Want to Be an Amazing Writer? Read Like One

Want to Be an Amazing Writer? Read Like One

Reader Comments (137)

  1. Great advice as always! I have made it a habit to read something over 50 years old daily. They tend to be non-fiction because I love learning and improving on myself. Thanks for the tips!

    • I love that idea. Where did you come up with that idea, and what are some of the books you’ve been reading?

      Looking forward to hearing from you.

  2. I always love your articles Demian but they make me miss Rough Draft. What happened to Rough Draft!? I was a photographer for 3 years and now I’m a full time copywriter (5 months so far, still learning) and it’s all thanks to that wonderful show.

      • Well I still am, but now it’s just for the love of the craft. Honestly, I’ve never found writing or photography to be much different from one another. As for the transition, I fell into copywriting almost by accident when I applied to a job on a whim in a city far from home. I saw pictures of a beautiful coastline and decided a change would be nice. For some reason they gave the job to me. I was a photojournalist so it wasn’t a tough transition, but during the month of stressful moving I listened to your podcast on repeat over and over.

  3. Fully agree with this. If you’re going to be a good writer, read proper good stuff. I’ve been working my way through the literary canon for the last 16 years and it’s life changing stuff, not least in that it teaches you how to write dead good.

    Sartre did it for me. Merging that with the likes of Orwell, Solzhenitsyn, Kerouac, and Oe has really made me one existential sort of individual.

    It really opens you up to a lot of great ideas, though, to which you can produce content which matters. Even though I hate this whole “content should tell a story” jargon which has emerged. What do people thing content was doing in the past?

    • Great point. I guess people just mean it as a reminder … if they know any better.

      Love your reading habits, your choices specifically. You said you are reading through the canon … I’ve seen many versions of this, with lots of overlap, but I’m curious which one you are working from.

      I remember reading Nausea at one of my low points in my life. Probably not the best thing to be reading at that time, but nonetheless transformative in who I became.

  4. Hi Demian,

    Great post. You touch on some very important points.

    Unfortunately, the modern educational system seems to be more concerned with specialization than with a well-rounded education. I think that mindset carries over into the business world. The antidote, as you suggest, is to read often and widely.

    But we must remember to read well. The guiding principle here, as in other areas of life, is quality trumps quantity.

    Your point about becoming a better person to become a better writer is an interesting analogue to what Pamela mentioned in a post last week. There she suggested that the discipline of writing is a way to develop character.

    Here are some great books I have read over the past year:

    Plato — Apology, Crito, Phaedo
    St. Augustine — The Confessions
    Montaigne — a few of The Essays (My favorite so far: “That to study philosophy is to learn to die?)
    Shakespeare — Hamlet
    Swift — Gulliver’s Travels

    Don’t be impressed. These books are way over my head. But I don’t let that hold me back.

    Like you, I have also read articles or essays written by great journalists of the past. I have read the writings of H.L. Mencken and Hunter S. Thompson among others. Thompson is not my style, but he gives me a different perspective.

    In reading what others have written, we need to challenge not only our intellect, but also our world views.

    Blake

    • Blake,

      I like your list a great deal, however, I find Shakespeare’s plays more fun to watch than read. There are usually several on Netflix at any give time, I think King Lear is available now.

      Regards,
      K

    • Blake, I think you and I were separated from birth.

      I love that essay by Montaigne. Gulliver’s Travels is one of my favorite books. I’ve got Plato on my short books to read this year. Looking forward to it. Been through Confessions twice (a few years ago I read three pages out of Augustine’s City of God each day … so read it in a year). Like Hamlet, but King Lear is my fav Shakespeare play.

  5. This article was exactly what I needed this morning! How can we expect to reap anything that we doesn’t, fill our minds with? My favorite book so far this year was Randy Gage’s “Mad Genius.” It really challenged me to think less about facts, and more about where I want to be. Last week I read a completely different kind of book, that I enjoyed on a more personal level, “A good horse has no color”, by Nancy Marie Brown. I’m getting a couple new horses this week, and I enjoyed reading about another woman’s search for the perfect horse. A love for book is one of the most important fundamentals, that I hope to bring on to my daughter.

