Friday, May 25, 2018

How to Read Like an Author

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes novels. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and an affinity for mentoring teen writers. Since 2013, Shannon has taught mentoring tracks at a local school where she provides junior high and high school students with an introduction to writing and the publishing industry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

It's FRIDAY!

I was going to spend today talking about the mushy middle of manuscripts. It's the next topic to address as I share my process as part of our Grow An Author series. But since both Jill and Steph spent this week giving advice on summer writing, I thought I'd best take a hint and chime in as well. We'll save mushy middles for after the Summer Panels, alright?

My two partners in crime gave you stellar advice on Setting Yourself Up to Succeed and Three Mindset Shifts to Help You Have a (Realistically) Productive Summer. The only thing I can think to add is this:


Reading has been at the top of every summer TO DO list I've ever made. Even with kids and writing and vacationing, the long summer days provide stretches of uninterrupted reading time that I just can't find any other time of the year. This might not be you. You may be so over-committed this summer, you're wondering if you can squeeze any writing or reading time in at all.

To that I would say this: there's a reason teachers give children a summer reading list. Studies show that reading over the summer can help students retain what they've learned throughout the academic year and keep them from taking a step backwards as they move into fall.

For you, an aspiring author, avoiding the summer slide should most certainly be a goal. You've learned a lot this past year, and not just about grammar and punctuation. As a writer studying the craft of storytelling, you've stored away tips and tricks as you've visited here and elsewhere. You've read oodles of schoolbooks and library books and books you purchased with your own money. Every single page has sparked growth in you. Retaining that knowledge will ensure you continue forward in your journey as opposed to playing catch-up when the cooler weather sets in.

So! From me to you, here's some advice on how to Read Like an Author this summer:

1. Mark up those books: My son is starting high school next year and not only did he receive a summer reading list, but he received instructions on how to annotate a book--a task he'll be expected to undertake during the break. I love this idea so much. Some of you are dying a little inside--I know. The thought of actually putting pen or pencil or *gasp* highlighter to your favorite novels is sacrilege. BUT! Consider for a moment that you are a student of writing. Underline, circle, fill the margins of those pages with anything that jumps out at you. Look for the building blocks the author used to construct the story. See if you can pinpoint the inciting incident and the transition between acts. Mark the various increases in tension or stakes. Reading in this way will make you an active participant in your learning. AND, if marking pages is simply not happening in your world, consider Post-It Notes or making notations on a separate piece of paper. There's always a cheat for this sort of thing.

2. Read something old: CS Lewis said this, "It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between." I ADORE THIS ADVICE. Reading the same books over and over can help you identify just how the author got from beginning to end, from one plot point to the next, from story problem to climax. First and second reads of a book ensure you know the story. Third and fourth reads ensure you know the writing.

3. Stop and study: When something confuses you--a word, a historical event, a vocation, a grammar choice--take a few minutes and google that baby. Indulge your curiosity. That knowledge may reveal a new layer to a beloved book and, who knows, it may send you down a rabbit hole full of story ideas you'd not thought to consider.

4. Practice: There are tons of ways you can use a published novel for writing practice. You can rewrite scenes you hate, give the story a different ending, add yourself into crucial scenes, rewrite your favorite scenes in a different tense or perspective, use chapter endings as story prompts. Another thing that will help you process story like an author is to make lists. Make a list of every setting and how it enhanced the story. List the characters and their purpose in the tale. List the things you liked and the things you hated. Make a list of everything you would have done differently.

PLEASE NOTE: These lists are for your growth. You do not, should not, feel the need to share them with the author of the story. You just might break their soul.

5. Turn off your phone: You and I are on electronics so often that our reading stamina has suffered. Consider how many times you've settled in to read a book and found yourself reaching for your phone. Just a quick FB check, need to clear those notifications, the world might have ended while I read that last page and Twitter will tell me. It's one of the obstacles this generation must learn to navigate if we're to build up the stamina necessary to become students of our craft--any craft really, but specifically reading and writing. Crafts that require a lot of individual study without oversight and constant access to a computer or hand-held device. Learning now to be disciplined while you work will pay off in dividends later. Trust me.

