How To Become A World-Class Reader To 10x Your Writing

Dickie Bush & Nicolas Cole

Ultimate Guide Table of Contents

Ahoy and happy Monday!

Welcome to another week of Start Writing Online—where every week we dive into the biggest problems all writers face stopping them from writing on the internet, building an audience, and monetizing their writing.

(And, of course, if you want to defeat these problems and master the fundamentals of Digital Writing in just 30 days, we'd love to have you in the next cohort of Ship 30 for 30!)

This week, we want to help you build your self-confidence and generate ideas as a writer by showing you how to read as a writer.

Most of the time, people who read to become “better” writers are actually avoiding writing, disguising their procrastination as productivity.

But that doesn’t mean we should abandon reading altogether. In fact, Stephen King had two pieces of advice for writers who wanted to become better at their craft:

  1. Read a lot
  2. Write a lot

The problem is most writers focus way too much on the first part and think just reading is enough to become a better writer. They read passively. They avoid thinking about how a piece has been constructed and how they could emulate what the author is doing (or avoid it altogether).

Whenever we encourage writers to study what they read, we face a wall of resistance.


Because most writers believe they can’t read for enjoyment and “learn” at the same time.

This isn’t about repeating your high school literature class.

If you are enjoying a piece of work, it’s worth pausing and asking why. This very simple question shifts the emphasis from “studying” to “understanding.” As a writer, relish the opportunity to look under the hood and think about how and why a piece you are enjoying works.

When you actively do this, you become a better writer as a result:

  • It expands your vocabulary
  • It is an easy way to generate ideas
  • It exposes you to different writing styles you can emulate and learn from
  • It helps you spot the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to writing

So how do you become a world-class reader as a writer?

It only takes 7 small (yet simple) steps:

Step 1: Graze and then read the page

You might not realize it, but when you read a page, you scan it first.

This helps your brain understand what to expect before diving into the meat of the text. So before reading the first sentence on the page of a book, a blog on a website, or a newsletter on your favorite app, study how the piece “looks” on the page (or screen) in front of you.

Here are some elements to look out for:

  • Does the writer use subheads to split up the page?
  • Do the subheads help the reader understand what’s coming?
  • Does the writer use long or short paragraphs? Or a mixture of both?
  • How is dialogue used? Is it short or long?

Writing is more than just the words we use.

It’s also a visual art. And as writers, we need to understand what looks “good.”

Step 2: Annotate What You Read

One of the best ways to understand a piece of writing:

Scribble all over it.

This is something we do all the time when we’re pulling apart writing we love:

Here are some tips to make this actionable and easy:

  • Use a pen or highlighter
  • Underline sentences you love
  • Write takeaways in the margins
  • Circle sentences or sections you don’t understand

You can either do this after you’ve read a chapter/page or as you are reading. Whatever you find easiest.

On to the next step.

Step 3: Question the writer’s intent

Despite what some writers claim, a piece of writing doesn’t just flow out of a person without any edits.

Every piece of published writing has come about after a series of choices. Writers make hundreds of these tiny (and not so tiny) choices when they sit down to write, either consciously or subconsciously. It’s our job as writer-readers to understand (as much as possible) those choices so we can start making similar decisions with our own writing.

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you read:

  • “What is the writer leaving unspoken?”
  • “Why did the writer choose to put this here?”
  • “Why did the writer choose to say it that way?”
  • “Why did the writer pick this point of view or voice?”

Paired with questioning the writer’s intent is their use of the Rate of Revelation—our next step.

Step 4: Observe the Rate of Revelation

The Rate of Revelation is how quickly new information is introduced to the reader.

Some writers stretch one idea across hundreds of paragraphs or pages. Other writers pack ten or more ideas into a handful of paragraphs or pages. As a rule of thumb, you want to have a high Rate of Revelation because it keeps the reader interested and engaged.

So pay close attention when you read:

  • Don’t skim past boring parts. Are they there for a reason?
  • Don’t only read the subheads. Sink your teeth into the content.
  • Don’t sneak a peek at the end of chapters (it ruins the surprise!)

If you follow these rules, you will get a proper sense of the Rate of Revelation, whether it’s working for this piece, and how you can do similar in your own writing.

Step 6: How did the writer get you to “see” or feel?

The best writing makes you feel something—it’s part of the transformation we are trying to create in the reader.

So when you read a piece of writing, see how it makes you feel. The good feelings, the bad feelings, and the feeling of indifference.

Here are some memorable examples:

  • Kafka uses magical realism to surprise your senses.
  • Nabokov uses dark humor to discuss complicated topics.
  • Hemingway writes boring dialogue so conversations “feel” more realistic (most conversations are boring).

Linked closely to how a writer makes you feel is what the writer makes you remember.

Step 7: Notice what ideas you remember most.

There are two big lessons we’ve learned from reading tons of literature over the years:

  1. The best descriptions stick with you. No need to “save” them anywhere.
  2. Better to re-read a book you love than force yourself to read something you hate.

Think back to all the books you’ve ever read.

Which ones have left a lasting impression on you? Go back and reread them. While it is tempting to always be pushing to find something new, revisiting books you enjoyed will help you pick up on parts you missed. And if it strikes you in a different way, you can ask why (and marvel at the power of excellent writing!).

Our final step might be a good way of revisiting a book you liked.

Bonus Step: Flip the format

This is something we don’t hear mentioned much in writer circles (and it might even sound slightly counter-intuitive):

Listen to an audiobook.

We’ve found it to be an effective way of hearing what works with a piece of writing. After all, all the best writing doesn’t “sound” like writing. And a different perspective and consuming experience will give you a deeper understanding of a piece of work.

That's it for today!

Use these 8 steps to become a better reader and 10x your writing.

Chat next week!

–Dickie Bush & Nicolas Cole

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