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Reading Like a Writer, Retaining What you Read, & Reviewing your Workflow

Resource: How to Read Like a Writer
Description: Reflections from Francine Prose on how writing makes us better readers and vice versa


Read slowly. When you’re a lover of books, the temptation is to read quickly in order to get to the next book as quickly as possible. Resist this temptation. Slow down and smell the roses by taking in each word. Read like you eat. Don’t rush. Give yourself time to chew on the words and thoughts. Digest them. Read meditatively. This will give you a deeper appreciation of the magic and power of words.

Read books that have stood the test of time. A book that has endured many generations is a book that has something transcendent to teach you. Don’t allow your tastes to be entirely shaped by the flavor of the day.


On the value of reading books that have stood the test of time:

“Part of a reader’s job is to find out why certain writers endure. This may require some rewiring, unhooking the connection that makes you think you have to have an opinion about the book and reconnecting that wire to whatever terminal lets you see reading as something that might move or delight you. You will do yourself a disservice if you confine your reading to the rising star whose six-figure, two-book contract might seem to indicate where your own work should be heading.”

On the benefit of reading slowly:

“With so much reading ahead of you, the temptation might be to speed up. But in fact it’s essential to slow down and read every word. Because one important thing that can be learned by reading slowly is the seemingly obvious but oddly underappreciated fact that language is the medium we use in much the same way a composer uses notes, the way a painter uses paint. . . . it’s surprising how easily we lose sight of the fact that words are the raw material out of which literature is crafted. Every page was once a blank page, just as every word that appears on it now was not always there, but instead reflects the final result of countless large and small deliberations. All the elements of good writing depend on the writer’s skill in choosing one word instead of another. And what grabs and keeps our interest has everything to do with those choices.”

On how school conflicted with her love for reading:

“The only time my passion for reading steered me in the wrong direction was when I let it persuade me to go to graduate school. There, I soon realized that my love for books was unshared by many of my classmates and professors. I found it hard to understand what they did love, exactly, and this gave me an anxious shiver that would later seem like a warning about what would happen to the teaching of literature over the decade or so after I dropped out of my Ph.D. program. That was when literary academia split into warring camps of deconstructionists, Marxists, feminists, and so forth, all battling for the right to tell students that they were reading ‘texts’ in which ideas and politics trumped what the writer had actually written. I left graduate school and became a writer.”

Resource: How To Retain More From The Books You Read In 5 Simple Steps
Description: Tips on getting more out of your reading experience


It’s more important to retain what you’ve read than to just keep reading more books.

When you highlight and take notes, you’ll retain more.

Sharing your knowledge with others is a form of application. It’s a way of using information that improves your memory and understanding.

Make notes to yourself about how you can apply what you’ve read.

Visualize yourself applying what you read.

Read books that answer your questions or solve your problems. Make the reading experience relevant to you. That’s the stuff you’re most likely to remember and apply.


On prioritizing retaining over mere reading:

“It’s not about how many books you read, it’s about how much you retain from what you read.”

On reading with purpose:

“Before I even think about which books I’m going to read, I think about what I’m trying to achieve. I strongly believe that the content of books should align with what’s going on in your life. Only read books that teach you how to overcome your current challenges.”

On sharing your knowledge as a form of practical application:

“Knowledge is only good if you apply it, right? But here’s one thing a lot of people don’t consider: Sharing knowledge is a great application. You might not be a teacher, but if you act like one, you’re already applying knowledge. All it takes is a mindset shift.
Don’t just ‘read’ a book. No, devour a book and talk about it with others.”

On taking notes and highlighting what you read:

“The more connections you make between pieces of information in your brain, the better you remember it. I do that by making a lot of notes. If you think books are sacred and shouldn’t be highlighted and written on, you will never retain a lot from books. Making notes, folding pages, and highlighting text is simple and practical.”

On making notes about your notes:

I often highlight things, and when I look back, I think: “Why did I highlight this?” So always write down why you highlighted something. You don’t have to do it for every highlight. Just do it for sections that you immediately have an application for.

On applying what you’ve learned and not letting your reading experiences slip away:

“There’s nothing sadder than a well-read person who holds himself captive by the four walls of his room. You must go out there and apply things you learn. Once you do that, you will grow. No doubt about it. So always ask yourself this after you finish a book:
“What’s the one thing I’m going to apply after reading this book?” You see, it’s about what you do with your knowledge, not about how much you have. Don’t read more. Read smarter.”

Resource: Getting Things Done by David Allen


Life will come at you faster than your ability to react to it. The weekly review provides you with assurance that you will clarify everything you capture.

Learning how to say “no” depends on you having the breathing room to think through what’s required of you. The weekly review provides you with this room.

Organization cannot last without the weekly review.

The weekly review not only helps you keep track of what you need to do, but it helps you relax about the stuff you’re not doing.

Being creative is very often the automatic by-product of being clear and current.


“To make knowledge productive, we will have to learn to see both forest and tree. We will have to learn to connect.” —Peter F. Drucker

On the power of the weekly review:

“The real trick to ensuring the trustworthiness of the whole organization system lies in regularly refreshing your thinking and your system from a more elevated perspective. That’s impossible to do, however, if your lists fall too far behind your reality. You won’t be able to fool yourself about this: if your system is out of date, your brain will be forced to fully engage again at the lower level of remembering. This is perhaps the biggest challenge of all. Once you’ve tasted what it’s like to have a clear head and feel in control of everything that’s going on, can you do what you need to do to maintain that as an operational standard? The many years I’ve spent researching and implementing this methodology with countless people have proved to me that the magic key to the sustainability of the process is the Weekly Review. “

On the need to give yourself breathing room:

“If you’re like me and most other people, no matter how good your intentions may be, you’re going to have the world come at you faster than you can keep up. Many of us seem to have it in our natures to consistently entangle ourselves in more than we have the ability to handle. We book ourselves in back-to-back meetings all day, go to after-hours events that generate ideas and commitments we need to deal with, and get embroiled in engagements and projects that have the potential to spin our creative intelligence into cosmic orbits. You will invariably take in more opportunities than your system can process on a daily basis. That whirlwind of activity is precisely what makes the Weekly Review so valuable. It builds in some capturing, reevaluation, and reprocessing time to keep you in balance. There is simply no way to do this necessary regrouping while you’re trying to get everyday work done. “

On how the weekly review improves your ability to say “no.”

“The Weekly Review will also sharpen your intuitive focus on your important projects as you deal with the flood of new input and potential distractions coming at you the rest of the week. You’re going to have to learn to say no—faster, and to more things—in order to stay afloat and comfortable. Having some dedicated time in which to at least get up to the project level of thinking goes a long way toward making that easier. “

On what the weekly review involves:

“Very simply, the Weekly Review is whatever you need to do to get your head empty again and get oriented for the next couple of weeks. It’s going through the steps of workflow management—capturing, clarifying, organizing, and reviewing all your outstanding commitments, intentions, and inclinations—until you can honestly say, “I absolutely know right now everything I’m not doing but could be doing if I decided to.”

On the three stages of the weekly review.

“From a practical standpoint, here is the three-part drill that can get you there: get clear, get current, and get creative. Getting clear will ensure that all your collected stuff is processed. Getting current will ensure that all your orienting “maps” or lists are reviewed and up-to-date. The creative part happens to some degree automatically, as you get clear and current—you will naturally be generating ideas and perspectives that will be adding value to your thinking about work and life. “

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