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Pro Am Tip #36 - Advice?

Oh, yeah. I’m FULL of it. You heard me. Today’s advice? The Toolbox.

Every writer needs a toolbox. You can fix a sink and an oven with a wrench, but you’re not going to fix a window with it. You can fix a laptop with a micro screwdriver, but you’re not likely to fix an engine with it. You get the point, I think. You need different tools for different jobs. You need a whole box of tools to do a really big job, a professional job, a job done right.

What do I think is the biggest, baddest tool in the box? Reading.

You need to love to read if you’re going to write well. I’m convinced that if you’re a wide reader, your work will be wide. If you’re a deep reader, your work will be deep. If you are a terrible reader… well…

You need to bathe in words in order to understand them. Your brain will build a gestalt of everything you read, a library of concepts, words, interesting phrases, plot twists, and details that will flow out of you at just the right moment while your fingers are flying over those keys, while words run down your arms onto the screen like sweat after a long day of…

…I don’t know. I’m a writer. I don’t sweat. But you get the idea. The metaphor, as they say, is apparent.

I don’t just think reading is a key part, I think it’s the biggest part. And your reading habits need to be very specifically honed.

These are my reading rules:

  1. Never read more than two books in a row by any author.

  2. Read one book outside your favorite genres for every book you read in them.

  3. Alternate new books with classics.

  4. Read both ebooks AND printed books.

  5. If possible, read two books at once in different places.

  6. Find a poem published every year for the last fifty years and read them.

By never reading more than two books in a row by any one author you won’t tire yourself out on their voice. You’ll always come to their work with a refreshed palate.

By reading books outside of your favorite genres you’ll open yourself up to different perspectives and narrative styles you might never have experienced.

Alternative newer books with the heavy duty classics will give you a working knowledge of stylistic changes, both those that are out of fashion and those that are timeless.

Reading ebooks and print books will remind you why both exist, and what is good about the tactile feeling of each.

Reading one book at school or work and one at home helps you separate the narratives, and keeping two storylines straight in your head is a good mental exercise for your own writing and not losing your own narrative threads.

Reading poetry published every year will give you a similar perspective on how views have changed over the years, and also poetry will help you greatly with concise descriptions in your own work.

The language skills you can garner from close study of successful authors can never be understated. This will keep that toolbox full and the tools within in good working order, so that when you reach in there, you’ll always find exactly what you need. And your best tool, reading, will always be top-of-the-line.

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