Writing Excuses Season 2 Episode 27: Reading Critically

As a writer you obviously know how to read. But being a writer changes how you read, and what you read, and even why you read. Do you read more, or less as a writer? How do you read so that your reading doesn’t interfere with writing? How do you channel your reading into bettering your writing? And what’s the difference between a critical reader and a book critic?

Writing Prompt: Write a story about a critic, but a critic who criticizes something abnormal like Cement Mixers.


45 thoughts on “Writing Excuses Season 2 Episode 27: Reading Critically”

  1. I’m not hearing any. Just to be sure I’ll re-upload the episode. If you were listening via a browser clear the cache and try again.

  2. Why all the Country Music bashing? Johnny Cash sang Country music you know…eh to each his own I guess, still there are far worse genres out there. I didn’t here any static, but it did sound like Brandon was in a tunnel a couple of times. It’s all understandable at any rate. Thanks for another great cast.

  3. To master any art form, you have to study the works of others. In music, I have spent a lot of time listening to, writing down the notes and trying to emulate the artists that I like (however, I have never stooped to the level of listening to country).

    When I read books now, I keep a notebook handy to write down the things I like and dislike. Occasionally, I will even write out an outline of the book to help me see the big picture in a shorter format. Other times, I’ll go sentence by sentence and observe their structures. I like to go to DI and pick up the old, beat-up versions of books so that I can mark them up as I read and not feel guilty about it.

    Another thing I like to observe is my emotions while I’m reading. Why did that character make me angry? How come I can’t put this book down? etc. Then I try to think of how I can create that emotion in my own writing. What any form of art needs to do is capture the emotions of the audience. If we don’t, we create another emotion called boredom.

    By the way, no static on my end.

  4. I hear the static too.

    Good episode though. Something that’s been on my mind lately, so felt timely to me.

  5. No static for me.

    Ever since I’ve started seriously working on my novel I’ve been noticing the flaws in the books I read. It wasn’t really empowering me to be better, it was just annoying me because I wanted to read the book. I really should start looking at it the good way, though.

    And, because Hordes was mentioned, I must say that Trollbloods rule.

  6. I like to pick one particular thing that I’m trying to improve in my own writing, then focus on that one thing while I’m reading.

    For example, a year ago I wanted to learn how to introduce backstory well. Then I read Greg Iles’s Blood Memory, and in the first 50 pages I learned three or four great techniques to introduce backstory, and some general principles about backstory as well.

  7. Static? Ha, I was about to say I thought the sound was great this episode :P

    @ Berin:
    That notebook idea sounds pretty good. I don’t know that I’d want to do it for a good book I was reading for the first time, but I’ll be sure to try it out with one of my favorite rereads.

  8. This was a great episode, and not only because I don’t hear a lot of people talking about this topic. A few points that I thought were key:

    — You have to look first at the objective of the story to see if the form is appropriate (Brandon’s bit about his cliff hanger).

    — Sometimes it’s not a matter of execution but taste (if you’re not in the audience for teen romance it won’t matter how well the book is written).

    — What you’re looking for is effect and how it’s achieved (or not)

    — Study other works (as many have posted here about as well)

    I know one error I fell into when I began writing that ruined many reads, especially with stories I workshopped, was to read for rules instead of effect. I explain it here: http://johndbrown.com/writers/rules-vs-objectives/ , but the gist is that I forgot that reading is about an experience, not the checking of rule compliance. I think there are maybe a total of three valid writerly rules or commandments, something you must always do. All the rest are simply techniques that are or are not used appropriately.

  9. @DarkEyedBlues: Trollbloods don’t just rule. They ROCK. With krielstones and cabers and soon, rock-juggling stone-shamans!

    I can’t wait to get less busy so I can break my mostly-painted TB army back out for more paint and more blood-letting.

  10. I loved this episode, and the sound was fine for me.

    My family always complains about my habit of criticizing books and movies, now I will just show them the pod cast to prove that it is perfectly normal.

    I also find that studying or participating in other arts – Music, Drama, journalism….
    all help me write better. They are all telling a story and they are all a way to connect with other people.

    “Another thing I like to observe is my emotions while I’m reading. Why did that character make me angry? How come I can’t put this book down? etc. Then I try to think of how I can create that emotion in my own writing. What any form of art needs to do is capture the emotions of the audience. If we don’t, we create another emotion called boredom.” ~Berin~

    P.S. I had to laugh about the repeating words part. I read one book and thought it was pretty good. Then I tried to read it to my little sister. I could hardly do it because of all the run on sentences and the ‘exquisiteness’, ‘silveriness’, and ‘digestion’ of everything. (don’t ask)

  11. I wish I could agree with Brandon and say that I don’t finish bad books once I’ve begun reading, but I’ve slogged through six books of the Wheel of Time so far and by golly, I’m not going to quit! The characters don’t interest me (in fact, most of them bother me to no end), and frankly, I don’t care if the bad guys win, but the setting is cool enough for me to stick it out. Besides, Brandon’s finishing it. I’m looking forward to WoT with less annoying characters. XP

  12. Ha! it’s like me and Harry Potter, but I cheated, I just read the last paragraph of book 7 to see if he died or not.

  13. *GASP* Blasphemy! Harry = God!

