Have you ever had that wish-this-book-did-not-end feeling after you finished reading it? That’s exactly how I felt after I’d devoured Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh. For several days, I couldn’t get the characters out of my head, and I longed to resume the fantastic voyage across the Indian Ocean the author had taken me on board the ship Ibis.
Books tend to mess with your mind. You can’t stop thinking about the characters, plots, locations and the atmosphere. At times, the author’s style is so riveting it grabs hold of you and won’t let go! You often remember snatches or lines from a book you read a long while ago and you never quite forget the wonderful feelings they evoked in you. Re-reading a much loved book is like meeting up with an old friend and picking up a long forgotten conversation.
Then, there are other books that are totally forgettable reads. Even so, if you’re a writer reading is never a waste of time. I’ve cherished an invaluable piece of advice that was given to me by my mentor when I was still a wet behind the ears trainee journalist: a bad book can be a good teacher to a writer.
If you’re a writer you probably do less and less of reading-for-entertainment and more of analytical reading. You tend to deconstruct books, much like dissecting a lizard in biology class. Yikes! That is sure to kill your enthusiasm for reading and would be a disaster! Because as a writer, you need to read. A lot. As Stephen King says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”
So, is there a way to read-to-become-a-better-writer and not kill all joy of reading? I practice a method called ‘Mindful Reading’. Here are some tips on how to do it.
Become a split-personality reader. Don your “lay reader” avatar and read the book, purely for the fun of reading. After you’ve finished, wear your “critic” glasses and go into review mode. Write a short review – I do it for my blog or for Goodreads.com – keeping the following questions in mind: why did you like or not like it; was it an entertaining read; how was the story paced; did you enjoy the author’s voice and writing style; was there anything you would have done differently as a writer. This approach helped me to read mindfully, be aware of the techniques the author used in his/her work and gain a deeper understanding of storytelling nuances.
Read within your genre. If you are a writer of fast-paced thrillers chances are you also have read most of the top authors in the genre, be it James Hadley Chase, Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy or John Grisham. The more books you read in your preferred genre of writing, the better your grasp of story structure, plot techniques and pacing. And what could be more fun than reading a genre that you love!
Read outside your genre. It also helps to read genres that you are not too familiar with. A thriller writer could learn some tips and tricks from a romance writer or the latter could end up developing a new skill by reading non-fiction. Reading outside your genre is a great way for cross-pollination of ideas. For instance when I started developing my plot for “The Indian Tycoon’s Marriage Deal”, I threw in a little bit of mystery to jazz up the romance angle.
Expand your reading universe. Go beyond your usual reading habits. Why not read a screenplay? Or poetry? They can enhance your writing in ways you would never imagine. Scripts or screenplays, for instance, are minimalist in their use of words. Less is more, in screenwriting. As a result, every written word in a script must be worth its weight in gold. Reading (and writing) scripts has enabled me to visualize scenes in a cinematic manner and add a new layer to my novel writing.
Ultimately, mindful reading is all about sparking your creative energies, exploring different types, styles and facets of writing without losing any of the fun.
How has reading made a difference to your writing? Do share your thoughts.