Good writers are good readers

To write well, it helps to read well. By reading well, I don’t mean fast reading speeds or good reading comprehension (although those help too). A good reader, in the sense that I mean, reads widely and thoughtfully, taking the time to notice details and make connections between different subjects.

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According to Vladimir Nabokov, “the good reader is one who has imagination, memory, a dictionary, and some artistic sense.” While Nabokov is famous for the high expectations he had for his readers, these qualities will help you get the most out of your reading, so they are worth cultivating (except perhaps for the dictionary–we have the internet now for that).

You may be surprised how much you get out of reading when you take the time to remember names and other details or when you stop to look up a word you don’t know. Best of all, the same qualities that Nabokov says make a good reader–memory, imagination, a good vocabulary, and an artistic sense–are the same qualities that make a good writer.

It’s not just a matter of helpful traits, though; I find if I’ve been reading a lot of well-written books in the genre I’m currently writing in, my work is better. “Well-written” is key here. When you spend a lot of time with certain friends, you can start to pick up their mannerisms, patterns of speech, and sense of humor; the same is true for books that you spend time with.

So hang out with authors you admire. One of the great things about books is that they allow you to hear the mental workings of some of the smartest, funniest people around. Take advantage of this! If you’re trying to find a poetic voice, read the poets you enjoy. If you’re trying to craft short stories that pack a punch, try reading some Hemingway. (Or Flannery O’Connor. Or Raymond Carver. You get the picture.)

You have access to virtually any writer, so if you want one of them to be your muse, read the things he or she has written, and let that be a jumping off place for you. You don’t need to consciously imitate that author’s writing style unless you want to. Just reading well will allow you to absorb techniques that you might otherwise never have noticed.

Is there a writer who inspires you? Feel free to share in the comments!

Writing with teeth

“If ever there is a good time to let art be subversive, it’s now. … Some of the best art, the best fiction, is stuff that has teeth, that’s willing to bite the hand that takes away its food and its shelter and its rights.”Chuck Wendig

Writing is human storytelling

We’ve been brainwashed into thinking that we are all specialists of some kind and that you can’t really be a writer unless you’ve got something like a master’s degree. Obviously, we want dentists to be trained, but writing is human storytelling and everybody does it. (Margaret Atwood)

Reading as a different person

Rereading the same book produces new insights because the reader is a different person. Indeed, a good book is much like a mirror: the glass is the same year after year, but the reflection in it changes over time. (Christopher B. Nelson)

A “Strange Balance” for Writers

“With writing, I think you need to find some strange balance between confidence and humility. You need to start from a place of confidence, from the belief that you have a story worth telling and know how to tell it—you have to set out from this place with gusto. Then immediately open yourself to humility and the certainty of some kind of failure.” Will McGrath

Writing the Impossible

“…. sometimes in a man or a woman awareness takes place — not very often and always inexplainable. There are no words for it because there is no one ever to tell. This is a secret not kept a secret, but locked in wordlessness. The craft or art of writing is the clumsy attempt to find symbols for the wordlessness. In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable. And sometimes if he is very fortunate and if the time is right, a very little of what he is trying to do trickles through — not ever much. And if he is a writer wise enough to know it can’t be done, then he is not a writer at all. A good writer always works at the impossible.” John Steinbeck (via Brain Pickings)

Believe in yourself (but not too much)

“Writing is about hypnotizing yourself into believing in yourself, getting some work done, then unhypnotizing yourself and going over the material coldly. There will be many mistakes, many things to take out and others that need to be added.” Anne Lamott

Writing Small

“The bigger the issue, the smaller you write. Remember that. You don’t write about the horrors of war. No. You write about a kid’s burnt socks lying on the road. You pick the smallest manageable part of a big thing, and you work off the resonance.” Richard Price