For a few years now, Chris has been posting articles to help us with our craft. I’ve learn some valuable things on this site, from editing to copywriting to marketing books and everything in between. I might have missed it, but there is one bit of advice that I have not seen here. And that is, if you want to write well, you must read.
Reading to a writer is as medical school is to a doctor, as training is to an athlete, as breathing is to life. Think of reading books as taking a writing course.
I would suggest reading the classics: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and, of course, Steinbeck, to name but a few. These three authors made up their own rules. (Hemingway couldn’t get published at first because his writing was so different from the writing that preceded him.)
Below are three examples of Steinbeck’s writing. If you read stuff like this, you can’t help but become a better writer. Please note that the first example is one long sentence that makes up an entire paragraph. That, of course, is a big no-no . . . or so “they” say.
• • • • •
“The concrete highway was edged with a mat of tangled, broken, dry grass, and the grass heads were heavy with oat beards to catch on a dog’s coat, and foxtails to tangle in a horse’s fetlocks, and clover burrs to fasten in sheep’s wool; sleeping life waiting to be spread and dispersed, every seed armed with an appliance of dispersal, twisting darts and parachutes for the wind, little spears and balls of tiny thorns, and all waiting for animals and the wind, for a man’s trouser cuff or the hem of a woman’s skirt, all passive but armed with appliances of activity, still, but each possessed the anlage of movement.”—John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
• • • • •
“The afternoon came down as imperceptibly as age comes to a happy man. A little gold entered into the sunlight. The bay became bluer and dimpled with shore-wind ripples. Those lonely fishermen who believe that the fish bite at high tide left their rocks and their places were taken by others, who were convinced that the fish bite at low tide.”—John Steinbeck, Tortilla Flat
• • • • •
“June is gay—cool and warm, wet and shouting with growth and reproduction of the sweet and the noxious, the builder and the spoiler. The girls in the body-form slacks wander High Street with locked hands while small transistor radios sit on their shoulders and whine love songs in their ears. The young boys, bleeding with sap, sit on the stools of Tanger’s Drugstore ingesting future pimples through straws. They watch the girls with level goat-eyes and make disparaging remarks to one another while their insides whimper with longing.”—John Steinbeck, The Winter of our Discontent
My first bit of advice is to read.
My second: don’t pay so much attention to the “rules” of writing.
Thank you for listening to my morning rant,