Good writing requires good reading.
Good writers read good writers.
Think about what they did.
How did they get their effects?
What did they do to move you?
Read them aloud.
Listen to the pace and rhythm of their words.
Our colleague Roger Beirne used to retype poetry.
Robert Frost, William Butler Yeats and other poets he admired.
“I want to feel how their words work,” he said.
Roger developed a lyrical style in his feature writing.
Read good journalists.
The internet is a boon to all of us.
We can access almost any newspaper or magazine in the world.
Concentrate on those that encourage good writing.
Read magazines in print or on the internet.
Look for strong journalism, detailed reporting and vivid writing.
Read the novels of great writers.
In translation, great writers in other languages teach style.
Read the Bible. Most of the great writers of literature did.
Ernest Hemingway took book titles from Bible passages.
I prefer the original King James version.
The king’s translators had archaic but poetic styles.
Choose the version you like from many translations.
All have much to teach us about language.
Joan Beck of the Chicago Tribune says she reads the Bible every day.
“Those cadences get imprinted in your brain,” she said.
“You tend to write in those kinds of patterns and rhythms.”
Read at least an hour a day.
Not just duty reading.
Devour your own and others’ newspapers and magazines.
Rise early and read for an hour while the rest of your household sleeps.
Make them Golden Hours of Discovery.
Note in the backs of your books the passages you may revisit.
Here is my suggested reading list:
Journalists: Joan Didion, James Agee, Hannah Arendt, Ernie Pyle, Russell Baker, Meyer Berger, Bob Greene, Jimmy Breslin, David Halberstam, Art Buchwald and John McPhee.
Masters of American literature and poetry: Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Annie Dillard, Robert Frost. Emily Dickinson, Carl Sandburg, John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway.
Modern fiction: Robert B. Parker’s Spencer novels for crisp dialogue, Stuart Woods for his fast-paced plots, and James Lee Burke for his imagery.
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane.
The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
Growing Up by Russell Baker.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.
Only in America by Harry Golden.
On the Road by Charles Kuralt (his TV scripts).
Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt.
Did you enjoy learning from this?
There’s much more in Compelling Writing.
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