SO! Tell me, WHAT do YOU plan to read this summer? Any favorite summer reads I SIMPLY MUST BUY? Your recommendations, friends. I need them all.

29 comments:

  1. Oh, I love this! This last year I decided to make more time for reading, so I have an overall goal of 50 books for this year.That includes a lot of nonfiction, classics, and any newer books I want to read. I could never mark them up ;0 but I might write down sections I liked.... maybe I wouldn't mind marking up the nonfiction so much?

    As for what books I plan to read. I have stacks and stacks in my room and I'm just reading whatever I feel like, one book at a time. I am currently reading Brandon Sanderson's novel the Rithmatist. Before that I read a nonfiction called Half the Church. Before that I had read Steven King's On Writing. After all this I might read an old, old book by G.A. Henty. Or maybe some books by Lois Lowry as I have a whole stack of her books.

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    1. I love this! You SHOULD read whatever you like! It's summer. Enjoy those reads, girl!

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  2. Great post! I'm one of those readers who quails at the thought of marking up a book. XD Sometime I should buy a second copy of a favorite novel for exactly that purpose!

    And ouch, #5 hits home! (As it should.) Thanks for the gentle reminder. :)

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    1. I'm preaching to myself as well, friend. I totally understand! #5 gets us all.

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  3. I am totally using these tips! As for my reading list, it's too immense for me to list every book. (This happened last summer, too, so it's perfectly normal for me.) I'm including some American Girl books, the Adirondack Kids series (I camp every year in the Adirondacks, the only reason for me owning these books), and book 1 of The Lord of the Rings.
    ~Amanda

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    1. Fantastic list! I read Lord of the Rings for the first time last summer and it saved me from the hugest reading slump I'd ever been in. I hope you enjoy them as well as I did.

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  4. What a wonderful post! Reading is something I am definitely going to do more of this summer - and I love these suggestions! Writing in books generally never happens in my house unless it's textbook or it's an duplicate paperback - so I might use Postits or might use second-hands. And I love the quote you gave us from CS Lewis!

    My summer reading list includes some new titles that I can't wait for (the last Penderwicks book, Olivia Twist, Fawkes), and some old ones that I want to curl up with again (LotR this neat one called Hey Mom I Want to Ride my Bike Across America, and some of Shakespeare's plays.)

    ~True // atruewriter.blogspot.com

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    1. You've got some amazing books on your TBR list and I'm so glad you enjoyed the post. CS Lewis has given us some spectacular quotes to chew on, hasn't he?

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  5. Oooh, you have some great tips! This summer, I plan on rereading all seven Harry Potter books, and the Percy Jackson series (I've never read it, but my little brother loves it and keeps pestering me to read it, so I'm finally going to). Since you asked for recommendations, I HAVE to mention The 49th Mystic (by Ted Dekker). Who knows, maybe you've already read it, but it is SOOOOOOO AMAZING!!!! I read the whole thing in a couple of days, it was that good.

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    1. Oooo! I really enjoy Dekker so I'll def look that one up.

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  6. Wow, this is so helpful! I love the idea of reading books a few times over, and "practicing" -- I feel like that's a good way to develop editing skills and a good way to find your personal preferences (as long as you do it privately).

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    1. Absolutely! Totally agree. Rereading and practicing are so good for jumping up your skill level.

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  7. Five kingdoms series by Brandon Mull

    inheritance cycle series by Christopher Paolini

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  8. I love this post. My family and I read together all the time, so we have tons of books on our sort of book club reading list. My siblings and I have a book club thing going on, and have a few books in progress right now and many planned for later. Here are a few of the ones we have in progress:

    The Redwall series (LOVE these books)
    The Empress's Tomb (Kiki Strike series)
    Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself

    And ones we're excited for later this year, as they come out and as we wrap up the books we're reading now:

    Willa of the Wood
    Serafina and the Black Cloak
    Jupiter Winds

    There are so many more I can't list them all here, but I thought I'd bring up these, just to name a few.
    Thanks to everyone else for sharing books! I'm pretty much always looking for great reading material.