    Thank you for a great post!

    • Marie, glad to help. Love the idea of less facts, more about where you want to be. And I can’t agree more that that would be a lovely thing to pass on to your daughter. 😀

  6. I always read the articles on Copyblogger till the end, as they are well written, every single one of them. And I loved this one just as much. It even made me giggle.

    I have been addicted to the ‘be a better you’ kind of books. And audios. Or audio books, even better! Nowadays, I have a little Ipad, and even though I had to get used to reading digital, I wouldn’t want to miss it for the world. And now I am reading blogs and e-books on all kind of topics.

    Your suggestion to read old books is new to me. Let’s do that. In Dutch or in English… Anything goes.

    Great article! Thx!

  7. Loved this article.
    First, because it resonates with me as a writer and communicator.
    But second, because it actually made me itch to get over to my Toronto Library access account and get holds put on the classics I have myself freaked out about and said they were beyond me.
    Thanks! A little literary freak out to get over on a Monday is a fabulous way to start the week 😉

    • I couldn’t agree more. Love literary freak outs. And I love libraries. Hopefully you can find lots of good books to read at Toronto Library! You can read classics, trust me.

  8. I subscribe to Brain Pickings a weekly newsletter by Maria Popova https://www.brainpickings.org/about/ to give me ideas about books to read. Every week she writes blog posts that really make one think about particular books. Although it is online I read it every week when it arrives and often buy a book she talks about.

    Here is her most recent newsletter http://us2.campaign-archive2.com/?u=13eb080d8a315477042e0d5b1&id=cfcc87c790&e=ab0ddb1494 . Her subject line this week is “Anger and forgiveness, an uncommonly tender illustrated meditation on the cycle of life, and a very special musical treat” …. hmmm makes you think doesn’t it ….

    • Brain Pickings is a wonderful resource. A little overwhelming at times … not enough time to read all the wonderful suggestions, don’t you think?!

  9. Reading is my addiction. I wake and read news, posts, emails, art books and self improvement.
    I am reading The Vanishing Valezquez written by someone who evokes the work of Valezquez so well I want to drop everything buy a ticket to Madrid and view Las Meninas in the Prado. Compelling, descriptive, and emotional writing. And before I picked up this work I knew nothing other than Valezquez was Spanish – and I am a painter!
    As with all addiction, I must discipline myself to do other things so I don’t read all day. What that does is allow all the reading to sink in and become part of my thinking.
    So glad you wrote this article. Reading and writing go hand in hand. The more one does the better one gets at both.

    • I’ve read lots of good things about that book … and I love reading about other artists … guess I need to add it to my list.

      And just keep in mind, UNLIKE other addictions, reading all day is not a bad way to spend the day. Or week. Or month. 😀

  10. I taught literature and writing to young adolescents, so your topic and encouragement to read broadly struck a passionate chord. Identifying the readers in my class was easy–they were the best writers. Some of my favorites: Hemingway, Frost (yes, poetry), Kahlil Gibran, and a great collection of personal essays from “The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present” by Phillip Lopate (philliplopate.com) .

    Now, I work with leaders and organizations. I can still identify the best readers. They are the most articulate and best thinkers.

    • That’s a fascinating relationship. Makes sense, for sure.

      And I LOVE Frost. Probably one of the most singular influences on getting me to write clearly and briefly … while not sacrificing style. Interesting on how poetry can do that. even for those in the business world.

  11. This was great! I too believe reading and exposing my mind to different things outside of my narrowly-based work. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Essentialism and Man’s Search for Meaning are just a few.

    • Thanks, Brad. I just re-read Man’s Search for Meaning. Highly recommended.

  12. This point is well-made. It always bothers me when I have conversations with my peers (roughly 24), and they are incapable of a conversation on any topic deeper than the puddle in the parking lot. Either that, or they relegate themselves entirely to one subject…with absolutely no variation. This inability to explore the breadth of a topic, I believe, is a direct result of having little to no contact with the thoughts of great minds.

