“I believe very, very deeply in books. I think they’re the only thing we have that can get us to radically re-understand our society. I don’t think movies can. I don’t think a song can. But a book can.”
Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm
Hamilton, the smash hit musical penned by Lin-Manuel Miranda, was inspired by his reading of Ron Chernow’s best-seller on the controversial founding father. Junot Diaz overcame a huge obstacle to finishing his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, when he picked up a copy of The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger and had a flash of insight about applying its structure to his fictional world. And when I was struggling with some plot problems in my YA novel, I turned to Jane
Austen’s classic Pride & Prejudice for inspiration.
Reading outside your genre and comfort zone is one of the surest ways to expand your horizons, juice your creativity, and strengthen your craft. That’s why I wasn’t surprised to see Demian Farnworth’s online story, “Want to Be an Amazing Writer? Read Like One” featured on one of my favorite sites, Copyblogger . While this site focuses on marketing writing, it’s really devoted to helping writers excel, whatever writing field they happen to be tilling.
In his inspiring article, Demian notes, “…while reading new books is a great way to stay on top of the latest ideas (or be reminded of the old ones), I think it’s much better to make a habit of reading older books.
“Old books have ideas and stories that have endured for 50, 100 — even thousands of years. Darwin. Schopenhauer. Hobbes. Nicholas of Cusa. Sappho. When you read a book, letter, article, or essay that has endured through the ages, you can be confident that it’s quality writing. Not as much with new books.”
Wow! Seeing Sappho and Schopenhauer cited in a copy writing blog! This really grabbed my attention. Demian went on to throw out some provocative ideas:
• Read Random House’s list of the 100 best novels.
• Work your way through Jame Joyce’s Ulysses or one of Newton’s philosophical studies — something that will really challenge your little grey cells.
• Start a book club devoted to classics by Homer, Thucydides, and other ancient authors.
• Write out your favorite short story by hand in order to gain a better handle on how it’s constructed and why it works so well.
• Read long-form journalism and essays by masters of these genres.
• Read widely — outside your discipline — and soak up inspiring metaphors and styles.
At the end of his excellent article, Demian observed that, “Great writers strive to be altruistic and empathetic.” How true. Reading widely and deeply helps. Write on!