Reading to write or how book clubs are awesome

The Book Group. A TV show from across the pond.

In the past, I’ve written about the importance of writer reading habits. In fact, it’s so important, it’s the first thing I tell starting writers to do.

Read often and read good writing.

It’s only through the act of reading that a writer in training can see how prose comes together. My advisor called it becoming an apprentice to books. Like walking or talking, we do not come out of the womb with the ability to write well. We read, reflect, learn, and then try it ourselves. Reading, my friends is fuel.

With that in mind, don’t underestimate or under-appreciate the role of a book club. Yes, a book club. Didn’t see that one coming, did you?

Book clubs are great ways to socialize with people who have similar interests but at the same time enjoying lively discussions about writing. A typical book club will talk about how the book impressed them (or didn’t) and whether they thought it was good or not. All valid things to hear. For the writer, however, a book club is important because:

  1. You will always have something to read
  2. You will always have a variety of things to read
  3. Expands your book knowledge and your exposure to different writing styles and techniques.

As a writer, read with a pencil in your hand. (Or if you’re on a Kindle or Nook, know how to make notes on your machine.) As you read, be aware of the parts where you have a reaction to the prose. For example, do you like a turn of a phrase or description? Did something make you cry or gasp? Where in the prose were you surprised?

Circle, or underline, or highlight the parts that gave you a reaction. That’s when the learning begins. Ask yourself how did the writer do it? How did this writer get you to gasp or smile? How did this writer come to write that peculiar phrase?

When you start asking questions of the prose, you’re learning the craft of writing. It’s not about whether one enjoys the book (though if you do like it, it’s easier to learn from the book)  it’s about what you learn from the prose.

Think of each book as a writing lesson. The good ones will have several lessons. Once you start tapping into them, you can apply it to your writing. But you have to learn the lessons first, which is why reading is important.

Let’s do an experiment. Before writing for the day, read a chapter of a book. Take notes of  some of the things we discussed earlier. Think about how the author did what they did and why. Then return to your writing and see how it goes.

So what about me? With graduation in next month, I don’t have anymore lists of books to write. I’ve joined a book club as well. We’re reading Salvage The Bones by Jesmyn Ward. You’re welcomed to join in.

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