Monday, January 18, 2016

Why you should not speed read if you are an aspiring writer

I have been a story lover ever since the time I began to understand words. Be it the bedtime stories I heard or the occasional cartoons on TV that took me to a magical world, stories were what gave my imagination wings.

They taught me to believe in fairies, about the dangers that lurked around in disguises or how an ugly duckling could turn into a beautiful swan. They also gave me glimpses into different worlds that I might never see. Some allowed me to peek into a civilization that existed eons ago and some talked about a different culture that existed in a far away corner of the world. Some made my heart fill with dread while some others taught me that every dark cloud has its silver lining.

I savored books slowly and steadily over the years. I valued quality over quantity. Some writers I learned to love, some I avoided.

Later on in my life, I started to pen down my own stories. The words, the phrases from those books subconsciously aided me to narrate the tales the voices in my head were trying to say.

After I got published, many aspiring writers contacted me through social media, to ask for tips. I repeated to them the age old advice that most writers believe in--- “Read books in the genre that you want to write in.”

But I do know of bibliophiles who cannot string together a few sentences properly to tell a tale. So does that mean that the age-old advice about reading is wrong?

The culprit, in this case, I believe, is speed reading. The highest speed that has been registered in speed reading competitions around the world is 1000 words per minute. But the comprehension rate was just 50%.

Speed reading if done correctly is good. But what often goes in the name of speed reading is skimming. Skimming is a process of speed reading that involves visually searching the sentences of a page for clues as to what is happening. Comprehension rate is very low.

Do you speed read?

Maybe then, you are reading books the wrong way if you aspire to be a writer. You need to comprehend a story better if you wish to write in a similar manner.
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If you go for in-depth reading, your reading speed can vary between 200-250 words/minute. It is almost like reading out loud to yourself. You hear the words internally and comprehend better.

You can hear the audio version of a book. This is also faster than normal reading and comprehension is definitely better than speed reading. But if your attention wavers in between, God help you!

When you skim through a book you can read up to 700 words/ minute. More if you train yourself to do it faster. But again, the comprehension rate is very low.

So why should you not speed read if you intend to be a writer? You should not speed read because you miss out on the details that go into the creation of a novel or a story.

When you speed read,

1)      You do not notice the inciting incidents, the rise and fall of action in the scenes or the way the climax was written

When you sit down to plot a novel, what is most important is the sequence in which the things happen. Even if you are penning down your own life story, there are inciting incidents, rise, and fall of action or what might be termed as a climax. If you treat a book like a study material for writing your own story, you will notice how the writer has used a particular scene to bring about suspense in the story. How the writer has written a particular scene making you live the life of the character. Or how the way he described a character made you visualize him/her in a three-dimensional manner or understand him as a person.
You miss out on all these if you speed read a book.

2)      You skim through sentences, paragraphs which you find uninteresting.

What happens when you do this is that you miss how the writer brings about a twist in the tale or builds the anticipation of what is about to happen. Some writers use a single sentence to bring about a twist. Some evocatively describe a transition. Classic literature has many grand examples. You might want to go re-read a few; this time thoroughly.

3)      You don’t study the turn of phrases, new words, the dialogue rendition or the scene transformations.

When you speed read, you are interested only in the story outline. Not the details. In the end, all you have left is the thread of the story. There are no memorable dialogues that you remember. You don’t remember how the writer had sketched the characters or how the plot twists were accomplished. You might remember what caused the twist, but not how the writer had written the scene.
You will not also have a clue as to how to punctuate a dialogue or what dialogue tags to use.

4)      You miss out on vital details

When you speed read an 80K long novel within a span of two hours or less, which I have seen many readers claiming to have done, you get so many details wrong.
For example, you might be confused as to why a certain character did what he/she did. Dear speed reader, it was clearly explained in one of those paragraphs you had skimmed through or skipped. In your haste to ‘finish off’ the book, you conveniently ignored them and then complained vociferously about the lazy writer who created a faulty character.

5)      You miss out on the beauty of evocative descriptions

What makes a book memorable for me are the evocative descriptions or the scenes that tug at my heart. When we speed read, we miss out on all of these as our main aim is to finish the book rather than enjoy the journey that reading a book is.

I believe that summarizes the reasons as to why one should not speed read if writing is your passion. Reading and writing are soul sisters. One enriches the other.

But, if you speed-read through this article as well, God bless and Goodbye!


  1. In a way even the writer should take responsibility. Let's write a novel that doesn't let the reader to skim at all. :)

  2. There are people who do this to the best of books. Can't blame the writer then.

  3. I agree with you preethi but not all spread readers skim, some just read fast ;)
    Also trust me, you can find lines, paras to skim in the best of novels. Its just what you like to read.
    But if you are missing out on the vital clues and twists of a tale, one needs to slow down.
    Sometimes you just know what is being said in a few initial lines....and some people just read really fast.

    Even with my speed I have a big TBR pending so I guess skiming is out for me.

    1. I agree some can read very fast. But there are also people who skim through just for the purpose of making sure they have got the major twists and stuff and then write a review.
      I can read pretty fast, but when I am reading a book that is interesting, I slow down to understand the scenes and narration better. Some books I re-read many times.

  4. If I like a book, I read it twice back to back. The first time to enjoy the story and the second time to understand the scenes , character description , building up to the climax etc.

    1. Yes, that is a good method Sujata Rajpal. Thank you for reading :)

  5. If I like a book, I read it twice back to back. The first time to enjoy the story and the second time to understand the scenes , character description , building up to the climax etc.

  6. Very Rightly said, Preethi.. A nice Post!

  7. nice post!
    But 1000 words per minute is also a good speed considerably as most of us have speeds around 200-300WPM with 50% comprehension.Techniques can be learnt and applied with practice.