From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Monday, August 26, 2013

Read Like a Teacher

One of the most ubiquitous pieces of writing advice we get is to read, read, read. It makes sense, right? We need to expose ourselves to what's out there, learn from the masters of the medium we want to work in. In fact, we are often told to "Read like a writer." That sounds all well and good, but if you're like me than you wonder what that means exactly. How does one read like a writer?

Well, as I've been preparing for the beginning of the school year, I've come up with somewhat of an answer to that question. I believe that to read like a writer, the best way is to read a piece of literature as if you were going to teach it.

Imagine that you were going to teach the book you're reading right now. When I think of it that way, as I have been the last couple weeks, it makes subtle changes to what I notice and pay attention to as I read. I'm focusing on plot arc and sentence construction and character development and theme. Things I can discuss with my class. Tools of our writers trade and areas in which we need to be continually improving. It's like being a watchmaker and paying attention to the mechanics of your watch rather than just what time it's telling you.

Reading like a teacher can inform your reading selection as well. I've kind of found three areas where I'm expanding my reading as I prepare to teach. First, I'm doing a lot more research type reading, online and otherwise. Secondly, the Norton Anthologies I used in college have become a bedside staple. Reading and studying (again) all these poems and stories from centuries ago has been so cool. I think its important for writers to explore and familiarize themselves with the beginnings of our language.

I'm also going back and reading classics I read in high school. I had a really unique and spectacular high school experience where we read a huge number of incredible books and I just devoured all of them. It is in large part thanks to my high school English teacher that I want to write. Anyway, since then, though I loved all the books we read and still have them on my shelves, I've mostly subscribed to the Stephen King philosophy of reading, meaning life is too short too reread. But now, partly because I want to see if I could teach any of these books, and partly just because its time, I'm starting to go through some of them again. Right now I'm on Their Eyes Were Watching God.

So anyway. All this is not to discount the pure joy of simply getting lost in a book, and there is definitely value in that as well. But when you want to read a book as a writer, as someone looking for technique and wordsmithing tools, it might help you to read like a teacher.

What book would you personally want to read like a teacher, for analysis and technique?

Sarah Allen


  1. Smart way to look at it. Makes us delve deeper.
    I'd want to read any of Preston and Child's books, because their pacing is so amazing.

  2. When I read I try to step out of the story sometimes and look for themes, or word usage, or elements of writing. The tough thing is, the better the writer, the more difficult it is to do that!

  3. I've spent a lot of time analysing books and it does reveal a lot, but there's the danger of forgetting to actually enjoy the story, so I usually save the analysis for the second read.

    Moody Writing

  4. Sorry, I read like a reader. I want to enjoy the story. I do tend to proof when I read though and notice any errors as I go along which I then want to correct and can't.

  5. Once you start, can you stop? hehehe

    I'll give it a shot.


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