It’s all about intake and outflow. To become a better writer, one must become a better READER.
Consider Frederick Douglass– without formal education, he devotedly read and analyzed speeches by successful public speakers of his day. Then, he practiced. A LOT. He is still consistently listed as one of the greatest thinkers and speakers that America has ever produced. He did it without annual writing workshops, incredible conferences, or pinned youtube tutorials.
There are skills we can certainly work on (i.e., I just bought this book about character development), but the greatest growth happens when we read excellent things, and make regular time to write. These are simple things, but very effective in promoting true growth.
For improving blog-writing, I keep tabs on people who blog successfully: Seth Godin, Michael Hyatt, and inspiring bloggers like Jennifer Fulweiler, Elspeth and Sally Clarkson. For improving fiction-writing, I read not only the authors I personally love like Randy Alcorn (Deadline), G.K. Chesterton (Have you read his Father Brown stories?), and Elisabeth Gaskell (Cranford), but also authors (like Francine Rivers) who write to the readers I’d like to eventually reach with *my* fiction.
For improving nonfiction writing, I read people who are wise and thought-provoking in their field: Michael Pollan (In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto), Joel Salatin (You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Start & Succeed in a Farming Enterprise), Michael Hyatt Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World), Douglas Wilson (Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life), Sally Clarkson (The Mission of Motherhood: Touching Your Child’s Heart for Eternity), James Scott Bell (Plot & Structure: (Techniques And Exercises For Crafting A Plot That Grips Readers From Start To Finish)), and Paul David Tripp (War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles).
For the writer, reading and writing should go together.
“READ WIDELY TO BE SHAPED, NOT TO REGURGITATE. READ LIKE SOMEONE WHO CAN AFFORD TO FORGET MOST OF WHAT YOU READ.” ~Douglas Wilson
This point (taken from his excellent book, Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life) is that everything we read shapes and influences us, even if we aren’t actively remembering or recalling what we’ve read. I have found this to be true. (And incidentally, I am LOVING that book by Wilson. It’s a PITHY, thought-provoking book– one of those you can read a little bit from, and find plenty to chew on.)
I’m a book junkie. But when I head to a bookstore now, I’m not only choosing what I’ll enjoy reading, but also intentionally selecting things that will help me grow. I’m 34, statistically about half-way through my life… I don’t want to waste my reading time. One of my goals for my reading time, now, is that it will make me a better writer.
What about you?
What are you reading? What is shaping you?