I once had a high school English teacher who observed that even if her students had stopped reading fiction in high school, the ex-readers would still do better in her classes than those that did never read for pleasure. Her theory was that we unconsciously pick up grammar rules, and a feel for language through reading that is never lost. I think there’s something to that. Sometimes you understand why one sentence works, and another doesn’t, and are not able to explain why. Sometimes stories sew seeds in your brain that only sprout years later.
But I think that most writers need to make parts of the process conscious. I know I do.
I’ve heard some people will take sample pages from writers they like, and type them up, to get an sense of how the words come together as they’re written. I’ve never tried this, but I think I might in the future. I’m a fast reader. Typing would slow me down and prevent me from skimming.
Sometimes I’ll keep a notebook handy, and jot down turns of phrase I find particularly vivid or appealing. I end up with messy scribbled notes, but I think the act of it is almost as important. Somehow by writing things down, it sticks in my mind better.
The most valuable thing I find is asking ‘why’. Why did I enjoy this part of the story? Why did this work for me? Why did I hate this part? Why is this popular? Then going back to find the answers in a re-read.
Still sometimes, I like to read straight through without pausing. It’s also valuable to feel the flow of a story sometimes and to read like a reader instead of a writer. I’ll bookmark parts I like with bits of torn paper to go back to when I’m done with the book.
Do you have special techniques for getting the most out of your reading?