For me, there are several writers that I appreciate reading — it varies depending on my mood.
When I need my heart to be rejuvenated by simple themes of beauty, truth, and justice, I read John Eldredge.
When I’ve got a creative idea or am wanting to feel innovative, I read Seth Godin.
When I’m feeling profound and wanting to be challenged by something academic that will make my head hurt, I read C.S. Lewis.
When I want to read a great story told in an untraditional way, I read Ernest Hemingway (although, I confess, it’s been awhile).
When I want to read something poetic, I read Pablo Neruda (in Spanish).
When I’m starved for truth or good theology, I read John Piper.
When I need a good old-fashioned kick-in-the-butt, I read the blog of my mentor Seth Barnes.
And, of course, whenever I need to feel inspired, I read the Bible — often an epistle of Paul, the Gospel of John, or the Psalms.
Who is your favorite writer? I don’t think that I could pick just one.
I was reading a blog the other day that was written with limited vocabulary, some poor grammar, and an overly-informal voice. It was easy to read, and it flowed like a conversation, so it wasn’t unpleasant. However, there was nothing to grab me.
To be honest, the writing was pretty parochial.
Even though it was “just a blog” (an excuse I often hear to justify poorly-constructed ideas and sentences), it could have been more — so much more.
It could have exceeded its elementary use of language and really wowed the reader. Instead, it was something that you were likely to read and immediately forget. Nothing stuck with the reader, because the writer didn’t spend any time constructing his prose.
I don’t want to be disingenuous here; I’ve said before that there are different styles of writing. Some writing ought to be simple. You shouldn’t write pretentiously or with complicated vocabulary if the audience can’t relate.
There is, of course, something to be said for a writer’s choice of style. Yet, at the end of the day, if your writing is just a bunch of fluff or is overly simplistic, your writer will recognize it, even if she isn’t a an academic or grammatician. People can recognize bad writing pretty easily.
This brings me to my point: good writers need to read. Great writers need to read a lot and jot down ideas in response to what they read. As a writer, you’ll find yourself hitting plateaus and roadblocks when you aren’t regularly reading. You’ll find that you actually run out of words, if you’re not regularly being challenged through reading new things.
Many people read books to finish them. This is not always necessary. Read books or articles just to read them — to glean new ideas, to learn new words, to fall back in love with language.
Don’t read to necessarily accomplish anything. That is, you don’t need to read to necessarily finish what you’re reading. Just read to read. But don’t neglect this necessary discipline in becoming a better writer. Make reading a habit, a personal passion. Grab hold of anything you can get your hands on.
As a writer, words are your lifeblood. Read anything. Just get started. If you don’t know where to start, begin with my suggested reading resources for writers.
I know a lot of people who like to write. They blog, email, maybe even journal.
And that’s good. It’s important to have communication skills during this Information Age. It’s good to be able to write and express your thoughts in a culture with so much electronic access to so many other people.
But if you want to be a writer, that’s not enough.
I don’t meant to sound harsh here, but can you do something — anything — for an extended period of time without loving it? I suppose you can, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
Of course, many people do this — everyday and throughout their entire lives. They’re hacking away at jobs that they hate, doing it because they feel stuck and have no idea what else they could be doing.
But if you’re to be a writer, a bard, a storyteller, you really need to love writing. This is the difference between vocation and occupation. Vocation is a life calling — a passion — and occupation is, rather, something that occupies your time (and hopefully pays the bills). With a vocation, you may never get paid much, but it’s still something you have to do. As one friend says, it’s something you “can’t not do.”
If you’re going to be a writer, you have to love it. If not, you’ll burn up and flake out. Life is too short to spend your free time doing things you don’t love. Don’t get serious about writing unless you love it. But if you do love writing, it’s time to get serious.
The difference between good writers and bad writers has nothing to do with skill. It has to do with perseverance.
Good writers take time to craft and recraft a piece. They will spend hours and days, revising, taking all kinds of criticism, and using it all to make the piece better. Good writers can do this, because they believe in what they’re doing. As a writer, they understand that this is more than a profession or a hobby; it’s a life calling.
Bad writers don’t understand this, and that is precisely what makes them bad writers. They presume that their writing has already achieved a certain level of excellence, and so, they are very closed to the concept of editing or rewriting. They can be haughty, prideful, and arrogant.
A good writer is simply a humble writer — someone who’s dedicated to the process of getting better and seeing the writing process, no matter how gruelling, through to completion.
I met a lot of people who are decent writers and think that they have what it takes to be great. I ask them to rewrite something or make a few suggestions on how to improve, and I never again hear from them.
Make a choice to be different. Be amazing by persevering, by going the extra mile that most people are too lazy or preoccupied to go. It’ll make all the difference.