Rules from Chris: Writerly Rule #2

Welcome back, writers and readers. I hope you all have had an opportunity to try out my first Writerly Rule. More than that, I hope it’s been working for you. Now that you’ve had some time to get into your writing groove, I wanted to offer my next twist on the advise writers will give you.  

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that.
—Stephen King

Rule #2: Read A Lot

When I teach English Composition—before we ever discuss the writing process—I start the semester with a section on reading. There is a simple reason for that. Reading is the reason why writers write. Without a reader, even if it is only meant to be you, writing has no purpose. That’s why my second rule is read a lot. But, what would I tweak about this rule?

Writerly Rule #2: Read intelligently a lot.

What does that mean? Several things. First, don’t choose random narratives to read because they are in front of you. Understand why you picked up the story in the first place. Whatever your reason, make sure you are reading purposefully.  That leads to the second aspect of intelligent reading.

Read with purpose. Hopefully, you’ve chosen to read a piece because it resides in the same genre in which you are currently writing or want to be writing. Perhaps the author has emerged in the literary world and you want to explore first hand what their style is. Plot, setting, character development. Cadence and pacing. Any of the aspects of the story you want to strengthen, read to see how the author does it.

Third, don’t waste your time once you’ve collected what you need from that author. It is perfectly alright if you don’t finish a novel—or a short story for that matter. To gauge and understand a certain element of writing doesn’t require a completed piece. Sometimes it does. Either way, when you have what you came for, move on.

Finally, as I tell my freshmen students, reading intelligently should include note-taking. Whether it is physical or mental, pay attention and read closely. Take notes. Your writer’s toolbox will be more equipped because you did.

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