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Read well to write well

You’ve probably heard it before. To write well, you must read. Reading excellent literature will inspire you (even if the style or genre is different than what you write). It’s part of the magic of writing. Somehow, something you read sparks a connection in your subconscious.

Reading critically helps you analyze other writers’ techniques and see how you might apply them in your own unique way. If you recognize meaning and nuance in other writing, you’ll be more aware of how to create those moments in your own.

These tips will help you make the most of your “reading practice.”
1. Adopt an analytical mindset. Go into your reading session with a different frame of mind than when you sit down to read for pleasure — not that this type of reading isn’t pleasurable. I find reading even more rewarding when I make a new connection or experience a flash of discovery.

2. Have a notebook, pen, highlighter and Post-it notes by your side. When you come across a phrase that stands out, or an example of how the author has created meaning to deepen the story, highlight it and note it in your notebook.
3. Use a checklist. Consider these areas of craft and how they all work together as you critically evaluate your reading material: Structure, dialogue, place/setting and narrative voice. For example, the narrative voice you choose lends a tone and mood to your story that draws readers in.

One of my favorite narrative voices is that of Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye:

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them. They’re quite touchy about anything like that, especially my father. They’re nice and all — I’m not saying that — but they’re touchy as hell.

You may not be writing in the voice of Holden Caulfield, but your narrator has a voice and by seeing how Salinger built Holden Caulfield’s voice, you can see how to use that writerly technique to build your narrator’s voice, whether it’s shy and retiring or sarcastic and cynical.

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