Tag Archives: writer

Reading Like a Writer

By Lori DeBoer

We read for many reasons—to be entertained, to be swept up in a story, to be transported into an interesting world, to laugh, to cry, to learn, to gain insight and to be inspired. But when we become writers, we need to read like a writer. We become active readers, slowing down the process and becoming conscious of the material. We examine published writing to learn what moves us, to figure out what works and what—in our not-so-humble opinion—doesn’t. By doing so, we gain insight into what we want to write and how we want to write it. Ultimately, we learn about both craft and art by reading and emulating great writers.

Someone reading for merely for pleasure engages in a passive process—he or she may romp through a book or story but probably doesn’t spend much time thinking about what went into it. An active reader may read something the first time through for pleasure, but pays attention to which parts of the story were memorable, which passages were funny, sad, thrilling or merely confusing. An active reader goes so far as to make notes in the margin to flag passages that call for a more in-depth look. Active reading requires revisiting a piece of writing many times to understand its underlying structure and all its nuances.

When I worked as the public relations director for the Liquid Crystal Institute, a research center at Kent State University, I remember that one of the research scientists showed me a really expensive, tiny computer from a competitor that he was going to take apart.

“This will show me they work.”

“Can I have one after you’re done?” I asked.

He looked at me, frowning. “After I reverse engineer them, they won’t work anymore.”

Lucky for us, when we reverse engineer a piece of writing—taking it apart to see what components it contains and how they fit together—we rarely ruin the story. In fact, we can come to appreciate the story even more because the skill of the writer is revealed. Reverse engineering is a good model for the process of active reading.

Another way of thinking about being an active reader is to think about a piece of writing the way you would a house. If we visit someone’s house for the first time, we like taking a tour and looking at all the cool pictures and furniture. If you were an interior decorator, you might observe that the rooms are harmonized with blue and red accents, or that the walls have a rich, faux paint. An architect, however, would likely visit the house and become engaged by its structure and design style, and perhaps may not be jarred if the décor doesn’t match the period. Bring along your buddy the building inspector, and you can bet he’s not going to go gaga over the décor or the architectural style. He’ll peer at the porch to see if it sags or has termites. He’ll poke around in the basement with a flashlight to see if the foundation stands firm.

Taking a cue from various building professionals, the professional writer needs to roll many roles into one, examining writing in the same way that a potential home owner might scrutinize houses. You need to incorporate not only your penchant for interior decoration (the aesthetics of the writing), but you need to cultivate your appreciation of architecture (how the story is designed) and the critical eye of the home inspector (for construction details such as grammar and spelling).

You can learn just as much from pieces you don’t care for as the ones that you love. Reading like a writer requires that you read widely, that you venture into territory outside of your preferred genre to see what you can bring back to sustain your own work.

Action Step:  Make a list of your all-time favorite books, essays or articles. Note the genre you like most to read. Leave room to jot down what you liked about these works. Be specific. Was the story riveting or were you most moved by the quality of the language? Did the characters stick in your head and heart?  You might want to revisit a few works in your personal library and read them more closely, practicing active reading.  Please let me know what discoveries you make.

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Lori DeBoerLori DeBoer is an author, freelance journalist and writing coach. She has contributed essays on writing to Mamaphonic: Balancing Motherhood and Other Creative Acts, Keep It Real: Everything You’ve Wanted to Know About Research and Writing Creative Nonfiction and A Million Little Choices: The ABCs of CNF. She is a contributing editor for Short Story Writer and director of the Boulder Writers’ Workshop. Her stories have been a Top-25 Finalist for the Glimmer Train Fiction Open as well as being shortlisted for the Bellevue Literary Prize. She’s been published in Arizona Highways, The Bellevue Literary Review, Gloom Cupboard, The New York Times, Iowa Woman, Pithead Chapel and America West Airlines Magazine. One of her clients was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and four of her clients have been finalists for the Colorado Gold Award.  For more information, visit her website and blog at www.lorideboer.net.

Six Ways to Make More Writing Time

By Lori DeBoer

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I once met a successful mystery author at a conference in Tucson who told me she wrote all of her books in 15-minute snatches of time because, as a mom, that’s all she had. Her pronouncement horrified me. I was childless and working full-time at home as a freelance magazine writer.  I could not imagine writing anything “artful” or “serious” without having hours of unrushed time to noodle over it.

Flash forward at least 15 years and my beleaguered mommy brain can’t remember the name of the author, but I remember her advice.  In between running the Boulder Writers’ Workshop, working as a writing coach, homeschooling our son and attempting to keep the house in order, I only have small snippets of time in which to write. And I make the most of the minutes I have, poking away at my writing in short bursts. Last year, one of my short stories was shortlisted for the Bellevue Literary Prize and appeared in the April issue of The Bellevue Literary Review. I also landed a spot in Gloom Cupboard.  I started 2014 with a piece in Pithead Chapel and was recently asked to be a contributing editor for Short Story Writer. which is available in the Apple Store.