    Reading varied points of view, particularly from people of other cultures, expands the mind, and makes us better humans.

    Thank you for bringing this point to such a large audience.

    Recommended Reading: God’s Promise to the Chinese by Ethel Nelson
    This book is a fascinating look into the origins of the Chinese language. Any study of language will make you better at expressing yourself.

    • Thanks John, and yes it is always a breath of fresh air to speak to people who have both depth and width in what they can talk about. Not so much for those who don’t. And thanks for the recommendation.

  13. Good morning Demian. What a great article to start off the week! Thanks.

    First, I’ll second Trudy’s plug for Brain Pickings. Maria Popova has a gift for curating a list that mixes it up in all the right ways. She shines a light on the things you intuitively know exist, but might not know where to find. Her work is awesome!

    Secondly, although audiobooks are NOT a reading experience, they do make books come back into a busy life, especially if you have a commute. I recently revisited some of my favorite childhood books as an adult and realized that there was a reason they stuck with me. Great writing!

    Finally, some good reads that might not be on the common radar –
    Mindset – by Carol Dweck
    Your Spacious Self – by Stephanie Bennett Vogt
    The Real Wealth of Nations – by Riane Eisler
    Getting Unstuck – by Pema Chodron
    Daring Greatly (on my list too!) – by Brené Brown
    Pandora’s Seed – by Spencer Wells

    Happy Reading!
    Kaia

  14. Great article. I must confess I was afraid when you said we should read books about becoming better persons, because I thought you might be thinking about Paulo Coelho or Alejandro Jodorowsky (which would have been weird since you had previously mentioned Joyce, Heredotus and Newton). In the end, when reading the titles or topics you were talking about on being a better person, I felt relieved, because being a better person is a lot more than just self help. Social work, psychology, psychiatry, paediatrics, humanism, philosophy, it all can make us better people.

    One book I can’t recommend enough is Shakespeare’s Othello. It’s too modern, to real and to strong today as I guess it was four centuries ago. We are all Othello: we think ourselves the heroes of our story but never think we might be someone else’s story villain. And perhaps we are. This, too, is a book that can help us being better people. Better men.

  15. Thank you for this reminder. Now that I think about it, I was at my most poetically creative when I was reading Shakespeare and the classics. I could use a bit of that for my business.

  16. I agree with you to a certain degree. I definitely think it is absolutely necessary to read the classics, lots of non-fiction that is outside our “comfort zone” and other “hard stuff”. However, I would add fairy tales to that list too as well as short fiction and creative non-fiction. Writers do some amazing things in ten to twenty pages! Some of the best articles and stories I’ve read have been in literary magazines. I added fairy tales because they, too, are classic and force you to “suspend your disbelief” for a time which I think is important when trying to think and dream big. Even non-fiction writers need an imagination in order to rope people in to what they are trying to sell, whether it is an idea or a product!

    I also do recommend that you read the cheap, not so literary stuff – the cheap fiction mentioned. Sometimes we learn more as writers by reading something that we didn’t like than something we did. You are forced to ask yourself, “Why did this story / article not work for me? And what do I need to do as a writer to not repeat that same thing?” Besides, even the worst books I’ve read have left me with one phrase or image that is invaluable; or even a lesson or thought that I can take away with me.

    So, I would say that the goal is to be a well-rounded reader if you want to be a writer.

  17. Sound advice. This is exactly what I do. Some of the books I’ve read recently are The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron, A Delicate Truth, by John Le Carré, Dracula, by Bram Stoker, the wonderful classic, Momo, by Michael Ende, Founding Brothers, by Joseph Ellis, The Obstacle is the Way, by Ryan Holiday, Daily Painting, by Carol Marine, La Ley del Amor and Swift as Desire by Laura Esquivel, Living Beautifully With Uncertainty and Change, by Pema Chödrön, Djibouti, by Elmore Leonard and a half-dozen Jack Reacher novels by Lee Child.

