In this series (within a series), we’ll look at the ways reading can benefit your writing.
First, we’ll talk about a writer (and reader’s) intuition.
It may seem obvious – yes, of course reading can help improve your writing; you unconsciously (or perhaps tacitly) absorb the rhythm and flow of another’s writing as you read it. Most readers can instantly know whether a writer’s style works for them (it draws you in) or if their style is difficult to parse (you feel frustrated, or find their work dull despite the interest story at its centre). But how do we purposely tune into that intuition, that sense of what works and what doesn’t, for us as individuals?
Read on for our notes, observations and tips!
Reading for Writing
1. Note how you feel
Reading doesn’t always elicit straightforward emotions like happy or sad. Sometimes the writing that has the biggest impact on us makes us feels ways that are hard to describe. Felt a chill? Got goosebumps? Unexplained tears welling up in your eyes? Pay attention to moments like that. Pinpoint what sentence or paragraph pushed you to that edge, where your body reacted to what was on the page. Try and make sense of it – write down that sentence, pick it apart, compare it to others.
2. Is there a spark?
Have you ever felt like sitting down to write immediately after reading a good book or article? That draw towards creation is the result of a spark of inspiration. Keep track of what inspires you – the author, the book in question, even, again, just a single sentence or phrase. When you begin to intuit what inspires you, it becomes easier and easier to notice it when it happens.
And, if you can, don’t brush it off! Have a notebook or your notes app handy for whenever that moment strikes. Even writing in the margins of a book (I know, controversial) or scribble a note on your e-reader or tablet is worth the few seconds that it takes. You never know how long that spark of inspiration will stick around.
3. The body of work
There’s a great book – Pictures and Tears: A History of People Who Have Cried in Front of Paintings – that explores the often-unexplainable reasons why people are moved to tears in front of art. The same can be said about writing – sometimes, it isn’t the sad parts of a story that move us to tears.
The body of work is not able to enact a physical reaction without you, the reader. Words are not emotional in and of themselves – they need a reader to set off a chain reaction, to complete a thought, to have meaning. Of course, the writer has done a lot of that heavy lifting already – they are the scientist in the lab coat, mixing and matching chemicals to see what happens. But you, as reader, are just as important to the experiment. Without a test subject, the scientist wouldn’t have results.
Basically, think of your intuition as a researcher: making note of what causes an emotional or physical reaction.
For example, this writer can’t read scenes of characters sharing or preparing food for one another without feeling a swell of emotion. This poem by Christopher Citro is enough to make me reconsider every trip to the grocery store I take after reading it.
If writing results in a bodily reaction and pushes you toward action, again, pay attention! There’s something there, tugging at your subconscious, and you’d be amiss to ignore that pull.
In part two, we’ll take a look at how to practically apply this intuition to your day-to-day reading, especially when it comes to genres that may not initially lend themselves to this practice.
For now, happy writing! Or… if you’d rather get started on your reading, why not use one of our reading challenges as a great guide?