Not only do I not feel deprived because I don’t have whole days to write, I’ve found that working in short bursts really works. There is something satisfying about coming back to a piece of writing time and again and watching it unfold. Consistent effort, applied in short snippets of time, yields a pretty decent word count.

When you are looking for more writing time, consider piggybacking your efforts onto some activity you already regularly allow time for.  Also, look for pockets of time that that would otherwise go to waste.

Here’s some strategies to get you started:

Arrive Early—Use the pocket of time before an appointment—whether it’s a doctor’s visit or a business meeting—to work on your writing.  Instead of twiddling your thumbs, reading trashy magazines or catching up on Facebook, you could spend a few moments fleshing out a plot point or writing a scene.  To maximize that space, plan to arrive at least 15 minutes early.  As a bonus, you’ll gain a reputation for being well-organized and considerate; just don’t let on what you are actually up to.

Join the Gym—If exercise is already a regular habit, expand your discipline by writing for 20 minutes before or after your workout.  Some gyms have a café you can write in, or you can hit a nearby coffee shop.  When I was a single mom working on my collection of short stories for my MFA, I did most of my writing at the Lifetime Fitness Café.  The monthly fee came with childcare and was more affordable than hiring a babysitter. As an added bonus, my son had some fun and I eventually started exercising after my writing sessions.

Write On the Go—Many great ideas and solutions to writing challenges come on the go.  There’s no surprise there, getting out and about stimulates creativity and sends blood to the brain. Whether you are on a hike or standing in line at the bank, be prepared to capture your thoughts.  Bob Early, my former editor at Arizona Highways, is a big proponent of carrying a writing notebook wherever he goes.  Christina Antus, Colorado humorist, mom and BWW member, recommends a more high-tech approach of using the Evernote app on her smartphone. “ I can jot down ideas as they come to me. I do this through the day and can write from anywhere,” she says. “Evernote syncs to your online account so everything is on your computer when you are ready to tweak and finish up.” Colorado poet Rachel Abeyta Newlon uses a voice-recording app to record her writing on the run.

Make a (Secret) Lunch Date—Whether you spend your days at home or at the office, that regular lunch slot can offer another opportunity to make writing in snatches an ongoing habit.  If you schedule a regular lunch date with your writing, as though it were a valued friend, you’ll be that much further along. Your office peeps may wonder who you are trysting with on your lunch hour, but they don’t need to know until your book comes out.  Or ever.

Snuggle Up—With the advent of noise-cancelling headphones, laptops and tablets, there’s no reason you can’t snuggle up with your sweetie while working on your writing.  Think of it as the adult version of parallel play. At our house, my husband watches football while I curl up on the couch next to him with my computer.  He’s happy I’m nearby, doing what I love.  As an added bonus, merely sitting through a game has given me wife points.

Sleep On It (Or Not)—Instead of counting sheep or worrying about the day’s events, use that time between wide-awake and drifting off to solidify your writing plan.  “Before you drift off, think through what’s coming up next in your novel,” suggests Judith Robbins Rose, Colorado author of the forthcoming middle grade novel MISS and BWW member. “Don’t spend a ton of time, but consider the many different ways you can write that next scene.”  Be sure to capture your ideas before you do drift off.  As a bonus, putting your subconscious to work is likely to yield some creative ideas the next morning.  Can’t sleep?  No problem. “When you’re wide awake at 3:30 a.m. get up and write,” advises Mandy Walker, Colorado author of Untangling from Your Spouse: How to Prepare for Divorce. Plus, there’s no better fix for insomnia than writing a few hundred words.

Please weigh in. What are your best tips for sneaking in a little writing time? The writer whose tip gains the most likes will win a free hour of coaching, in person or over the phone. Use the little “Vote Up” arrow under each comment.

Entries will be accepted through Saturday, 1/11/2014. The winner will be announced on this blog on Sunday.

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Lori DeBoerLori DeBoer, a Boulder-based author, journalist and writing coach, is the contributing editor for Short Story Writer and director of the Boulder Writers’ Workshop. Her stories have been a Top-25 Finalist for the Glimmer Train Fiction Open as well as being shortlisted for the Bellevue Literary Prize. She’s been published in Arizona Highways, The Bellevue Literary Review, Gloom Cupboard, The New York Times, Iowa Woman, Pithead Chapel and America West Airlines Magazine. One of her clients was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and four of her clients have been finalists for the Colorado Gold Award.  She has volunteered to help edit the RMFW anthology and will be sharing information about writing short stories at the educational workshop in January 2014. For more information, visit her website and blog at www.lorideboer.net.