You’ve likely heard the nugget of wisdom that to be an effective writer, you should also be an avid reader. This is true for many reasons. You get sparks of ideas. You understand how a story is structured. You internalize what is effective and what isn’t. You grow your own vocabulary. The list goes on and on.

But have you ever considered that being a reader can, in and of itself, add to your revising toolkit? Here are three ways to consider using your reading life to revise your work in progress.


Remember How It Feels to Be a Reader

Since you are a reader, you know what it feels like to settle into a chair (or get in your bed, which is my preferred reading spot), clear your mind, and open up to taking in someone else’s story. I liken it to climbing up onto your roof and looking up at the night sky. All of your concerns are safely compartmentalized below you, and everything around you expands into infinity.

When you are doing an early revision of your work in progress, this is a great place to start. Take a moment and settle in, like a reader would. Consider bringing it away from your desk and into a place where a reader would consume it, like a comfy chair. Prop yourself up with comfortable pillows and tuck a blanket around your feet. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Approach your story like a reader would. Of course it’s not going to be exactly the same, since you know this story inside and out. But physically, mentally and emotionally shifting from the active stance of a writer to the ease and receptiveness of a reader will allow you to see your story in a different way.

Map a Similar Novel’s Plot Points to Strengthen Structure

Since you are an avid reader, you have a long list of books you’ve read and loved.  Consider taking a book from your completed list, one that you know well, one that you’ve read recently or multiple times. Ideally, choose a book that is similar in genre and style as what you are going for with your own book. Then map out the major plot points. What happens first, next, after? Where does it start and end? You can do this as bullet points or in a more visual, flowing way…the method of mapping doesn’t matter as much as getting all of the major plot points down on paper.

Then, once your map is complete, look at how the author got from one point to the next. Consider where the tension ramps up and dies down and where the pace of action increases or decreases. Ask yourself why the author started and ended the story where they did, and what might have happened if the beginning or ending had been in different places. If there were parts where you felt dissatisfied as a reader, note that too.

Now, if you haven’t already, create a similar map of your own story. Are there places where you might up the tension or change the pacing? What if you started or ended in different places? Are there places where the protagonist might make different choices? How can you ensure that you, at least, wouldn’t have those same dissatisfied places? When we break apart a piece of published writing, we begin to see how the sausage gets made, so to speak, and it helps us make intentional decisions about our own works-in-progress.

Dissect a Similar Scene for the Author’s “Moves”

Think of a book that made you pause from time to time and think, man, I really like this book! I’ve had a couple of those this year, books where I was swept up in rich language or where the story kept taking turns I wasn’t expecting or where I laughed out loud or cried a little. Choose a book and find a scene within that is similar in tone to what you are going for in your scene-in-progress. Are you going for humor? Sadness? Fast action? Read the scene in the book you chose over and over, making notes for yourself on what is bringing up those feelings. Is it specific vocabulary? Jot the words down. Is it pacing? Make a note of how the author uses a single sentence paragraph to stop you in your tracks. Breaking apart a scene on a word, sentence and paragraph level can give you ideas on how to bring about those emotions in your scenes.

Writers, reading is a beautiful way to explore other lives, other places, other experiences. But your home library is also a beautiful resource for your own writing. By taking books you’ve already read and breaking them apart, you can add more and more tools to your writing and revision toolkit. And by remembering what it feels like to be a reader, you can approach your own work-in-progress with the open mind of one.

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