“I’ll Take That!”: The Writer Who Reads

One of the most exciting parts of attending any event as an adult is the recognition that sponsors are giving away freebies. As an adult, you frequently need to shell out money for water, shoes, cheesecake, taxes, and everything in between, so getting something for free is pretty darn cool. Most times, I’ll accept free merchandise even if it’s something I won’t use. I’ll take it home and dispose of it or pass it along to someone else. But first, I think about whether or not I can make use of it in any way.

I have a similar experience when I read anything bearing in mind that I am a writer. Regardless of whether I’m reading a newspaper article, magazine article, research paper, website description, Facebook status, novel, or short story, I have a tendency to examine the different genres and styles of other people’s writing and say, “I’ll take that,” just as I do with giveaways. I’m not talking about plagiarism, so please don’t rush to report me to the University under academic dishonesty claims. Rather, what I’m describing here is a close investigation of form, or studying the structure of writing and attempting to model it based on my likes and dislikes. I take a little bit of how an author incorporated his/her central claim here, an interesting organizational scheme there, a bit of voice or description from here… And I soak it all in, sometimes regurgitating it onto my own paper and other times testing it out only to realize it doesn’t work for me.

As a writer, I look at each item I read and ask, “What does the author do that makes me wish I WERE him or her?” I study the way authors incorporate humor and I laugh, then ask myself how I can make people laugh too through my writing. I study the way writers use evidence and make valid or not-so-valid arguments. I compare different genres and attempt to make meaningful amalgamations of their different elements. But when things don’t work I ditch them. Writing is largely experimentation, and so I experiment based on what those who have published have done. My attempts to mimic what I like about their writing aren’t always effective or graceful or flawless. Sometimes, they are actually tragic. But you can never learn how to improve your writing if you don’t look at what steps other writers have taken to achieve success.

Likewise, you can’t improve your writing if you don’t construct your own criteria for assessing the writing of others. I’ve learned a great deal, especially in the CWE, by observing how other consultants respond to the texts they read, whether they are critical articles or student, alumni, and faculty writing. My perspective and strategies for reading and interacting with texts are shaped by how my colleagues respond to and interact with what they read. Again, it’s about grabbing what you like with a cool and assertive, “I’ll take that,” and then shaving off the excess to establish your own best practices for reading critically. I have a particular way of reading individually with the knowledge that I am a writer, but I learn so much by observing how others read and by engaging in collaborative discussions about a variety of texts.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

1 Comment »

  • Janet Dengel says:

    I think you have captured a very important trait of a good reader and a good writer–openness to not only read, but listen; to not only write, but to fail and try again. You seem to soak in so many parts of the written word–genre, style, voice, elements, experimentation, criteria, and discussion. What can shake students out of their fear and lead them to have the confidence to try on, take what works for them, and not worry about the clumsy attempts?


Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>