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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Eight Essentials Every Writer Must Master – Part 4

7. Read!

I never discourage anyone who has even a passing fancy of being a writer. But I have to admit that if someone told me s/he wanted to be a writer but hated to read, I’d be at a loss for what to say.

Reading and writing are part of the one whole. Writing without reading would be like trying to exhale without inhaling.

When we learn to read, we learn to connect our imagination to the imagination of another person to co-create a new world and new understanding. Reading was our initiation to the magic of the written word.

Writers need to be constantly reading to keep imagining, the way sharks need to be constantly swimming to keep breathing. (In the interest of scientific integrity, I must note that a few shark species can breathe while resting, but inserting the word “most” before sharks had much less impact.)

Reading gives us role models, inspiration, challenges and escape. We learn vocabulary, usage, pacing, how to structure a sentence, and how to structure the entire piece.

Because we unconsciously absorb so much when we read, we need to select what we’re reading with intention. While it’s okay to splash around in “trashy” writing occasionally, writers need to spend most of our time immersed in the best part of the ocean.

If you want to develop as a writer, you have to grow as a reader. Dive a little deeper, venture a little farther, explore the waters of other genres.

8. Be part of the writing community. Find mentors. Be a mentor.

You’ll find mentors and role models in your reading of course, but you also need mentors you can interact with.

When you take classes, look to your fellow students as well as the teacher for practices, techniques and attitudes you want to emulate. Hang out with other writers (in a writing group, at Loft events, writer’s conferences).

But don’t limit yourself to writers.

Social science research shows that creativity flourishes when creative people interact with other members of their “tribe.” That same research shows that creativity flourishes even more when people interact others who are not like them.

So by all means, take writing classes, join writer’s groups and go to writer’s conferences, but also take non-writing classes (improv, painting, Civil War history, architecture, whatever you’re even mildly interested in), join groups that aren’t composed only of writers, go to conferences that focus on other topics.

For example, Gustavus Adolphus College hosts fascinating Nobel Conferences each year that bring top-ranked scientists to share their expertise on cutting-edge science issues. 2012 Nobel Conference focuses on Our Global Ocean.

You can hang out with other writers (and other creatives) through social media (LinkedIn, Facebook, Google, etc.), but limit the time you invest in this. When it comes to mentoring and boosting creativity, electronic visiting is better than no interaction at all, but it pales in comparison to being in the physical presence of other humans.

You can find other writers familiar with my recommended practices and techniques (from taking one of my classes or reading my blog or book) at my AWB Writers Groups Facebook page. Or explore creativity coaching on my website to see you’d like to hire me as your coach.

Don’t think I’ve forgotten “Be a mentor.” I know you might be thinking, “I’m not ready to be a mentor.” I assure you that no matter where you are in your development as a writer, you have something to share.

To be part of a writing community, we need to give back to the community. One way I do this is to offer a full scholarship in all my Loft classes.

You can be a mentor to a younger writer (younger chronologically or younger in her/his development as a writer or both). Volunteer in literacy programs or at literacy centers (like the Loft). Volunteer as a mentor in public schools. Find a need and fill it.

Nothing solidifies your command of a skill or topic like teaching it to others, which is part of why I keep teaching the Writing Habit and Around the Writer’s Block classes year after year.

You don’t have to be a “Teacher” to teach; learn a new technique and teach it to the other writers in your writer’s group. Develop a new skill or approach, then teach it to your mentees. Share what you know when you attend conferences and events.

Be fair about it – give others a chance to share what they know, too. Teaching can be mutual – I know I learn as much as, if not more than, I teach. Admittedly I do have the advantage of working with fabulously creative students and clients.

There may be other traits and practices that are essential for writers – this is my list of eight. Please share what you consider essential in your writing life in a comment.

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2 Comments on “Eight Essentials Every Writer Must Master – Part 4”

  1. Daphne Gray-Grant June 7, 2012 at 10:33 am #

    I like your point about reading well. It’s hugely important to writing well. I think we ABSORB the style, syntax and rhythm of other writers when we read and we start to sound like them when we write. That’s why it’s so important NOT to read too much dreck!


    • rosannebane June 7, 2012 at 11:24 am #

      Hi Daphne, I agree completely. I think the way we absorb style is a modification of the innate human ability to acquire language – no one has to teach a toddler their native tongue, they absorb it.


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