The Page a Day Writers Group

Reading Like a Writer

Posted on: July 20, 2010

Every writing class I’ve ever taken has stressed the importance of reading, and reading a lot. Instructors promote everything from romance and science fiction to memoirs and short stories.  This is an easy activity for me to fit into my writerly workday. I love to read. And I love learning from other writers through their written words on the page.

 Recently I stumbled upon “Read Like a Reader. Read Like a Writer.” by Steve Peha (Teaching That Makes Sense). This handout, geared to teachers, offers some useful information for writers as well.

“Reading like a writer. When we read from the perspective of a writer, we focus less on what the writer is trying to say and more on how the writer is saying it. Specifically, we look at the techniques the writer is using to get his or her message across and how those techniques affect us as we experience the text.”

Peha shares: “Because we are writers ourselves, we pay close attention to the techniques a writer is using and how those techniques contribute to the meaning of the piece and improve its quality.”

Peha says that when we read like a writer, we should pay attention to six elements:

Ideas.

Organization.

Voice.

Word Choice.

Sentence Fluency.

Conventions.

I’m curly up tonight with “The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo,” originally written in Swedish.  I’m eager to uncover the writing lessons Steig Larsson tucked in between the pages of this fascinating mystery.

–Claire Yezbak Fadden

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3 Responses to "Reading Like a Writer"

Oooh! Let me know how you like Larsson; he’s on my soon-to-read list, too.

Thank you for this fabulous list. These elements make a wonderful study.

I’m reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy and my son’s The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. I will layer this list into my thought process as I read. Fun!

I’m so flattered to have been quoted on your blog. Thank you.

For me, learning to “read like a writer” was, and continues to be, the single most important writing lesson I’ve learned.

The key was learning the six elements, or “traits” as they are often referred to in K-12 classrooms.

Learning the definition of each trait, and then being able to break each trait down into its constituent parts, allowed me to “split the atom” of prose styling.

Where before, I just knew what I liked, now I know why I like it, how it works, and sometimes how to make it my own. Now I can analyze the writing of other writers at a fine level — and with practice and patience incorporate the techniques I admire most in my own work. These days, I’m paying close attention to Sentence Fluency, trying to understand how to write cleaner, crisper sentences with structures that support the logic of the ideas I’m trying to convey.

I was so fortunate to have chanced upon this notion of “the six traits of writing” through my mother, a middle school teacher. In the early 1990s, she received some training in this approach to writing instruction. Once I took the training myself, a whole new world opened up for me — one that had been there all the time, of course, right in front of my nose. I’ve been exploring with great energy it’s complex and curious topography ever since.

Steve

Great post, Claire! I have definitely found that I read more like a writer (this is not always a good thing – I’m more critical). Thanks for listing the six elements. With those in the back of my mind, I can’t wait to read the next book on my list, Blessings of Purpose.

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The Page a Day Writers Group is a diverse collection of wonderful writers based in San Diego, CA. We've been meeting monthly since 2004. Our primary function is in-depth writing critique, marketing and brainstorming, but there's usually some wine, chocolate and ribaldry involved too. We write fantasy, humor, literary fiction, nonfiction, romance, thrillers and YA. Join us on our journeys to publication and the wonderland beyond!

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