Southwrite

Telling stories

Reading to be a Better Writer

Posted by southwrite on June 5, 2014

Tree reading book

Like a lot of other freelancers, I get the question “how do you become a writer?” Since it usually comes from people who aren’t really serious about making writing their calling, I say “well, you write. Then you’re a writer.” And, of course, that’s true. You have to do it in order to be it. You more you write you better you become at it and the better writer you become.

I do a lot of writing –journalism and corporate copywriting – so I practice what I preach. [This blog is an addition – a test to see if I could keep up with daily posting without quitting.] Yet, there’s one thing I don’t do as much as I should and that’s reading.

Sure I read a lot. I read all the time in many different mediums, but mostly on computer and on line. Most of it is research with a little non-worked related material thrown in. I’m also trying to do more reading that improves my craft. The kind that makes me a better writer.

I’m reading more books on writing. Here good examples abound. One of my favorites is Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Part autobiography and practical guide for aspiring writers, it’s filled with advice from a master of the craft. Whether you’re a fiction writer or not this is one book you should certainly read.

You should also check out guides aimed at specific aspects of freelancing. The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success by Linda Formichelli. Another good book for both beginners and even veterans is The Well-Fed Writer – Updated Edition by Peter Bowerman. This book covers just about everything you can think of that you might need to know as a freelancer, but perhaps it’s greatest lesson is that Bowerman knows you have to approach writing as a business.

You can find a number of other good works on various aspects of freelance writing here.

There are general interest magazines devoted to writing – Writer’s Digest and The Writer. Either or both are worth subscribing to for the one or two articles in each issue that make subscribing worthwhile.

Along with the how-to books and articles, some of the best lessons you can get from reading come from other writers who are doing what you want to do. Read the work of writers you respect with an eye to how they structure their stories, set up scenes and present information. Break a story down and think about how the writer approached it. This is particularly helpful when you’re reading stories similar to ones that you yourself write.

You might think you don’t have time for this kind of reading, particularly if you’re busy doing a lot of your own. This is the time you most need to sharpen your skills and your mind with good information and most of all good writing.

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4 Responses to “Reading to be a Better Writer”

  1. John Cooke said

    I was considering a post paying homage to writers, out of respect, since I don’t consider myself one on your level. Funny thing though, my local writer friends all suggested the same book to me, which I have loved. Enjoying your posts.

  2. […] better writer by reading more.  Additionally,  some Cape May locals recommended the same book as Randy Southerland in his Blog. Jen Miller gave me that advice […]

  3. Took some courage to name myself a writer, but “if you write, you’re a writer.” Every writing workshop I’ve been to (and many writers) agree- Read! and read and read. But, the more I develop the writing practice….the less I read! I love reading.
    Have you read Ann Lamott’s “Bird by Bird”? and Elmore Leonard’s “Ten rules of Writing” (a summary in, I think, The New Yorker). The Guardian recently published various writers reflecting on 10 rules for writing. A quick read. (My favourite Ann Lamott is Traveling Mercies.)
    Cool today, here in rural Australia.

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