    • Beautiful list, Roberto. Beautiful. Enjoyed Holiday’s The Obstacle Is the Way, too. Lots of new one’s on that list other wise. I like you. 😀

  18. Great article! I’ve gradually moved away from reading fiction although I still love the classics, a little poetry and especially books written by authors from many different countries.
    Since I’ve started learning about writing copy I’ve limited myself, but after reading this I plan to go as broad as possible!
    Thanks!

  19. I read mostly best selling fiction as I believe there must be reasons that so many ppl like them. Even if a few turns out mediocre, I can still learn from the techniques that drew the crowd. And with only a few hours (or less) a day to spare on reading actual books, it’s best to let someone else sift through the titles. ?

    Fiction ‘cuz..
    “Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Thanks for another great sharing. Learning lots! ?

  20. Thank you for this article. It’s just a short hop from what you wrote to the enduring value of a liberal arts education. Interestingly, all of my close friends from my liberal arts college remain wide and curious readers 40 years later.

    But if you didn’t have that advantage early on, you can start wide reading now. Here are two methods of exposing myself to different kinds of reading material that I now use.

    1) Browse, bricks and mortar style. I beeline to the general-interest shelf of new books at my public library and the cart of books other readers have just returned. There, I’ve been enticed by books I have never seen reviewed and never heard of, and whose subjects are way outside my normal reading habits. Likewise, when I travel I look for swap shelves or “leave one, take one” shelves at B&Bs and condo complexes. There I’ve found authors that are favorites in Canada, England or elsewhere but not well-known in the US.

    2) Study another language. Currently I am working on Spanish, and I’ve finally gotten to the point where I can consume programs or books created for native Spanish speakers. My current favorite is a podcast called Radio Ambulante, which is long-form radio journalism, NPR style, in Spanish. Their engaging stories from Latin America open my mind to lives that are quite different from my own.

    All this curiosity enhances my day-to-day work and helps me understand the business owners from unimaginably diverse backgrounds that I work with.

    Long live the liberal arts!

    • That’s will be the new cry! We will all be revolutionaries now. 😀

      Curious that you mention a learning a new language … that’s something I’ve been seriously thinking about taking a swing at (again, German in high school, French in college). It’s a great idea, like you suggest, to get us all not only reading different material, but thinking differently as well.

  21. Demian,

    Excellent article, thanks for the advice and especially the reading recommendations.

    Regards,
    K

  22. A truly great piece of written advice for writers, but great writers don’t strive to become altruistic (or democratic). Great writers must strive to get beyond delusions, and altruism (as well as democracy) is a dangerously surreal delusion known as “idiot compassion” (which isn’t compassion for idiots).

    Great writers strive to become “sensitive, open, and strong” (to quote one great writer…and I’ll leave it to you to look him up).

  23. Demian, I saw that Trudy above mentioned Maria Popova’s Brian Pickings as a great, eclectic reader’s source. Her interests range from the literary to the social to the political to the metaphysical, and every recommendation seems thoughtful. I second the motion!

    I love mixing classics from people like Dostoyevsky and Joseph Conrad with contemporary writers, fiction and non. Right now I’m reading “Reading Lolita in Tehran” by Azar Nafisi and “A River Runs Through It” by Norman Maclean, both so different, but so worthy. And a book on new developments in publishing as well. Here’s to diversity in reading!

    • Yes, I love her site. And I love your mixing of classics idea. I’ll have to give it a try. Usually I land upon a new author and binge on most of his/her work for a spell.

  24. Hi Demian,

    This post reassures me that my approach – though not as deep into the past as some of the others here go – is a good one.

    It’s an approach that I also use on my website. You don’t overcome your challenges with anxiety by focusing solely on books about anxiety. Anxiety is a response to one’s life, and you need help from a variety of sources to help you reorder your life and reduce your anxiety.

    As soon as I get done with this comment, I’m going to link to this post from my website so my readers can have the benefit of your knowledge.

    Many thanks for a wonderful post!

