Writers come to literature first for love and later to learn more about writing.
Reading to learn doesn’t have to be academic, however.
Reading to learn can be its own spiritual practice.
What makes reading as a writer sacred is your intimacy with the artist’s mind.
You connect to their deepest truths.
You also start to see how a work is put together, the choices a writer makes.
Noticing form is instructive. You get ideas for your own project.
But there is also the matter of aesthetics, or beauty.
You become aware of the writer’s effort to make it sparkle.
This also a matter of intimacy–recognizing and deeply appreciating someone’s skill.
But how do you begin to read this way?
To begin with, you read regularly. You set it up as a practice.
For now, I’m going suggest a few parameters for reading regularly.
Next week, I’ll share a few key questions to ask as you read and re-read.
Formalizing the practice
of deep reading:
1) Choose a time of day and/or day(s) you will read.
If you work during the week, make it Saturday or Sunday morning before you write (notice how I snuck the writing in.)
Reading is one way to wake up the mind in the morning and get into the flow of words. It is also a pleasurable way to meet the day.
2) Decide how much reading you are going to do in a given week.
Look at the number of pages you have in front you and divide by the number of days you plan to read. That’s how much you’re going to read each day, more or less.
If you don’t meet your initial intention, for the love of everything good, do not flog yourself.
The important thing is that you are reading and digesting books you admire and want to learn from.
Always be kind to yourself and patient.
3) Take notes.
As soon as you figure out the structure of a piece, write that down. I also recommending studying an essay or chapter of a book paragraph by paragraph, noting the contents of each one. This helps you see how the piece put together.
There are countless other moves you might notice, and the more you read and take notes, the more these moves will live inside you
4) Underline passages you want to emulate.
See how the writer moves from summary to scene or through time, for example. Or how they move from external dialogue to interior monologue. Or a hundred thousand other ways a writer might impress you. (I’ll give some examples of these moves in the coming weeks.)
5) Write down lines you want to use in writing practice
Find lines that suggest topics you want to cover and use them to move into your own work.
These suggestions may not seem like the path to enlightenment.
But over time, as you make time to read awake, as you slow down and take time to digest what’s on the page, you feel that connection to something larger and glorious.