if I could offer you only one tip

2 min read

If I could offer you only one tip for the future of your writing, sunscreen (no!) READ MORE would be it.

The best way to learn to write is to read. You must have read that from Francine Prose before. If you haven’t, she states the obvious in READING LIKE A WRITER, but it serves as a vital reminder: if you want to become a better writer, start reading like one.

What does it mean? Just reading won’t lead you anywhere, but close reading will make you a better writer. AND a better reader, too!

When you read, pause. Try to find out what the author wanted to convey with their words. And how they did it. Pay attention to grammar, sentences, paragraphs, point of view… What is the audience for that? What is the meaning of all those words for different audiences?

Pay attention to the writer’s choices. Not only perfect structures and beautiful prose, but also flaws and gaps. Grasp everything you can perceive and extract and absorb and learn from.

Observe the characters underneath their surface. They are built from actions, physical descriptions, dialogues. And from well-written dialogues and gestures, you get characters’ motivations, emotions, everything between the lines of the writer’s words. Pay attention to that, too, and be open-minded for what “well-written dialogues” mean.

Look for clues in one or two descriptions more than verbosities. Sometimes a concise or a short but vivid beat can tell more than a full barrage of words that dully give away every detail. Try to figure out how the writer achieves that incredible feat.

Use reverse engineering. Dissect the text and that can give you a whole structure for your own work. Do that to create your work’s outline. Imitate. Mimic. Learn. But also do the opposite. Find examples of literature that show the “rules” of writing, but read the great authors who were bold enough to break them, too.⁣

Finally, Prose mentions the writer’s fear of creating “weeds” instead of “roses”. The good old fear that hunts us in our self-consciousness. To change that, also read more! We learn from “the good gardeners” how to grow good roses. Or (why not?) how to make “weeds” look good.

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