Read more, write well

Writing is one of the few skills you can almost learn by osmosis.

Note that I said almost.  No writer ever gets better without writing. There’s no substitute for practice.

But writing alone isn’t enough. You have to stuff your head with words and learn how they behave when in each other’s company. In short, you have to read.

That’s where the osmosis comes in.

As I mentioned in my post about The Elements of Style, good writing teaches by doing. Just by reading the words, you’re absorbing some of the internal logic that makes good writing sing.

What’s more, reading is enjoyable. It’s inspiring. It reminds us of why we wanted to become writers. Reading a master of the craft is a joy, especially when writing gets hard. Sometimes you spend the whole day trying to be brilliant and you end up feeling like you’re better suited to working in a cannery instead. (This happens to everyone. It’s normal.)

There are people who will try to tell you that your skills will flourish only if you read [insert famous dead author here]. A little secret for you: That’s bunk. Read the authors you like to read. These will help you become who you are. And the more you can be who you are, the better writer you’ll be. No one got famous trying to be a perfect imitation of Leo Tolstoy. Or, if they did, their fame was fleeting and then they lived a miserable life and died in poverty. (Not unlike Tolstoy, incidentally. Just a guess.)

That being said, don’t forget to venture into new waters. Push yourself to read something in a genre you’ve never read before. Motivate yourself by joining a book club or signing on for a book-based competition. (I’d recommend the annual Book Riot Read Harder Challenge.)

As you read, you’ll develop a crush on certain writers. (If you haven’t noticed, mine is Anne Lamott.) You’ll be infatuated with his or her tone and style. You’ll read his or her work compulsively for a while, and then, you’ll start hearing that author’s voice doing the internal monologue in your head. It’s like a voice-over in a movie, but a bit more surreal. (This happens to everyone, too. It’s normal.)

That’s fine. Feel free to try on someone else’s style and play with it a while. Just don’t forget to go back to being you. Your work in life is to be yourself, but who says you can’t have a vacation once in a while?


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