  25. Andddd this post has been bookmarked! I found myself identifying more with the two types mentioned at the beginning of the post: I’m constantly consuming digital content and new books recommended on podcasts, without considering old books or long-form journalism. The number of books I crossed off the 100 Best Novels is embarrassingly low… I guess it’s time to get started! Thanks for these helpful tips!

    • You and me both. I always make great promises at reading all those books on that list … but eventually get distracted. At least I’m reading other old books. 😀

  26. Funny you wrote about this because just last week I decided to challenge myself to read a book a day for a year straight. So far I haven’t missed a day and I’m already seeing gains in my business knowledge and writing inspiration. Cheers to reading to write better!

  27. Your article is serendipitous for me, Demian! Just yesterday I was unpacking after a move, and came across an old book that I scooped up, leafed through, and committed to reading. It’s Plato. The Symposium. It’s applauded as a “masterpiece of dramatic dialogue”. It’s mind blowing to think how it’s still relevant today as it was way back then. (IMO)

  28. I think you struck gold with this. I’ve been involved with our local NaNoWriMo group for many years, and the first question I ask newbies is “What do you read?” I don’t know why, but I continue to be shocked when they tell me they don’t read. It’s not possible to learn to write without reading.
    My favorite books are ones that introduce me to something new or explain something scientific.
    The Arcanum: The Extraordinary True Story by Janet Gleeson
    E=mc2: A Biography of the World’s Most Famous Equation by David Bodanis
    A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman
    My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey by Jill Bolte Taylor
    The Other Side of Desire: Four Journeys into the Far Realms of Lust and Longing by Daniel Bergner

    • Thank you, Lynne, glad you enjoyed this. And yeah, shocking people want to be writers but don’t read.

      Nice list of books. I’m with you, I like to learn something when I read.

  29. We hear the thunder, when we read the contemporary books. We see the lightning when we read the old books. We store the power when we write. We release the power when we publish.

    Demian Farnworth’s articles are just great! Reading his articles and all the following comments should be in the list of one’s daily reading.

  30. A couple years ago I read (and have since continued to read) Eastern Body, Western Mind. It brings together psychotherapy and energy healing. Essentially, it’s a workbook for becoming a better person by understanding yourself and the motivations behind your behaviors. I contribute this book with helping me embrace my own vulnerability – which has deepened my connection with others.
    Thanks for your ongoing posts! They’re always content rich and inspiring!

  31. Tremendous, as always Demian.

    I particularly agree that anyone who seeks to be a thought leader would do well to reach into their soul and find inspiration within to develop their character, to aspire to become a ‘better’ person.

    While I think that can be a trap for the ‘not good enough’ story in the child in each of us, by reaching to become a better person, we often have to face our demons.

    I’ve found that facing these demons is where the really honest, transparent, sometimes raw expression comes from. We all know that type of expression (through whatever medium it comes) as it’s the type that brings us to feel such a real connection to the creator of the expression. And that’s what we’re all after with our writing, right?

    Also, thanks for the chuckle! I had to look up Mumblish as I was surprised I had never heard of this strange language! 🙂

    Aloha!

    • Howdy Will, nice to run into you again. 😉 Yes, Mumblish … it’s a thing. And so true what you say about facing our demons. That’s where some true growth comes, and I think out of that pain (not always pain, but you know, most of the time) comes some truly beautiful art like stuff.

  32. That’s an interesting article, Demian. Reading wide or reading long-form journalism will definitely help connect dots and become a better writer. Though, I’m concerned of going too wide, as I believe focus is another key element that helps you achieve greatness.

    A book that changed my life and rewired my brain is “Your brain at work” by David Rock. Understanding how my brain works, truly helped me become a better person.

    • Give me an example of how that book, how understanding how your brain works help you become a better person. I find that notion interesting. I want to hear more.

      • Well, hard to choose one example, I’m tempted to relate the entire book 🙂

        You’ll learn strategies for overcoming distractions, regaining focus and working smarter all day long. Basically, transforming your performance.

