I get out "The Art of Writing," and read this quote from
Su Dongpo, "The secret of writing lies in reading more and
writing more..." That was written during the Song Dynasty
around the twelfth century. And it got me thinking about the
magic and necessity of reading.
There's no reason to lecture writers about reading. And I
don't know of anyone successful or ambitious who does
not take time to read a good deal. Of course, there is the
President of the United States but he had connections and
married a librarian.
"If you want to be a writer," Marge Piercy and Ira Wood
declare, "be a reader." This quote is from Chip Scanlan and
is part of his "joy of reading" column. Scanlan has a lot
of articles about resourceful books on writing. Check
Now, for a computer junkie such as myself the screen has
become a marvelous reading oasis. It's like the old science
fiction program that declared, "We control the horizontal...
we control the vertical."
One lesson I've learned is that a rich reading life will
subvert the horrendous overload of information that comes
pouring through the Net.
The best books on writing emphasize the need for concision
and putting life back into old worn out words.
So, what should writers read? That's a rather impossible
question to answer. For the sake of convenience let's
divide reading into:
- Fact and Information.
>>>>>>>>>R e a d i n g F o r R e s o u r c e<<<<<<<<<<<
The shake-out is fierce in the writing game.
One way to survive is to avail yourself of the best resource
Any book that throws light on the procedures of the writing
business is good for someone, like me, who lacks them. "The ASJA
Guide to Freelance Writing," for instance.
Some of the most useful books are written by agents and/or
editors who explain to writers what they are looking for and
what they expect. Read these books because the editor or
agent is usually telling the writer exactly what they
need know. "Forest For the Trees" by Betsy Lerner to put
forward one such book.
And I'm the first to agree that the writer should be the
center of the publishing world but they should learn to
trust the people who can help them.
After reading this snide article on j-schools I thought to
myself, "writing is a profession of masters, not licenses.
You don't take a board test to certify yourself as a writer.
You read the masters, assimilate, imitate, fight them,
move on, and start to feel your sea-legs." School is
important to get the basics and to get exposed to resources
the students usually don't use. But, the more experience
you get the more important the resources become. Don't wait
until you are fifty to find this out.
Go into a reference library and partake of all that is there
and familiarize yourself with the resources in the library
and online. Make friends with the reference librarian. Follow
up references to credible things you read.
When excellent writers like Jon Franklin or James Stewart
tell you how they write a feature story, listen.
Encyclopedia's, Roget's Thesaurus, an oddity like Fowler's
Modern English Usage, the AP Stylebook, and a few decent
books on grammar and editing also help.
Even though a lot of these resources are online I still
prefer the book form. The internet contains a vast
conversation on the craft and art of writing by writers
and teachers. It is a storehouse for every agency, every
institution that a writer can plunder for the enrichment
>>>>R e a d i n g f o r E n r i c h m e n t<<<<<<<<<<
Enrichment is an eternal component that draws in the young
and naive. And it arrives again after a terrible battle
with disillusionment, as one makes their way into middle-age.
The books we go back to time and again and never seem to wear
out are called classics. I would hope young writers would get
the opportunity to lay siege to an excellent library, either
in a great city or on a great campus. Read until your
eyeballs fall out. And learn everything you have not learned
in school. And walk among the great personalities of the past.
And take on problems that people in history have had to take
on. And let the mind walk on the vibrant avenues of Rome
at the time of Tactitus or Cicero. Or hunt with the bushmen
of the Kalahari.
Every time is "existential." Shakespeare, as he walked in the
streets of London, knew and felt himself to be at the very
end of time. And here we are, at the very end. And we know we
won't be the last. And Shakespeare knew he and his cohorts
weren't the last. Therefore, melancholy and, even, tragedy.
Reading is an enrichment because we can be everywhere present
within the hard casing of our own skulls.
When language is creating mindfulness or play or wisdom,
then it is enriching us. That's fairly common when young
but it is trickier as one gets older. So, how to keep that
wonderful sense of enrichment alive?
You start off with a thousand enrichments and end up with
five. Those five are meaningful. And, in truth, the other
995 are meaningful as well because you can't get to the
five with going through all the others.
<<<<<< R e a d i n g f o r F a c t s >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
This necessary activity should be rationalized as fully as
possible and be part of the writer's disciplined day. Read
good newspapers. Cut things out and create folders
for different subjects. Use colored pens to circle concepts
and facts you want to further investigate. Question the facts
you read. Get a good book on fact-finding. Newsweek has
proven lately why fact-finding is so important an activity
in non-fiction writing.
On my media resource page I have links to the great daily
papers, the great opinion journals and a few of the decent
If nothing else blogging is quick to jump on a fact and
discredit it if it's warranted. While I trust most media
to be fairly vigilant about fact-finding I trust the
instincts of the bloggers to ferret out the wrong facts.
Neither can be fully trusted.
The following are excellent journalism sites for fact
gathering. I always say that journalists and librarians
are the most resourceful people around and to trust their
ability to find the right things.
R E S O U R C E S
Some of AssignmentEditor.com is fee-based.
The Annotated New York Times is resourceful enough.
So is journalismnet.com.
If you have any questions about careers in freelance writing
don't hesitate to ask!
Back to the Freelance Resource Page