How Reading Critically Changed My (Writing) Life


If you’re like me (a writer), you probably love to read. Good books. Not crappy books. Crappy books bore me. They probably bore you, too.

Which is why, as a writer, I want to write those good books. You know, the ones everyone can’t stop talking about during lunch in the break room. I want to be that writer.

Call me a perfectionist. Call me arrogant.

But if I’m going to be a writer, I want to be one of the best. Not THE best, because in writing, there is no best.

Like Ernest Hemingway said, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”

In order to become one of the best writers, I know I have to read. A lot. Which I started doing a few years ago, literally binge reading book after book. It helped. But it wasn’t enough.

You know what really made the difference?

Reading Critically

What exactly is this “reading critically?” Simple, really. Reading critically is picking up a novel and reading it, not just for enjoyment, but with the intent of picking it apart and learning from it.

  • Did the dialogue drag, or sing. Why?
  • How was the tension, the story arcs? If they were good, WHAT made them good?
  • What didn’t you like about the book, and why?

Think of yourself as an editor for a writer friend, and the novel you’re reading is her book. She asked for your feedback before sending it to a literary agent. What good, solid, critical feedback would you give?

THAT, my friends, is reading critically.

And once I began doing this, my writing started to fly. I soared from the minor leagues to the major leagues. Heck, this was a better education than any MFA program!

Am I the best writer, now? Well … duh … of course not. But I’m always competing against my younger self. And compared to that girl, oh man …


Shari Lopatin is a professional writer, editor, and social media strategist who lives in Phoenix, Ariz. She recently finished her first novel and blogs about the lessons she learns while finding a literary agent, among other topics. Want to follow Shari’s progress toward a book deal? Then join The Readers Club! Sign up here.

4 responses to “How Reading Critically Changed My (Writing) Life”

  1. I started reading critically when I was in school. Believe it or not, I got an assignment: write a structured critique of a novel, paying attention to characters, setting, plot, structure, style. I enjoyed it so much that I started doing it for every book I read. Did it for some 15 years. And yes, I do think this made my eye keener. I learned a lot of things, above all, I learned to pay attention, to what other people wrote, how they wrote it, what their goal might be – and attention to how I was doing the same things.

    But the true difference for me was getting a level further: not doing it by myself, but confronting with true people and true stories in the making on workshops.

    I won’t say the workshop was better or that I’d have learned the same thing if I only partecipated in workshops, because I think reading letterature by professional makes all the difference. But I know my writing evolved a lot faster once I started confronting myseld with other Writers like me.
    For me, both experiences were meaingful 🙂

    1. “I learned to pay attention, to what other people wrote, how they wrote it, what their goal might be – and attention to how I was doing the same things.”

      Amazing how that can start to bring out a whole new awareness, huh? I completely agree with you on the workshopping, too. Reading it in others’ work is one thing, but to have YOUR work critiqued also … well, it’s like experiencing enlightenment. 🙂

  2. That is for sure the way to do it!

    1. Nina, totally! Best, free education out there. 🙂

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