World-class Writers are Avid Readers. But You’ll Be Surprised By How They Read.


Writing and reading are like two different sides of the coin. To read well, you ought to learn how to write well, and to write well reading well is an indispensable skill.

It’s obvious that world-class writers write differently from the rest of us. What I didn’t know until now, thanks to Daniel Coyle, was how differently some of them read.

Here’s an in-depth look at two world-class writers: Mark Twain and David Foster Wallace. Check out the books they read and how they’ve “engaged” with the book. Looking at how they read these books is like looking into the engine room of their minds which provides an important lesson on how we should read.

For many readers, reading is a passive experience. The reader “leans-back” as if they are in a warm bath. But, look at how Twain and Wallace thoroughly engages their mind with the book. Twain’s work show how he challenges, criticizes, scribbles new ideas, steals and admires the book he’s reading. Coyle said it best: “It’s like a writer’s version of a vigorous athletic workout.” It’s like conversing with the author as you share your own feedback.

This may look, on the surface, a minor change. Really, the difference is scribbling notes a book versus thinking a thought in your mind. But the sheer act of writing is immensely different than just thinking because it compels you to create a record that can be linked to other scribbles. As you document your thoughts, this becomes your playing field where real inspiration is birthed. Without the marks on the page, your thoughts just passes away into the sea of nothingness.

What I appreciate with Twain and Wallace’s intimate approach in reading is that it fosters critical thinking. Rather blithely absorbing the author’s views as incontrovertible truth, the process of scribbling your thoughts on the book forces you to choose whether you agree or disagree with the author and helps you expand your thoughts.

Another helpful benefit can be applied to the art of blogging as well. As an avid reader, the more I scribble on the book, the easier it is to steal relevant, timely quotes or stories for my blog posts. This is one of the reasons why I haven’t jumped on the e-book bandwagons. Unless e-books can easily help me smell the “aroma” of books and allow me to scribble on the book as easy as the paperback versions, it’ll take a long time for me to be convinced.

Question: How do you read books? Any other best practices you’d like to share on how to engage with the book?