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Reading Books to Write Books
By: Dawn Colclasure

Anyone who knows me is well aware of my insatiable appetite for books -- all kinds of books. From books on radio communication at sea to books on how to make a quilt in seven days, I’ve purchased and read each and every one of them.  But this desire for books isn’t really a result of my desire to learn that particular piece of information.


Actually, it has more to do with my desire to learn how to be a better writer.


Can a book on coin collecting make you a better writer? Yes!  How about a Harlequin romance, when all you write are mysteries? Of course. The trick is looking deeper into the stories and books and allowing yourself to read them as a writer and not as a reader.


When you read books for leisure, your guard comes down and you relax. Reading books as a writer does a whole ‘nother number on your thinking processes. Somehow, you’re suddenly more sensitive to the rhythm of each sentence. You pick up on things not so easily explained, gain greater insight on characterization and figure out how someone took a subject as esoteric as a CODA and turned it into a 200-page book.


This approach can work in two ways: By fiction and nonfiction. Fiction writers look for pacing, plot holes, characterization, exposition, dialogue, style and format. Nonfiction writers, on the other hand, look at organization, structure, supplemental material, references, drawings and charts, subcategories and subheadings, outside sources and tone.


If you’re a fiction writer reading a novel, for example, you’ll notice when characters aren’t really acting the way they should be.  The author may be privy as to why this is happening, but you, the reader, have no idea. You have no idea because the author failed to mention that the other character in this scene is a spy and the two other characters are already clued in because they talked about this discovery in a scene the author decided not to include.  This serves as a reminder that you need to be sure to let your readers know what you, the author, knows. You go back to your WIP with this reminder fresh in your mind.


If you write nonfiction, you still benefit from reading a variety of nonfiction titles, and not necessarily titles on your subjects. You have the opportunity to see how a variety of other nonfiction writers handled their subjects in a variety of ways. Take the following as an example: A World War I writer focused on a certain aspect of a time period, complete with stories on the soldiers’ lives and letters to and from home. He threw in current historical events that affected this War, offered insights on both sides fighting the battle, included newspaper clippings and books of the times, and even got some quotes from people who knew these guys during this specific time period. If you’re writing a book similar to this, all of the above things included in that one book serve as ideas for what you, too, can use for your book. It also helps you understand how to put your story together and where you can get more information (a lot of nonfiction books include bibliographies).


But reading a variety of fiction and nonfiction books can do more than help you to be a better writer. Often, reading a book similar to what you are writing can remind you of how easy it can be to write a story or explore the subject. A writer who wanted to write a book carefully put together the book they wanted to write and you now see how such a task can be done. Writing a book isn’t brain science; thought out well, it’s definitely doable. Thousands of other writers out there have already written a book. Now it’s your turn.





Dawn Colclasure is a writer who lives in Oregon. Her Web site is at

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