Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 27, 2012

Reading as a Writer

The above June illustration was created and sent in by Roberta Baird. Roberta is a full time illustrator from Texas. She specializes in whimsical artwork for children’s picture books and related industries. When not illustrating, she paints murals and sets for the theater and writes her own poetry. Her first book I See the Animals Sleeping: a Bedtime Story, was published in June of 2011. You may remember Roberta, she kicked off 2012 on Illustrator Saturday:

Reading as a Writer Workshop taught by Ann de Forest

by Yvonne Ventresca

Ann de Forest provided a session on “Reading as a Writer” during NJ SCBWI’s June conference.  “Books that we read can be our teachers,” Ann explained. Part inspiration and part hands-on workshop, she noted that as writers, we should “read with an eye to craft.” She mentioned that author Laurie Halse Anderson recommends that for (approximately) every ten hours spent writing, five hours should be spent reading, with only an hour on the Internet.  To achieve that ratio, writers can cut their time online, and experiment with reading on a schedule.

Ann suggested creating a separate notebook with sections to maximize our learning from reading and she handed out tabs we could label and use in a blank notebook for that purpose. Section one is a Reading Log to track titles and authors of books read. (The Goodreads site can also be used to track goals, books finished, and books to read in the future.) Section two, about one-third of the notebook pages, is for Responses. These reactions can be written while reading or as a book review at the end, summarizing what the book taught you about writing. Section three is for Craft/Technique and is used to analyze how something works. For example, you could examine how an author handles action scenes or dialogue in a story. You can study the entire book, outlining it on a macro level, or can dissect it on the micro level, analyzing certain sentences. Section four is for Quotes. This section is less analytical and more about immersion in the prose through copying it down in the notebook.

During the workshop, we did two exercises. First, we individually copied a passage from a book (either a paragraph we liked or chosen at random), rewriting it by hand. Workshop participants found this interesting because it brought a new element to the act of reading. Some of the phrases seemed almost magical the first time through, but through the act of copying, were boiled down to regular words (nouns, verbs, etc). Next, we broke into small groups and looked for passages that might help with a specific writing challenge, such as how to write effective description. In a brief time, many of the participants were able to find concrete and instructive examples of how to approach the writing element they focused on.

Overall, Ann’s workshop provided useful techniques to improve writing through the act of reading. Even if you didn’t attend her session, you can try these at home. Her ideas elevate the dynamic of reading to a new level for writers.

Thank you Yvonne for taking the time to share Ann’s workshop with us.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Yvonne (and Kathy too!),
    This really captures the essence of the workshop. It was so much fun. Truly interactive, with everyone participating and contributing tips and insights.
    Thank you so much for spreading the word. All writers begin as readers, and reading continues to sustain, train, and inspire us! Read on…Write on…
    All best, Ann


  2. What an awesome idea! I’ve always read with an eye towards learning from other writers, but I’ve never thought of making a notebook like this. I’m definitely going to give this a try. 🙂


    • Erin,

      Think I will give it a try, too.



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