Ten Steps to Better Writing

i go pogo buttonCopyblogger has posted a list of 10 steps to becoming a better writer. Here’s the link, but never mind, the full list follows:

  1. Write.
  2. Write more.
  3. Write even more.
  4. Write even more than that.
  5. Write when you don’t want to.
  6. Write when you do.
  7. Write when you have something to say.
  8. Write when you don’t.
  9. Write every day.
  10. Keep writing.

Well, fine. Just one problem — how is all that writing really making you a better writer, exactly? Where does reading fit into the picture?

This attitude (which derives from the Romantic poets’ cult of the self) reminds me of Barnstable Bear, a character in the great comic strip Pogo, who could write but not read. He would pen wonderful passages, but then he had to find someone else to read them for him. I have heard the complaint from writing workshop teachers that many of their students are avid writers of poetry (for example), but fail to develop because they never cultivate the ability to read it.

I submit that reading is equally important as writing if you want to refine your writing skills. And I further suggest that one should read not just the best-sellers of the day but classics, works from other times and places, works in translation, and works in other languages.

Sure writing’s important, but, as Ben Franklin said, the person who trains himself has a fool for a teacher.


UPDATE: Here is Michael Moorcock’s first rule of writing: “My first rule was given to me by TH White, author of The Sword in the Stone and other Arthurian fantasies and was: Read. Read everything you can lay hands on. I always advise people who want to write a fantasy or science fiction or romance to stop reading everything in those genres and start reading everything else from Bunyan to Byatt.”

UPDATE 2: From the same link, here is Ian Rankin’s first rule of writing: “Read lots.”

UPDATE 3: And Sarah Waters: “Read like mad.”

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  1. I’d be willing to bet I read more than anyone you know, if that helps. 🙂

    Interestingly, for many years all I did was read, but kept myself from writing because “I wasn’t good enough.” Then I just started writing without care, and I got better.

    The more I write, the better I get. That’s all I was trying to communicate. Some people seemed to get it.

  2. Brian, I think your point that the more you write the better you get was hard to miss. But I do think a qualification is appropriate and even rather urgent. BTW, I’m sure you’re a fine reader; still, I would probably take your bet.

  3. Well I don’t agree with Franklin. Edison was self-tough. If you want to see more famous autodidact people go here:

  4. Thank you, Nadja.

    Yes, Edison was tough — too tough, said some who worked for him. He was a self-promoter who took personal credit for the work of others in his factory.

    But that’s beside the point. Of course there are distinguished autodidacts — who would deny that? But nearly all became distinguished by studying foundations laid by others. Such study is the “didact” part of the term autodidact. To omit such study is to stack the odds against success.

  5. The Autodidacticism applies today in many ways. One of then is the online studies. I passed all the test of Microsoft Office Master studying by myself while the school was making $10,000 for doing nothing. That is my experience. English is my second language, my first is Spanish as you notice before when I misspelled self-taught. Thanks for the info about Edison. I believe there are thousands like him around here.

  6. Amen, brother. Couldn’t agree with this post more.

  7. Thanks, Robert.