Warning! Taking this advice may significantly reduce the number of books you enjoy reading. Do not try this if you are not willing to do anything and everything necessary to become a good writer. Those who are already published may or may not see the same benefits as those who are not.
I still clearly remember the day a writer on a panel at a Science Fiction convention announced that becoming a good writer had ruined her as a reader. She could no longer read a book without seeing the mistakes. I chuckled to myself that it would never happen to me. I thought I already was a good writer and I still enjoyed most of the books I picked up. Ten years later I reread what I had done then and all I can say is “parts were good.” Now a days I give up on anywhere from a fourth to half of everything I start. I simply don’t want to waste my time on inferior work. Worse, there are times when I can’t reach that magical condition in which a book becomes my whole world. It isn’t the writing. It’s me. Nor can I say I am a good writer, though I can certainly say I am a better one than I used to be.
So be forewarned. This technique can mess you up.
Text books can tell you a lot about how to write. They can tell you to add more details, to use dialogue tags a certain way, to get your character’s goals, motives, and conflicts lined up well, etc., etc. But nothing will teach you how to bring it all together – or not – better than reading novels with an eye toward how it’s done.
I recommend taking a book you’ve already read for pleasure and reading it again. This time if you find yourself putting the book down when there isn’t an outside force distracting you – like screaming kids or something on the stove boiling over – stop and see what you were reading. Chances are there is something about the book itself that caused you to set it down.
Lack of conflict heads the top of the list for boredom makers. Confusing wording, a lack of vivid imagery, or too many cliches can also do it. Look for yourself. Think about what it is in the book that caused your reaction.
Rereading books you didn’t enjoy as much with an eye toward where you disliked something and what the something is can teach you a lot. It doesn’t take long for cliche’s, passages out of character, and plot holes to start leaping to your attention.
Look for the good stuff too. What is it about a scene that made you laugh or cry? How are the details handled in a book that really draws you in and makes it real? Take note of word choices and sentence structure when considering the way a book flows.
If you do this, every novel you pick up has the potential of becoming a text book.
Now try going back to reading just for fun. Seriously, if you can’t turn off the internal editor, you aren’t going to enjoy reading anymore.