    Heh. I suppose there are some die-hard WoT fans out there whose reaction was the same to my comment…

  14. i didn’t notice any static, but then i listen to you guys through the wonder of iTunes. :)

    with all the English classes i’ve taken (since i’m an English major) i’ve continually been told to read critically, and i think i’ve gotten better at it, but when i read just for me, i totally block it out. there are some things i notice, like the typos (*shudder*) and area when i would’ve said something different, but for the most part, when i’m reading a book just for me, i read for pure enjoyment.

    hopefully you won’t mind this suggestion, but i think you guys should talk about titles and how to create and decide on a title. for me, titles are the hardest part.

    and eww, country music.

  15. I notice that one of my favorite parts of your podcasts was missing this time. I would like to suggest some reasons that I miss the blatant commercial break in the middle:

    1. I like the verbal variety it introduces. A changeup, to help us wake up.
    2. It helps to provide a break in the flow — a mental rest stop, so to speak. Time to get a snack, adjust the headset, contemplate what’s been said so far and which exit was I supposed to have turned off on…
    3. How can you trust any show that doesn’t have a commercial? What kind of a show doesn’t have sponsors?
    4. How do we know what to buy without guidance from the panel?
    5. Without a commercial, what are we gonna gripe about?

    Last, but far from least:
    6. Does the financial plan for this extravaganza work without commercial support?

    Thank you. And I hope that your next podcast resumes the irregularly scheduled commercials that will help put bacon in Dan’s pockets, volumes of Schlock Mercenary in every bookshelf, and many happy meals in Brandon’s tummy.

  16. We’ve taken some previous criticism to heart and recorded this last batch with distinct commercial breaks. That way the insert is less jarring (we don’t always know what the commercial is going to be when we’re recording an episode) and it provides both the listener and the “talent” (note the quotes) with a break for wool-gathering.

    If you want to sponsor Writing Excuses we’ll soon be providing a handy link for you to do just that.

  17. oooh nice, that sounds like a good win-win for everyone. Do you have any standards that you will list for acceptable advertisers? I assume you would considering the high moral stance the three of you generally take with keeping your materials and sites clean.

  18. Sounds good! I hope my comments weren’t considered sarcastic — I really do enjoy the commercials, and was concerned about the support model. Got to keep those podcasts coming. Thanks!

  19. No static here — but I use the download option and then play it locally (using Windows Media Player on my pc, if that makes a difference). How are those who are running into static playing the podcast? Which button do you click above?

  20. You folks make me feel horrendously unobservant. I didn’t even notice the absence of a commercial.

    I got static the first time, too; I was playing it live from the site. Mike’s right, if you download the episode, the static seems to vanish.

    Odd. But if it works, I guess…

  21. Yes, we will continue to do the commercials ourselves (or invite our guests to do their own). Anything more slickly produced than that would feel out of place on this podcast.

  22. Speaking of reading, I just finished I Am Not A Serial Killer last night. (and it actually gave me a nightmare. Quite an accomplishment)
    Great read, Dan. I’m looking forward to reading more of your work.

  23. Just as a followup, I tried the “download it and play it” trick and no static. I just like listening to it in a webpage while I browse, but I guess I’ll download it next time.

    And since I forgot to mention it last time (it was late and I was tired) another good podcast. :D

  24. WHY?! WHY do you actually ENJOY reading books that give you nightmares?
    I really do want an answer. I just don’t get it.

    @ Dan- do you ever give yourself nightmares while writing?

  25. @Cornan

    I just tried the same. I was listening in my Google Reader when I got static. Downloaded and played locally and it’s fine.

  26. I have never given myself a nightmare, but I have definitely taken cues from my past nightmares while writing my books. Which means, I suppose, that my books are a filtered and less-frightening version of my mind. Chew on that for a while.

  27. I know this comment is three years late, but I’m listening through the podcast for the first time, and I couldn’t help but butt in.

    I tend to have the opposite problem to the one Brandon mentioned – namely, when I read something great, I either miss the flaws or ignore them. I then wonder how on earth I could ever manage to write something THAT good. And that makes me want to STOP. It’s a problem.

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