        It’s basically a manual on the neuroscience of work.

        Tiny changes in your mind, in how you’re perceiving the world, can make huge changes in your life.

        Ok, here’s an example. The very first lesson I’ve learned from this book is to prioritise prioritising. Our prefrontal cortex has a very limited “stage”. If the first thing you do in the morning is jump on your emails, it’s very hard to recover from that and then prioritise your day effectively. That takes a lot of energy for your brain, and if you already burned it on emails, it’s enough to exhaust your brain to the point where you don’t want to do the complex stuff.

        Another important lesson I’ve learned, is that reappraisal is one of the most important skills needed for success in life, the other being the ability to observe your mental processes. This is huge. It totally changed the way I interact with others, and the way I react to more or less difficult situations in life.

        Old books are great, I totally agree with you. But with so many findings in neuroscience nowadays, I wouldn’t ignore recently written books either.

        • There you go, I knew you could do it. 😀

          What do you mean by reappraisal? I think I know what you mean, but not leaving any doubt since you say it’s one of the most important skills in life.

          Couldn’t agree more with the ability to observe your mental processes. It’s always mystified/scared me to think there are people who don’t do that.

          • Being able to observe your mental processes it’s actually not that easy. It requires some knowledge about the brain and a lot of practice. Like for example knowing the situations your brain treats the same as survival issues. Like: fairness, certainty, autonomy, relatedness … I never thought my brain treats a situation I found unfair to me, the same it treats lack of food. Alert! Danger! 🙂

            Many of the mental process develop on an unconscious level, so being able to stop for a moment and observe, then control … that’s really fascinating for me.

            By reappraisal I mean inhibiting your current way of thinking (which requires a lot of resources) and generating several alternative ways of thinking, finding a new position from which to look at an event.

            Oh, please stop me! I could talk forever about this 🙂

  33. Demian–

    Great advice to any writer. I consider reading books, especially quality ones, a key element of building a writing habit.

    For reference, St. John’s College (not to be confused with St. John University in New York) in Annapolis and Sante Fe built their academic program around reading the 100 great books.

    Happy marketing,
    Heidi

    Heidi Cohen
    Actionable Marketing Guide

  34. Awesome buddy,

    My routine goes like this :

    1. Get up and read Quora.
    2. In between half the day, I read the articles from the feed I had subscribed to.
    3. Then I hop to news, magazine and other sites to read MORE…
    4. In the evening, I read random old articles from sites I love.
    5. And I come here to read Copyblogger and learn more AWESOMENESS…

    My favorite book which I read is The Alchemist – I know it may sound cliche. This is the book which I read and am still in awe.

    Few days back I bought – “Think and grow Rich”…

    Have a great week ahead Demian.

  35. Awesome insights as usual, Demian! I love the idea of hitting the Pulitzer list. For those of us who may lack the time to curl up with a good book (read: parents of young kids), I highly recommend feeding your mind with great longform journalism/literature via podcasts and audiobooks. Theory of Everything is one of my favorite cerebral podcasts, as is You Are Not So Smart. They’ve explored big ideas such as logical fallacies (important for copywriting) and the sharing economy. Also, checkout Longform, a podcast in which journalists are interviewed about the stories behind the stories they write. They make doing laundry seem not quite as futile.
    Not to mention the added value of being able to drown out “Mom…mom…mommy…mom…”
    Thanks again for a great resource!

  36. Hey, wow this is a great post!

    I love the ideas that you have brought to the table to help people! For people with a native English tongue, it seems easy to us!

    But for many other people it is not, great advice!

    Have a great day!

    Shaun 🙂

  37. Demian,

    I’ve been in the ditch of digital good intentions this year.
    The year started with my long list of books to read. I listed them all on GoodReads and pledged to read them for the 2016 reading challenge…It is now May and I’ve read 1.5 of the 30 books on my list.

    Not because I don’t read.

    Every day I get caught up with all the digital temptations you describe. And podcasts have become a huge part of that. On a positive note, my podcast subscriptions are deep and wide, so I do digest a broad pallet of ideas, stories and topics through the podcasts.

