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3 tips to improve your reading (and your writing)

Oh, I loved that one, what did you think of Mr. McDaniels? 

Your face drops, eyes widen, blood rushes to face. Someone just asked about a book you’ve read, and you don’t even remember a major character. 

How could this be?

You, the book addict, bibliophile, the ferocious, man-eating bookworm, bested by a casual reader. 

Dude, don’t worry. Although embarrassing at a fancy cocktail party (stop going to those), reading and forgetting is very common.

But if you often find yourself in this situation, maybe it’s a sign that your reading skills could use a little work. Writing that doesn’t suck takes a lot of reading, smart reading. Here are 3 tips that should help:


1. Take notes
Your memory sucks, so take notes! I love taking notes when I read. Not only can I remember details like names and places, I can compare the actions of characters at different stages of the novel. If you are writer, note taking is also a great way to better understand the mechanisms that make a novel work.

When reading, try this:

  • Write down characters! I am the worst at remembering names, so I always make sure to write them down. 
  • Note types of passages, whether it’s dialogue or descriptive, and consider the differences between your writing and the book’s writing.
  • At the end of each chapter, write down major plot points. Can you identify an 8-point arc? Can you identify a three act structure?
  • If you’re an over achiever, you can completely outline the book you’re reading. This may be too time-consuming for every book; however, I guarantee that you’ll get much more out your reading when you can review each detail in the context of the whole book.

2. Plot, theme, and motivations
When you are reading a book, you must always be identifying these three things. You must know what is happening (plot), why it is happening (theme), and the motivations of characters that drive the entire novel. 

When reading, ask these questions:
  • What’s going on?
  • Why does it matter?
  • Why did this character do/say that?

3. Stop reading so much!
Nobody wants to hear this, but maybe you’re reading too much and retaining too little. Don’t let your ambition undermine you’re actual goal...becoming a better writer.

For example, my goal has always been to read two books per week. Between a full-time job and writing, this was a reasonable goal for a while. However, I have recently started a master’s program at night, which made two books per week near impossible. For a time, I tried to keep this pace; however, I found myself rushing through pages, missing subplots, and genuinely sucking at reading. I cut my reading, so I could spend more time learning from each book.

Apply to your writing!
Why are you reading, anyway? If it’s just for pleasure, then ignore me and enjoy your book. But if it is also to become a pro-writer, be pro-reader. Pro, in this case, is short for proactive. Not only will your developed observations impress at the next fancy cocktail party (fine…if you must go), you’ll become a writer who sucks less from each book you read.

Have other reading tips? Comment below!
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