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Learning from other Authors

One of the best ideas I’ve picked up from articles online and from writer’s magazines is to study other people’s writing. You’ve heard it before, but we can learn from the classics and from the New York Times Best Sellers. Most of you probably won’t want to mark up your fiction books. The answer is to purchase paperbacks at thrift stores or garage sales. Use them to analyze the writing. You can make notes in the margins and circle or underline. My favorite is a combination of notes in margins and color coding what I mark. If it sounds daunting to do that through a whole novel, then do it with the first chapter and select a few others that include the last chapter.

When I’m reading one of my favorite authors, I get involved in the story. For any analysis, I have to go back and read it from a writer’s point of view. I keep in mind character development, what hooks me as a reader, how an author develops suspense, voice, point of view, and how to write plot elements. These will get you started, but there are more you’ll probably think about. I use a different colored pencil for each aspect I’m studying. Try it and I’d love to hear back from you what you think of the method or share how you learn writing skills from other fiction books.

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How to Learn Writing from Reading

Sometimes writers read books on the craft of writing, but other times read for pure entertainment. Do you ever find yourself sliding into edit mode while reading? At a recent Panhandle Professional Writers meeting here in Amarillo, I discussed this with another author. We find typos and minor mistakes in books that we would have never noticed before. It takes many pairs of eyes on a manuscript throughout the whole process from first draft to final copy on it’s way to the printer. Get other writers and critique groups to assist you in the process. It’s even better if you can get a professional editor to go through your manuscript before it goes to the publisher or turned into an e-book.

I don’t recall who it was, but a well-known author suggested in an article that writers should pick up a used copy of one of their favorite author’s books. I went to a thrift store. Then, as you read the book, mark sentence structure, elements of the conflict, character development, and study how the dialog is written. Read the classics and read contemporary fiction. If you are a nonfiction writer, then apply the analysis to a book on your favorite subject. It’s a great way to learn from other writers.

As you read, make notes in the margins or in a notebook. You can find spiral notebooks or small journals most places, even the inexpensive  chain stores have them for as little as a dollar. Date your notes. Be sure to include the title and author of the book. I even include the publishing company and copyright year.

The publishing world is changing around us on a daily basis. More electronic readers like Kindle and Nook are put on the market each week. E-books are exploding onto the market. In my opinion, whether you write traditional books or e-books, it’s still important for us to develop our craft and produce the best possible writing for our readers. Keep on writing and reading!