Congratulations to all of you who survived NaNoWriMo! Even if you didn't finish your novel, you still pushed yourself to write and achieved good daily writing habits. That is so awesome and don't let them fade away.
Now the holidays are coming up and usually that means family, food, and no time to write. But, lots of time to read! I don't know about you, but I have been starving for a good book lately and am planning to spend most of my down time during Christmas curled up by the fire reading for hours. If you decide to do the same, don't feel guilty that you are neglecting your writing. Everyone needs a chance to recharge, and the best way to do that is to fill your time with reading.
You have probably heard teachers and professors say that reading will help you get better at writing. And I am here to tell you that it has definitely shown to be true in my life. But there's more to it than just reading through a book and absorbing the author's talents through osmosis. Look at it this way, when you read a book, don't just be a passive audience, be a student and have the attitude that you are learning from a master.
The first step to doing that is to pay attention. When I read, I try to pay attention to these specific things:
- Style: Other authors are going to write differently than you. By reading, you expand your horizons and expose yourself to styles that may not come naturally to you. How do they write their descriptions? Are they long and flowery or short and witty? How do they structure their scenes? How do they write dialogue? Use point of view? Introduce characters? You get the point. Take the things that you like and practice it. Do a writing exercise where you try to emulate something from their style that you admire. Remember, the goal isn't to learn how to write exactly like another author, but to take elements of their style and mold it into your own personal writing style.
- Feeling: This is something that keeps me coming back to my favorite books over and over again. Think of your own favorite books. Why do you like them? What about the characters intrigue you? Why do you connect to the story world? What is the feeling that keeps you coming back and how can you add that into your own writing? How do you want your readers to feel when they spend time in your story? There's a reason people keep coming back to the world of Harry Potter. The wonder that J.K. Rowling conveys and her expansive story world gives you a certain feeling you want to hold on to.
- Structure: Some books have pretty unique structures. Try to read different types of books in order to introduce yourself to different ways of building your story. Use a plot structure you may have never used before. You never know when you'll find something new that you love.
Learning from a master means recognizing what other authors are doing right, but it also means realizing when they've missed the mark.
Don't ignore the things that bother you in books that you read. Knowing what to avoid or finding ways to improve something is just as helpful as practicing things done well.
Why does the main character rub you the wrong way? Why aren't you able to connect to them? What is missing in the story world? Why is the plot not keeping you engaged? Why does the prose or dialogue drag?
If you are a journaler like me, then I highly recommend keeping a book journal. I read a lot and it helps me to remember everything that I have learned. It doesn't have to be an intensive documentation of every book you ever read and every feeling or thought you had while reading. Mine is pretty simple and entries take a paragraph at the most. If you are interested, this is how I use my book journal:
- I write down the title, author, and date when I finished the book. In case I don't remember the story, this way I can find it again and at least look up a summary to refresh my memory.
- I list things that I liked and what I thought was unique about the book. Especially if there was something that I had never come across before, whether it be characters or plot structures, etc.
- I list things that I didn't like about the book. Things that didn't sit well with me or that I wanted more of. Though both are good to note, try to separate what is a personal preference for you and what you actually think is something that could have been done better.
- I write one sentence why I would or would not read this book again. It is a concise way to take all of my thoughts and boil them down to figure out what I truly took away from the experience.
There you have it! Go buy yourself a new journal (you deserve an early Christmas present), pick up a book, and start learning from a master.