Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Harding recently posted five writing tips in Publishers Weekly, and one in particular stuck out to me:
“It’s true, too, that your writing can only be as good as the best readings you’ve given of the best books.”
Harding makes the point that a writer need not simply read good books; he must read good books well. But how do you do that, without a discussion group always at the ready to bounce ideas off of?
A few years ago, I realized I wasn’t getting enough out of the books I read. I wasn’t retaining enough about them to have an intelligent conversation later on. The solution I found was a simple, totally free book journal.
I started a folder on my computer cleverly called, “Book Journal.” In it is a document called “Books Read,” where I list each book I’ve completed, as well as those I started but chose not to finish (these are highlighted in gray and italicized, because they only kind of count in my year-end total). I also create a document for each book, with the book’s title as the document title (again, simple), and try to write 250 words about my reading as soon as possible after I’ve turned the last page. It doesn’t require anything fancy, and really doesn’t take more than a couple of minutes for each book, if I just push on through. I don’t edit or revise my reflections; I use the act of free writing to help commit certain details and reactions to memory, and then move on.
Now, when I look through the list in order to recommend books to others, I remember a whole lot more about each book. Because I know I’m going to write about it later, I also pay more attention to the craft of storytelling while I’m reading. There can be something to learn in everything we read. How do you get the most out of what you read?