Writers Read

I had a great conversation yesterday with a man who works to connect churches with not-for-profits. We were talking about books we read, and I joked that I didn't read.

Of course I read - the first Saturday of every month I review a book; I read several other fiction authors both because I enjoy their novels and because it's a way to learn from well-known writers. I read articles and poetry; editorials and blogs. I like reading plays as well as watching them. Short stories depend on my mood, but a good novella can be a quick hit to the word addiction.

The sad, but honest truth is I'm addicted to words: long words, short words, new words, old words. It doesn't matter if it is in Roman script, Greek, Sanskrit or Japanese - it's the words I like. Now, since I don't actually understand Greek, Sanskrit or Japanese I need them translated, but the look of the word intrigues me as well. The later probably has more to do with my artistic nature, though.


In the Connemara, Ireland
Words point us to places (such as the sign above); they tell us when to stop or yield. Words strung together provide inspiration or motivation. Words are powerful, which is part of the reason we must be careful with what we speak or write. 

To be a writer - to excel in writing - one must read ... a lot. Read whatever you can, and soak in the good writing styles. Do not reject the bad writing styles, but learn from them. The easiest way to accomplish this task is to edit the bad piece of writing: how would you improve it?

Most new writers stress over making their voice known. Don't worry, it just comes naturally. You can change your voice to suit a publication or purpose, but however you write will be as natural to you as speaking. To learn how an author's voice might change, we must read a wide variety so we can develop a wide range of writing styles. A breezy fashion blog will not be the same as a hard-hitting political analysis. The same person might write both blogs, but the voice will be slightly different depending on the situation.

We must read to fill our storehouses of not-so-useless information. To develop a well-rounded approach to writing, the arts, life in general, we must have a storehouse that provides this information. Therefore, when you read, make certain to include other people's opinions in your repertoire. If you're a staunch Protestant, pick up some Catholic books; if you're pro-life, pick up some pro-choice. There is no such thing as an unbiased person; what we seek to attain is recognizing our biases, and maintaining the will to listen to another's viewpoints.

What should I read, you ask? Everything, I say, but I will give you seven categories to begin; within these categories remember that not everything is non-fiction. To have a well-rounded knowledge read blogs, articles, novels and poetry.
  1. The Classics. Most people will tell you this, so I will just reiterate it; reading the classics can improve your writing as you ponder through what is said. Bear in mind the previous elements: recognize good and poor writing, and read a variety.
  2. Religious books. In this category, I mean the actual religious texts: Torah, Bible, Koran, Vedas and others. To understand another's culture, we must understand their religious texts as well. In most cases, there are different groups within the larger religious group (Protestants and Catholics for example). Take time to learn how these different groups interpret their holy books as well.
  3. History. By reading history, we can learn both about ourselves and the world we have. Make certain you read a couple general history books such as ones focusing on the faiths, major ethnic groups and time periods. The overviews provide the best starting points for you to hang deeper information.
  4. Science. Like History, science introduces us to our own world. With technology changing as quickly as it does, understanding the basis of it helps. Also, like history, I suggest you start with some general science books that provide you with an overview of a field. In some cases, beginning with a history of the science field may provide a better understanding.
  5. Politics. To understand any country, we must understand the government. In this category I would include items like The Communist Manifesto as well as The Federalist Papers. Understanding some of the great political treatises helps us see where we are, and why we follow a particular government.
  6. The Arts. Make certain you have a good grasp of the movers and players within the fields as well as the different parts of the Arts. Not all art is painting, and not all painting includes the Dutch Masters. Look at modern art as well as historic figures; learn about other culture's arts.
  7. Finance. Understand the theories behind the money. Finance and business not only makes the world move, but is sometimes at the root of problems between countries. Learn about the economy, and how to evaluate it.
Much like the oceans, you cannot always find a border between the above categories, but through the general topics, you can develop a larger picture. Writers, more than anyone else, need to be readers. Words and ideas are our currency, and we use it daily. Without gathering more words to us, we cannot hope to teach others about them.

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