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What Writers Read

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 it out.

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:

  • Resource
  • Enrichment
  • 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 books around.

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 of stories.

>>>>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 columnists.

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.


Some of AssignmentEditor.com is fee-based.
The Annotated New York Times is resourceful enough.
So is journalismnet.com.

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David Eide
Copyright 2000-2016


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David Eide
copyright 2000-2016