Reading and Writing for Writing

category: Articles
by Alexis Leon

Article first published as Reading for Writing on Blogcritics.

You are writing more than you are reading… Surely the sign of an amateur!

This is a line from the movie Quills, which is the story of Marquis de Sade. Quills is a wickedly funny and sexy movie, which is full of violence and gore. But the above words could not be truer.

If you want to be a professional writer, rise above the level of ‘amateurs,’ make money out of your writing, achieve fame and name, and be respected and admired as a master of your craft, then you should practice the craft and practice it rigorously with dedication, concentration, and determination. You must read more and you must write more. You must do this on a regular basis — as regularly as you eat and drink.

You must read a lot and while you are reading try to learn the new words and phrases that you encounter. Learn how the word or phrase is used in different situations to convey different meanings or different shades of the same meaning. Improving your vocabulary will enrich your writing. You will have more than one word for any given situation and that knowledge is power. Sometimes the apt word is not the one that comes first to your mind. But the knowledge that you have others in your repertoire will give you confidence and make your writing richer and attractive.

While reading, spend time to ponder about the writing style of the author. Think of the reasons why the author chose a particular style, word, or phrase to express his ideas. Try to find out what makes the writing tick. Learn the techniques that the author uses to capture your attention from the first sentence onwards and keep it till the end and keep you thinking even after that. Find out what makes the writing great.

Reading for writing is different from reading for pleasure or casual reading. There is nothing casual when you are reading to learn the craft of writing. Take notes while writing. Write down the words, phrases, and sentences that are interesting. Practice using the words and phrases in your writing. Three books that will help you in improving your reading and teach you how to read for writing better are:

A book that will give you daily material to read each day, a book that contains excerpts from books that are examples of great writing is The Daily Reader: 366 Selections of Great Prose and Poetry to Inspire a Productive and Meaningful Writing Life by Fred White.

As you start reading regularly you should also start writing regularly. Make writing a part of your daily routine. Find a fixed time and space where you can sit undisturbed and write. Write about anything you want. But it is better to have a list of topics that you want to write about. Keep the list on a notice board and keep adding topics to the list as and when you get new ones. This will ensure that you are never short of ideas.

Think about what you are going to write for any given day well in advance. If you want to refer books, visit places, or do something that will make the writing more interesting, this will give you enough time to do that. For example, if you are planning to write about the evening life at the beach, then a few evenings at the beach will help a lot in making your writing interesting as you will be able to infuse a lot of color, characters, situations, and energy into your writing.

When you go for such ‘experiences,’ take a notebook or recording device and a camera with you. Notebooks are ideal as you can write and sketch on them. Recording devices are useful, if you are interviewing someone, which is a very good idea as the inclusion of a small interview in an article will give it a real feel. Photographs serve two purposes. It will help you to recall all the details. It will also provide pictures that could be included in the article. Today a reasonably good digital camera is very affordable and you can take as many pictures as you want and download it to your computer. The camera has become an indispensable tool for the writer.

There are many books that give hundreds of topics from which you can choose. Some of them are:

When you sit down to write, write without thinking too much about grammar, spelling and sentence quality. Write fast and write whatever comes to you mind. Only after completing the first draft you should think about spelling, grammar, quality, and correctness.

Once you have finished writing, set it aside. Take the previous day’s writing and start editing it. When you edit or revise your first draft, you should do it slowly looking for mistakes — spelling, grammar, and usage — and also for the appropriateness of the words used. A dictionary, thesaurus, and a style and usage guide should be kept within easy reach for reference. Read aloud what you have written. This will help you in identifying the words that don’t sound nice or that doesn’t go well with the other words of that sentence.

As the days go by you will find that your writing is improving and your reading is helping you in becoming a better writer. As you read more, you will write better and as your writing improves you will get more time to read!



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