"FUIMUS - We Have Been"

"FUIMUS - We Have Been!" motto of Clan Bruce

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Sunday, 13 March 2016

WRITER'S DREAM; Read Like A Writer

I have always been an avid bookworm, devouring one book after another with an insatiable appetite.  I'm a big reader too - I read everything I see from bill posters to shampoo bottles - if it's written down, I have to read it. I can't help myself.  I respond to texts, emails, letters and social media messages much more efficiently than phone calls or surprise visits. Basically, if you want my attention - put it in writing. 

A love of books is essential in a writer; not only novels, but all types of books.  The books I pulled from my study for the picture above are an eclectic mix of poetry, history, art, witchcraft (that's one of mine!) nature and epistolary. It is a random selection to illustrate diversity in reading habits, because as a writer, you just never know where your next piece of inspiration is going to come from.  You need to be open to both fiction and non-fiction. 

Oftentimes I can be reading something, or flicking through a book of fine art, and it will suddenly trigger an idea that sends me rushing off to get my laptop and start writing before I lose it. Inspiration is fleeting - if you don't act on it, it doesn't hang around, so you need to pin it down in that first flush of excitement.  

Reading a book that isn't remotely related to your usual subject as a writer, can be very inspirational - some of my recent Spirit&Destiny columns have been inspired by military books; two topics that are poles apart and yet a moment of inspiration can bring them together to create something completely new.

I have also noticed that since writing books myself, I read differently and I am more difficult to please as a reader. Over the years I have learnt how to read like a writer; I am constantly looking for what it is that is engaging me. What is it about certain books/authors that keeps me coming back for more?  Why do I choose one author over another when both are writing similar books, say Philippa Gregory over Hilary Mantle for example.

When reading novels I seek out the bare bones of the story arc; I try to define the muscle-tone of the sub-plot that fleshes it out; I look for the ligaments and tendons that hook it together. Seeking out the anatomy of the book in this way enhances my enjoyment of the novel, because I can see the technical expertise that has gone into crafting the book. I never read this way before I was published and it is a skill that I've developed in my years as a writer. Now reading a book by a favourite author is like watching a master craftsman at work.  But I had to have years of experience in writing and editing myself to develop this level of critical analysis, which has been a gradual and natural development, rather than something I planned to do.  Writers become very deep readers.

It isn't only books that inspire either; I have been inspired by films, music videos, a piece of music, a Kylie concert, my counselling training course, Scotland...inspiration is all around you if you look with a writer's eyes. So next time you pick up a book to curl up with, try to read more like a writer and ask yourself why you are enjoying it. If there is something that moves you, makes you laugh, that you can relate to, make a mental note of how that sentence has been constructed. Where are the hooks - in other words, what keeps you reading and turning the pages? Do you have a preference for 1st, 2nd or 3rd person narrative? And if you are bored by a book and don't finish it, again ask yourself why - the answer will be a tip on what to avoid in your own writing. 
All reading is research to a writer, providing it is read in the right way and through the eyes of an author. 
Happy reading!

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