I’ve been on a wonderful reading binge as I prepare to dramatically rewrite my current novel project. I’ve been reading in order to learn something new about plot and structure, to gather some ideas around me and inspire me. Here are three tips that will keep your reading productive for your writing-self and still pleasurable for your reader-self.
1) You have to find a way to divide yourself. One part of you will inevitably get caught up in the story. If this is a book you want to teach you something, it had better hook you, right? So you have to hold back a part of you that is watching the whole process. This can feel a bit like the famous scene in Annie Hall when she rises up out of her body during sex and wanders around commenting on the activity.
2) It helps to hold the big picture in mind. Keep track of where you are in the unfolding arc of the story. See the underlying structure–the bones or the architecture, whichever metaphor you prefer.
3) Notice what you are wondering. Your questions, as a reader, drive you forward, seeking answers. So look at how the author raises those questions.
You have to fill the well, as Annie Dillard says in her wonderful book The Writing Life, and reading–more even than living–provides the plenty you’ll need to keep that well full.