Today I want to discuss the topic of reading journals. There are so many different ways and reasons to write a reading journal (that was relatively poetic and a bit of a mouthful). I want to give you my thoughts on this process and exactly why and how I think keeping a reading journal is helpful.
Why keep a reading journal?
This question is solely dependent on why you read, and people read for all sorts of reasons. Some want to escape from their own lives, others want to be entertained, and others are looking for some bit of themselves in the pages. Writers, however, tend to read differently. We scrutinize other author’s work, searching for exactly what’s working and what isn’t. We find what we can draw from and what to avoid. Reading becomes research and like any adequate researcher, we should document our findings. That’s what your reading journal is for. It’s a running record of all those things which you learn from reading. You will be able to see how your preferences change over time, and you can decipher those rules which continually reappear.
There are other reasons for keeping a reading journal and methods of doing so, but this post will focus on the format I find works best for using your reading as a form of writing research.
What does the process look like?
At the Beginning of Every Entry
The first thing you will need to do at the beginning of each entry is state the date of the entry, the title and author of the book, and the pages you read. Next you should make a brief note of anything significant happening in your life that has the potential to impact your reading. For example, do you live in the city that a book takes place in? That’s something that might change the way you see the book. You should also keep a record of events that are occurring. If you’re halfway through John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars or Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, and you get word that a good friend has been diagnosed with cancer, you will without a doubt relate to the book differently. Where we are in our lives influence how we interact with stories, and these things are worth noting.
When Starting a New Book
Alright, don’t hate me but before you start every story, I am going to ask you to do that one thing that we are always told NEVER to do. You know what it is, say it with me, “Never judge a book by its cover”. Now don’t panic or think less of me just yet! I will tell you exactly why I start my reading in this way. When put simply, it’s because this is how almost all readers chose books. I want to go a little deeper into what I mean by judging the book by its cover. I do not want you to look solely at the visual appeal of the covers (although that will be important). You should write down notes about the genre, synopsis, any praise that is put on the cover, book size, font, page weight and format. After you have a good understanding of the external image the book provides, I want you to begin making a couple of predictions. First, make a brief outline of what you think the main plot points will be. Next, give a summary of what you perceive this book’s target audience to be. You will be revisiting these things at the end of the book in order to judge how effective the marketing, synopsis, and first impression of the novel was. Why? Because these things are IMPORTANT!
When You’re Reading
This part of the process is going to look different for everyone, and although I wish I had a formula for you to follow, I really don’t. However, here is a list of some of the many things I take notice when I read, but first I must remind you to give context when necessary and ALWAYS jot down the page numbers for specific notes. Okay, here is a list (not exhaustive by any means) that you could use to note about a story.
- Dialogue: whether it’s the way a character speaks, an exchange between two people, or a dialogue tag that worked or didn’t, taking note of dialogue is a good tool
- Words: is there a word that was particularly impactful, or maybe one that you’ve never heard of before? Maybe there is a name that you simply love, write it down!
- Structure: did the structure of a particular chapter really work? Do you have an idea on how to structure a scene differently?
- Speed of Reading: Is this a book you can’t put down, or are you trudging through each page?
What you write down is really up to you. Don’t be afraid to write anything because if you noticed it, it’s important!
When You’ve Finished the Book
After you have finished the book, you first need to write down if you liked the ending and why. Next, you should revisit that entry you wrote before you started the book and evaluate how accurate your predictions were. Rewrite your target audience profile. It’s also helpful to give a brief plot outline. The next part, I usually find to be very interesting. You should write down the scenes and moment that you remember most, then revisit those scenes. Figure out exactly why you remember those parts of the book. To close, write your own short review of the book. Would you recommend it? If so, to whom? What books does this one remind you of? Also, make a summary of things you could use for your own writing, and get back to it!
I hope this guide is helpful and inspires you to try keeping a reading journal. It is an incredibly useful resource to have in your writing toolbox, and helps make the most out of your reading.