Reading Journals for Writers

Only in the last few years have I actively kept a recording of what I am reading. 

This record is nothing elaborate. It is literally a numbered list I keep in my day-planner listing the title and authors I’ve read that year. 

And then, one of the members of my book club told me she had a reading journal. 

As I’ve been living under the rock of my doctorate, I had no idea that reading journals were ‘a thing,’ or that there was a corner of YouTube dedicated to reading journal layouts. 

I’ve actively been trying to increase the number of books I read each year. Why? Because reading is one of the best ways to improve your writing. However, as the number of books I read increased, I wondered whether there was a way to get more out of my reading. 

I know goodreads exists, but the beauty of a reading journal is that it isn’t public, it’s not on the internet, you don’t have to write a lengthy review, and it isn’t connected to Amazon. 

So, what do you record in your reading journal? Obviously, anything you want! If you’re stumped for ideas, you could always check out the aforementioned corner of YouTube…

For myself, I’ve kept it pretty simple. Each entry includes:

  • The book’s title + author
  • A general summary of the plot
  • A character list and brief summary 
  • Favourite quotes
  • A star rating 
  • And five things I would steal.

Most of these are self-explanatory, but I’d like to unpack that final point. Five things I would steal refer to aspects of the book that (from a writer’s perspective) I was impressed by. 

This could be anything from the unique metaphors that the author used to the structure of the book, the believable character, plot twist, beautifully written sentences, or they way they played with point of view. 

Initially, I was a little concerned that keeping a reading journal would become just another task that I needed to complete, and I doubted my ability to maintain it, but this small and simple form of record keeping has really added to my reading life. 

Keeping a reading journal creates an opportunity to engage with the books I’ve read on a deeper level. It forces me to stay with the book a little longer before I move on to the next. 

One of the first things I learnt when I started conducting research as part of my doctorate is how important it is to summarise the things I’ve read in my own words. It’s one thing to read an article, or in this case a book, and to think I know what it’s about and another to actually put those thoughts into words. 

Recording my thoughts on each novel makes me feel closer to the book. It often clarifies my opinions, helps me to pause long enough to consider its strengths and weaknesses; and any strategies I could experiment with in my own writing. 

Whenever I come up against a problem in my own writing, I’m able to flick through this journal to see if any of the books I’ve read handled this problem well. 

You can write in your reading journal in real time as you work through a book, or like me you can keep a more general record of your thoughts once you’ve finished the book. My only real advice with keeping a reading journal is that you experiment with a few different layouts until you decide on the one that is the most useful and the most do-able for you. And don’t get behind on your recording your entries! These records are the most powerful and accurate when completed straight after finishing a book. 

Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

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