What does it mean to read like a writer?

Begin to read like a writer and you’ll become a better writer. Really? Why? How?

Allow the professor to explain. But ya’ gotta stay awake…

You’re a writer, right? If you say, “NO,” then I’m inviting you here and now to pretend you’re a writer.

You’re a reader, right? If you say, “NO,” then I’m inviting you here and now to pretend you’re a reader.

Now, invite your writer self to meet your reader self. “Howdy, writer, and hey ho, howdy reader.”

Now, you can be a writer who reads and a reader who writes.

Maybe, you’re still wondering what I—Professor Tonio—am talkin’ about? Follow me—play it forward.

 Do you have a sport or hobby you really like—a whole lot?

You’re a gymnast, skateboarder, a basketball or baseball or soccer player, a LEGO guy or gal—like my grandsons Lucas and Anthony—or, you love to draw, dance, pole vault (WHAT??)—any activity that makes you happy even though it takes a lot or at least some effort—practice—commitment— to “stay in the game.”

Effort, yes, and this: You watch guys and gals who are in top form, who are experts, and winners. You observe their skill and learn from them. Maybe you even practice their moves and you get better at the sport or the hobby or at making jewelry or dancing or drawing or photography. Get it? Got it?

Now, follow me, dear readers who like to write and writers who like to read. You can read and observe the way writers of mystery, fantasy, science fiction, humor, historical fiction, informational books do the following:

And what do you—the reader who writes and the writer who reads—what do you do when you observe a writer’s technique—that is, what the writer does to tell a story or introduce factual information in an interesting, awesome way?

You observe the technique and learn from it. Maybe you even practice the technique and you get better at writing.

[pssssst:: Are you still awake?]       [Good.]        ‘Cause I have two examples to show you from a book many of you have read and enjoyed: Percy Jackson and the Greek Gods by Rick Riordan

Example #1: p. 103, in the chapter titled “Persephone Marries Her Stalker (Or, Demeter, the Sequel)”: “I will make you moral, little one, Demeter thought. It’s the least I can do for your kind mother. I will make you so strong no one will ever abduct you the way my poor daughter was abducted.”

Now, what’s this, and what did it teach me as a writer who reads: It’s those slanted words—called “italics”—to show a character ’s thinking. Such a simple technique, right? Yes, indeed. It’s a cool technique I use in my most recent story called Loukas and the Game of Chance ‘cause the italics get my readers inside my character’s head where they observe his thinking. [psssttt…It’s not a technique I use a lot. Only when the character’s thinking is intense or radical. Get it, a reader who writes and writer who reads?]

Example #2: pp. 226 – 227, in the chapter titled “Athena Adopts a Handkerchief”: “So about a million pages ago, I mentioned Zeus’s first wife, the Titan Metis. Remember her? Neither did I. I had to go back and look….”

And this: “As you can imagine, this gave Zeus a splitting headache.”

What’s the technique that I like here: The writer—the storyteller—carries on a conversation with the reader. I love that. I love the relationship that creates. Someday, I’ll try using this technique: “talking” directly to my readers. Someday I’ll experiment with this technique to see if I can make it work. Cool, Professor Tonio.

My example of how I might step outside of myself as a narrator who’s sort of hidden and talk directly to my readers: “You know, reader, it wasn’t easy getting Keeper of the Forest to talk in a weird way. I wanted to do that ‘cause an accent or dialect of some sort seemed like such a good thing to make his character unique. I had to give his way of speaking a lot of thought until I came up with his strange accent. See for yourself in the next scene in Loukas and the Game of Chance.” That’s that. I’m curious. I wonder if I can pull that off … some day. Experiment with talking directly to my readers; that’s what I’ll do. Writers often experiment with different techniques until they find one that feels right.

Readers and writers. I gotta go. So do you, no doubt. But, listen up, please: My grandfatherly advice: When you find a writer’s technique that you like: Make sure you write a brief note about it in your writer’s/reader’s journal. Click this link that’ll bring you to my website (www.anthonymannabooks.com) where you’ll find suggestions about using a Reading or Writing Journal:

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Calling all teachers, parents, advocates. Do you want to encourage your readers and writers to read as a writer reads? Try using mentor texts with your kids, tweens, and teens. What is a mentor text?

I found an inspiring description of mentor texts when my Google search for “mentor texts” led me to (www.teachmentortexts.com):

“WHAT ARE MENTOR TEXTS?

Mentor texts or anchor texts are any text that can be used as an example of good writing for writers.  Writers use a mentor text to inform their own writing. Ralph Fletcher explains that mentor texts are, “…any texts that you can learn from, and every writer, no matter how skilled you are or how beginning you are, encounters and reads something that can lift and inform and infuse their own writing. I’d say anything that you can learn from – not by talking about but just looking at the actual writing itself, being used in a really skillful, powerful way.” To read or listen to Ralph talk more about mentor texts, you can listen to this great Choice Literacy podcast.”  Posted by Jen Vincent

Also, let Ralph Fletcher be your mentor text guide in Mentor Author, Mentor Texts: Short Texts, Craft Notes, and Practical Classroom Uses by Ralph Fletcher

Find two other good guides:

Teaching Writing With Mentor Texts in the Primary Classroom: 20 Lessons Based on Favorite Picture Books That Introduce Story Structure, Nonfiction Text Features & Author’s Craft by Nicole Groeneweg.

More About the Authors: Authors and Illustrators Mentor Our Youngest Writers by Lisa B. Cleaveland

Mentor texts rock. When I work with mentor texts in elementary and secondary classrooms I am awed by the skills writers experiment with whether in their reports or their stories. And their poems, as well, according to Mr. Ralph Fletcher who wrote Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out.