your material.

      Enjoyed your article, thanks.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      7 years ago from England

      Hi, I totally agree with you on all aspects. I also notice straight away while reading whether the actual writing is in 'my style' if you like. We can learn from the writers who 'sound' like us I believe, but its much harder if the style is totally different. I noticed this when writing my first novel back in the 80s, sounds great doesn't it? yep, its still in the drawer! lol! reading it now shows how dated it is, and thats important too, great read, and voted up! nell

    • aminahchahine profile image

      Aminah Chahine 

      7 years ago from cameroon

      This is such an informative article, I loved it. I agree, reading like a writer is different and is a brilliant way to analyse things..

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      7 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Well Lisa, this is a very workmanlike Hub subject you've taken on. You've put it across in a fairly professional manner as well.

      I've been reading lately - when I've had time to read outside time allocated for writing my own Hub pages - to see how other writers express themselves. What started me off writing was a series of Bernard Cornwell books in the 'Harlequin' series as well as some in his 'Sharpe' series.

      Most of all I began following his latest series beginning with 'The Last Kingdom'. I found myself re-writing them in my head while I was reading. It slows you down a bit, but it gives you an idea for your own writing. I also fought shy of using long titles, preferring one-word titles with short sub-titles, like "RAVENFEAST - Farewell to Legend".

      A good title is the key to people looking more than oncc at your book, an encouragement to look at the synopsis on the book back. Your synopsis of your own work can be the make or break of your writing career. I'm not sure I've got it right myself!

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran - The Write Stuff 

      7 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Great hub Lisa. It's a great way to enjoy reading and learn at the same time. Russ

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 

      7 years ago from Deep South, USA

      After years of editing, it's a rare book in which I can "lose" myself and forget I'm reading words written by someone. I read everything with a critical eye because I can't stop myself from doing it. This doesn't prevent me from enjoying books written by good writers, and it certainly makes me aware of the techniques that make good writing successful.

      On the flip side, I read a lot that gets "red-penciled" in my mind! While there are many talented, excellent writers, there are also many mediocre ones and some that are just plain bad!



    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 

      7 years ago from Taos, NM

      Excellent hub! I agree also, one must read good literature, both fiction and non-fiction to improve writing. I know I have done this and used the techniques you suggest. Great advice and suggestions and I enjoyed reading this!

    • joanwz profile image

      Joan Whetzel 

      7 years ago

      I couldn't agree more. I love reading. Thanks for this.

    • ARUN KANTI profile image


      7 years ago from KOLKATA

      I am at one with you that one should be a good reader to be a successful writer since proper reading has immense benefits which a writer can reap to his advantage.My late elder brother was a voracious reader and would always be immersed in books and other reading materials. He had such a profound knowledge in almost all subjects that he could have been a good writer but he had other options in life.Although I have not read books much but I have ventured into the realm of writing and realise definitely the importance of reading that too properly. Thanks for the useful hub.


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