Tips for Writers: Learn Better from the Books You Read

We’ve all heard it before: if you want to improve your writing, you have to read. Read everything, read in abundance. Read, read, read.

It makes sense, of course. To develop your skill as a writer, you need to expose yourself to as great a variety of writing as you possibly can. Books in your genre and out of it, non-fiction as well as fiction, books you like and books you don’t. You can learn from them all.

I thought I had this one piece of advice all figured out. I thought I knew everything there was to know about “reading for writers.”

Turns out there was another side to the “read, read, read” doctrine that I hadn’t considered, and I only just realized it the other day.

Let me set my revelation up for you. As a book reviewer for Coffee Time Romance and More, I and my fellow reviewers have a schedule of books to read and review on a bi-weekly basis. It’s up to us to decide whether or not to recommend a book, and we must support this recommendation (or non-recommendation, as the case may be) to an audience of potential readers.

It’s a hefty responsibility, and one I don’t take lightly. Reviews that I objectively rate “3 Cups” out of 5 or lower are carefully thought out. The reviews I write and the reasons I give for my rating choice are also carefully thought out.

But with the not-so-good of my reviews, I always try to find the good in each book as well. One reason I do this is because I feel I owe it to the author, and to readers, to give a well-rounded review. There’s always something good to say about a book, even if I didn’t like it and couldn’t recommend it. Another reason is that I have my professional image to consider. No one likes a Negative Nelly; even though I must be honest, it’s not my place to be heavy-handed with criticism.

Just as well, because it’s not much fun to be derisive.

But in trying to produce a well-rounded review, even of books that I didn’t quite enjoy, here’s what I discovered: looking for the good in a book makes me a better writer. Why? It’s simple. It’s all too easy to get bogged down in what we don’t like in a book, to bemoan a lack of plot and to rail at flaws in character development. We get so caught up in those things that we overlook places where the book excels.

I have an example. The very first book I read for Coffee Time Romance was one I rated 1 Cup. I won’t say which book it is (if you’re interested, I’m sure you’ll be able to find it). What I said was that “this book is founded on weak and implausible plot points. Themes like blogging, celebrity notoriety and even virginity are naively presented, and character development is lacking.” But, I also saw that the author had spent time developing the craft of writing – it was quite well-written, actually … technically, at least. I wouldn’t have noticed that if I hadn’t been looking for it, if I’d allowed myself to become overwhelmed by plot points and character development.

It’s a lesson I certainly wasn’t expecting to learn. But I’m glad I came to that realization. Now, when I read a book, I will know why I am seeking out the positives and endeavouring to give the book its due: because it’s making me a better writer.

If you’re a writer, I would suggest you give it a try, too. Take the time to seek out the positive aspects of every book you read, whether it’s a book you like or a book you don’t. Read, read, read. Books in your genre and out of it, non-fiction as well as fiction, books you like and books you don’t. You can learn from them all.

And if you take the time to consider the positives as well as the negatives, you’re giving yourself a more thorough learning experience.

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