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    1. Oh! I love these. I need to dig into some of these recs for both me and my kids. I've been trying to get them to read the Redwall series forever. They are huge readers but I think they're put off by the covers.

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  9. I'm so excited about summer reading (I've already started, in fact, since I graduated in early May). I was doing a Master's degree where I had to read CONSTANTLY--several books a week--but it was all nonfiction. Now, I finally get to read fiction again!!!! *cue confetti and fireworks*

    I've been reading a whole bunch of Louis L'Amour, because I'm writing a Western so clearly I need to learn from the Old Masters ;-) I also am re-reading some Maggie Stiefvater (including All the Crooked Saints--SO GOOD). I want to try Rosemary Sutcliff because I have friends who have recommended her very highly as a skilled storyteller.

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    1. Oooo! You just reminded me to add ALL THE CROOKED SAINTS to my summer list as well! I haven't read it just yet but her stuff is so fantastic. Wishing you all the joy this summer as you rest and read.

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    2. Thank you! :-D Ooooh, I hope you can read Crooked Saints soon--it is my favorite Stiefvater book yet, and that's saying something!!

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  10. Great post! I’m definitely using these tips this summer.

    This summer, I’m planning on reading Tales of Goldstone Wood #’s 4-7 (I can’t remember the titles to save my life) and The Scorpio Races, and re-reading Lord of the Rings.

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    1. Love Scorpio Races and LOTR. I'll have to look into Tales of Goldstone Wood. Happy reading, friend!

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  11. I really liked this article, and I'm definitely going to put it to use this summer. I tend to go on sprees where I'll only read new or old books, but this time I'll be sure to mix it up a bit. I've got a shelf of books I've collected to read this summer, but I don't think it'll last unless I reread a ton too.

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    1. Rereading is my fave! Wishing you tons of luck with that TBR stack!

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  12. Love number 1. I remember marking up my old Magic Tree House book, now the cover is falling of. But that's that s loved book looks like.

    This summer I'm reading the 39 clues series, The Penderwicks, and a bunch of books that my sister told me that I had to read, half of them have horses on the covers.
    -Emily D.

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    1. Oh man! I totally agree. A loved book is a beat up book. You enjoy those horses, girl.

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  13. Love this list. I find myself often imagining what other characters think, especially in books written in first person. I also stripped my phone to, well, a phone. No internet (except whatsapp and maps). It gives me so much time and peace! And I read and write more.

    I plan to read more Dutch writers this summer. I am Dutch, but I read more in English. I think it will be helpful to read more in my own language, also for my own writing.So I am looking for contemporary Dutch writers, and some classics I didn't read yet.
    I also want to read some old loved books.
    Oh and I want to read Awakened by Morgan L. Busse.

    I hope you have a lovely (reading) summer!

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    1. I love this, Marja! I so wish I knew more than one language. I bet it helps with writing in ways I can't even consider. I wish you a fantastic summer of reading. And Morgan's amazing! I'm sure you'll love Awakened.

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  14. Wow, Shan. Brilliant stuff in here, friend. It's funny, I have no problem underlining nonfiction books that I'm reading, but the thought of doing that to fiction does make me a bit nervous! I might have to ease myself in with Post its as you suggested.

    Also, I love that C.S. Lewis quote!

    I just finished my first Beatriz Williams book. Have you read her? Gorgeous working and she's historical. I think you'd dig her.

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    1. I have not read her, but I shall absolutely look her up! Thank you for the recommendation. And I think it's a fact that people either prefer a beat up book or a pristine one. My preferences: pristine for bookstagram, beat up for my shelf.

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