    But I can’t forget my GoodReads goal, and want to get back to books. There’s a diverse list over there on GR waiting for me….

    Your article could be the catalyst to pull me out of this ditch….

    Any final advice to help me?

    • I can’t say enough good things about listening to podcasts, deep and wide, great source for ideas, but yeah, the only problem is that they tend to be superficial, local, recent. I think you just have to carve out some time, say no to other things when you should be reading books. Set a goal. One book a month. Figure out how many pages you have to read a day. And then do it.

      • The podcasts I subscribe to are all pretty deep topics actually, or they dig into current events far deeper than average. Several from Rainmaker.FM are included, so “superficial” is not a problem at all. 😉

        So it all boils down to me, huh? Alright, I’ll start setting daily time aside for my books.

        Thanks for the tough love, Chief.

        Matthew

  38. Demian,

    I always enjoy your posts. My favorite recent read is The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.
    I find myself thinking about that book months after I’ve read it, it’s that good. And I’m still upset with the ending!

    And you are so right, sometimes I need to step back from my business and career reading to just enjoy a good book about being human. It has a wonderful way of putting everything into perspective and often reveals the answer to a current problem.

    Thanks for another great post.

    Mary Ann

    • Thank you for the kind words, Mary Ann. I’ve never read The Nightingale, so why did the end upset you? You don’t have to give away spoilers … just a general sense of why.

  39. Hi Demian, Thank you for a post that glued me to my chair all the way to the end!

    Love your list of books to transform your writing. The Bible is the first thing I read in the morning to learn not only how to be a better person, but also how to write! It is the perfect book for learning structure and poetic language (metaphor, simile, dialogue).

    Also, a hint for others that I picked up from reading James Scott Bell. He suggests picking up some great used paperbacks in the genre you’re writing in, and marking them up! I found an old copy of Pride and Prejudice on my shelf, and have been going through it bit by bit with a yellow highlighter and pen. I pick out paragraphs and dialogue that pop and analyze why this is so. He treasures these marked up books and references them from time to time.

    Keep up the deep and wide writing! 🙂

  40. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. You get sucked into Jane’s sad world with such stupendous force that it’s impossible to disconnect completely when you’ve put the book down. Love how she’s so fiercely determined to keep pushing forward no matter what pebbles life slips into her shoes.

    • Never read it. The way you described it, Jade, feel like I need to read it now.

  41. Wow great article, i love the part when you said english is not your first language, i can identify with that, i’m trying to improve english. And if you did it, well i hope i get there.

  42. I was an English major in college, and used to think that reading was as fun as playing with the words in my head and on the page. Over the years that love of writing and of reading faded.

    So this article was very timely for me. I’m actually curious on a slightly different topic. My middle son has dyslexia and some other learning disabilities and for the longest time, reading was a hard-fought experience for him. He’s gotten better over the years – we’ve encouraged him through some popular kid’s book series, like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid one. But I’ve noticed that he, too, barely reads anymore if it isn’t for school.

    He was invited to take AP English next year, so this summer he and I are going to take an adventure through at least one classic, with the goal being to read, discuss, and then write up an informal essay, anything about the book. I plan to guide him through more critical thinking, but am hoping to do so in a more fun way. I think the art of critical thinking is being lost in High Schools today – kids are instead being forced to learn rote facts and accepted ideas about literature they do read.

    I’m curious, if you had a 16-year-old young man who finds reading more difficult but wanted to engage them in a classic, where would you start? He’s already read some Mark Twain and seemed to love it; To Kill a Mockingbird was also well-received. At his age, I enjoyed some Emerson and definitely Poe, but was strangely in love with Shakespeare.

    Any favorite classics you would recommend for a younger guy like mine? 🙂

    • So my son is in the same boat for some of the same reasons. He’s almost thirteen. Reading is hard for him, but he enjoys listening to audio books, and I do a lot of reading for him. We read popular fiction, but a number of classics he enjoyed, like The Call of the Wild, Ivanhoe, Lord of the Rings, Treasure Island, really anything with adventure. Your son might enjoy Heart of Darkness by Conrad, Red Badge of Courage by Crane, even Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky.

