Where does great writing come from?
Plus: A quick writing tip, how to read faster and better, and the best passage I read this week
I blame the wardrobe.
Not the lion. Not the witch.
But the wardrobe.
And not the one in the book you’re thinking of, but its replica at Fabled Bookshop & Cafe in Waco, Texas.
I grew up outside of Waco, Texas. Some of my family still lives there. When we visit, I head to Fabled as often as I can, both because it’s an amazing independent bookstore and a longtime friend of mine is a co-owner.
Over the Christmas break, we went through Waco and made time for Fabled. As our seven-year-old clambered through the Fabled wardrobe and into their children’s area, I was reminded of the wonder, power, and awe that the written word can have over us.
This seems like a strange thing to write for a full-time editor, right?
But like the constant din of a nearby highway, you eventually become numb to what’s incessant.
I swim in words. However, for my personal reading, I tend to stay in the shallow end. I don’t read as broadly as I want to. I also don’t read as much as I want to.
(Here’s another plug for the Nonfiction Book Party Bookclub, which has already resulted in me reading and finishing Paul Kalinithi’s spellbinding and heartbreaking memoir, When Breath Becomes Air.)
So I wanted to change that this year.
I wanted to fall back in love with reading.
So I could fall back in love with writing.
And where does great writing come from?
God? The ephemeral muse? The subconscious?
Today’s answer is less philosophical than that.
Writing comes from reading—but you don’t have to take my word for it.
“If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” —Stephen King
“You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page. Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write.” —Annie Proulx
“Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.” —William Faulkner
“If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime.” —Ray Bradbury
That Bradbury quote really knocks me out.
I hope that when next we meet, we’ll find each other on the other side of the wardrobe, searching through the stacks, knowing we’re kindred spirits by the books like hats upon our crazy heads.
P.S. Fabled was recently featured in Storefront Stories on Discovery+. I highly encourage the short watch so you can see what a great bookstore it is. (Subscription required.)
P.P.S. Fabled also recently announced its “Newest and Best Books, Winter 2023” Zoom call on Tuesday, Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. CST. They’re great curators, so I imagine it’ll be a mix of worthwhile fiction and nonfiction. I plan to attend. It’s free to register, though a $5 donation via Venmo on the event night is appreciated. Plus, you’ll get a 20% discount after attending for a one-time future purchase at Fabled.
📝 Quick writing tip 📝
There is something wrong with this sentence.
Actually, nothing is technically wrong about that sentence.
But it could (and should) be better.
Whenever I spy sentences beginning with “There is” or “There are,” I almost always eradicate those phrases.
Using them is lazy writing.
Sure, let them proliferate in your first draft (if you must), but search-and-destroy them in your later draft.
When you do so, this is what happens:
There is something wrong with this sentence.
Something is wrong with this sentence.
You cut a word and make a stronger statement.
Check your writing and see if this is a subtle change you could make to write better today.
👍 Featured recommendation 👍
How to read faster and better
With my newly inspired drive to read more, I fell down the rabbit hole of YouTube’s algorithm.
While the first video does cover how to read more, it also features a few impressive libraries, and it’s worth the watch just for that.
I also started Break-through Rapid Reading by Peter Krump last week and have already benefited from its lessons.
QUESTION: Do you have a system for retaining what you read?
🔥 The best passage I read this week 🔥
When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalinithi
“Lost in a featureless wasteland of my own mortality, and finding no traction in the reams of scientific studies, intracellular molecular pathways, and endless curves of survival statistics, I began reading literature again: Solzhenitsyn’s Cancer Ward, B. S. Johnson’s The Unfortunates, Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilyich, Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos, Woolf, Kafka, Montaigne, Frost, Greville, memoirs of cancer patients—anything by anyone who had ever written about mortality. I was searching for a vocabulary with which to make sense of death, to find a way to begin defining myself and inching forward again. The privilege of direct experience had led me away from literary and academic work, yet now I felt that to understand my own direct experiences, I would have to translate them back into language. Hemingway described his process in similar terms: acquiring rich experiences, then retreating to cogitate and write about them. I needed words to go forward. And so it was literature that brought me back to life during this time.”
🧹 Housekeeping 🧹
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