Write Into Life

When writers read: surreptitious analysis

Writing a book? Then read. Writing is an impeccable excuse for reading. And reading is a time-honoured strategy for improving your writing.

Stephen King says:

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

You’d better believe it. He isn’t just talking about books for writers, either. Whatever you read can help you to raise your sights and raise your game.

A writer reads for pleasure, like anyone else, but every now and then the critical factor clicks into action.

The process of surreptitious analysis is personal, eccentric, subconscious. You notice things that are just what you need at the time.

For example, you might think, “I skipped that paragraph—why?” Or “I see, they put an asterisk when the point of view changes…”  or “So every chapter has a title, not just a number. What effect does that have?”

Joy of reading: joy of writing

I’ve found that surreptitious analysis happens mainly when I am actually in the process of writing something. I guess it happens because you are writing and are therefore super-receptive. Some of these accidental insights are truly exciting, shifting your vision or boosting your skills in one stroke. Reading becomes even more rewarding.

On other occasions, the analysis is deliberate, not subconscious. I’ll suddenly stall when I’m puzzled by a technical detail—reach out for another novel and flick through it. To solve my current problem almost any novel will do, from the simplest little romance to War and Peace, and preferably both.

I think the reading fix is common among writers. As a research method it is quick and easy and intuitive. Another novel usually solves your problem much more quickly than a book about writing: it shows you what to do instead of telling you…