Let’s talk about rereading!

Wait a minute, you say. We just went over reading, didn’t we?

Of course in practice it’s probably a bad idea to reread something immediately after reading it. Also, it’s probably not worth your time to reread everything you read once. But really good writing, the kind of stuff that grabs you and runs, the kind that moves your heart and keeps your brain churning, that kind of stuff is worth reading more than once, particularly if you aspire to be a writer.

Rereading, particularly if you took notes or just wrote a rough sketch of your impressions after you read something the first time, is a great way for you to glean out the most important lessons from a book or story. I’m not talking about life lessons, although many stories have an Aesop or two built into them. I’m talking about the lessons that help you be more the writer you want to be.

Did you just read something that left you slack jawed and drooling, it was so amazing? Reread it. Now don’t shove your mouth closed, wipe your chin and go back to the top of the page, it’s best to finish the entire story or book before you reread something, but do make a little note for yourself and, a week or two later, come back and read that part again, maybe the whole chapter, or if it’s a short story just reread the whole thing.

You’re probably thinking to yourself, “But reading it again that quickly robs it of so much impact.”

Exactly. The problem with great writing is, the first time you read it, it sweeps you along so easily it looks effortless, when in fact the writing was probably very difficult. You need to slow down and really examine what made that passage speak to you. Was it word choice? What about those words struck you? Pacing and cadence? What rhythms and turns of phrase make it work? Is the scene the culmination of several preceding moments in the story? How does the author tie it all together for the audience?

Read for the story and the inspiration. Reread to appreciate the craftsmanship.

Another reason to reread is to see how a story speaks to you in a different stage of life. Truly great works appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds. In order to understand how they can do that it’s important to see them from as many perspectives as possible. While having a group of people that love stories and talking about them is a valuable resource in meeting that goal, so is carefully rereading stories that you loved when your life was different.

Has your impression of the book changed because you are older/married/(un)employed? Does the story still speak to you in the same way? In new ways? If the old spark is gone, can you think of ways the author might have kept it? You have changed, but if you’re a writer then writing is likely to be a lifetime obsession. Let your changing perspective teach you more about great writing.

If you’re anything like me you have shelves full of great books. Maybe there’s one or two you haven’t thought of in a while. Take them down and get reacquainted. Your old friends still have a lot to tell you, after all.