  43. Hey Demian,
    Thanks for an informative piece. I can honestly say that I recently hit a point in my life, in which I realized that I needed to start taking my reading seriously, in an effort to better myself. It came as a hard realization, in that I had to come to grips with the fact that I’m not currently the person I desire to be. Not that I’m unhappy with being me; I believe that there’s a better version of myself waiting for the current me to catch up.

    I look forward to putting the things you said into practice.

  44. Honestly speaking, I have not read any old classic last year. I have take this seriously at least now. Thanks for this beautiful blog full of interesting discussions.

  45. “Ultimately, if you want to become a better writer, you have to become a better person. ”

    Yes! In the past ten years or so, I’ve made a concerted effort to read things that challenge me. To challenge your thinking, your spirituality, your ability to comprehend complex ideas, your standards – these challenges, and your response to them, make you a different (better?) person. And that transforms the way you communicate.

    Books in the past year that have stuck with me:
    Big Magic by Liz Gilbert
    The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal (which I read because it was my daughter’s summer reading assignment for high school English – good conversations came out of that experience)
    Angry Conversations With God by Susan Isaacs

    Just finished Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. Still thinking through my reactions to that.

    • That’s another good long-form journalism recommendation. Thanks Traci!

  46. Like you said in article, we all are obsessed by reading a lot of content online.

    In the digital world we have so many channels that I find myself reading for the whole day. I keep looking for some of the best content on the web and store them in my Pocket app.

    But to become a good writer, you not only read the content but you actually consume it. You try to understand the “WHY” of each word. You stress your mind to understand the tone of the writer.

    The very first writer I loved was Jon Morrow.

    His writing style is so awesome (or even the guest posts on his blog) that they make you feel awe inspired.

    So reading is an essential element to become a great writer.

    I enjoyed your article thoroughly.

    Heading over to your blog to read more content. 🙂

    • consuming content is so important, and if I’ve read you right, what I think you are saying is that we shouldn’t be satisfied with a quick read … but we should absorb it, master it … particularly if it is really good. Right? Did I get you right?

  47. Thank you for sharing. This adventure is completely new to me. I am reading everything I get my hands on this gives me some more challenges to conquer!
    Truly excited to see where this will lead.

  48. Damian. First time I’ve done this, so bear with me.
    I love older books, too. But, one of them never seems to be mentioned. Maybe it’s because it was the first children’s book I ever read…and re-read…etc.
    Alice in Wonderland. Even as an adult of some 50 years behind him, I still read this book every once in awhile. And I suppose that’s because I can still remember vividly what I was feeling when I read it the first time. Pardon my adolescence, but I don’t think it gets any better than this.
    Thanks for your open mind and sincerity in your writing. I truly believe I know you.

    • That’s a wonderful book, and you are right … it should be included in more lists of old books to read. And thanks for sticking your neck out there and leaving a comment. I love to hear from people like you, Lee.

  49. Good Stuff.
    Mumblish ?? Why I never heard of that before so you learn something everyday 🙂

    I do think it can be very advantageous to read outside your discipline and main topic of interest.

    Broadening your horizons with different perspectives on different things will make you that more efficient and effective in your own specific area of concentration.

    Shoot I wish I had the time to sit and focus all day on reading interesting and motivating writings like some of the examples you give 😉

    Maybe some day 🙂

    • Hey Robert,

      I’m certain you’ve met someone who’s spoken Mumblish before. It’s those people who you have to ask over and over again to repeat themselves. 😀

      And yes, I too wish I could sit and read all day.

  50. I’m an academic as well as a novelist and a copywriter so I often find myself reading books by Freud, Kristeva, Creed, and Rank, and because of my area of study, I end up reading books on medical history, social history, and even anthropology. Because of the genre of fiction I write, I also read a lot about myths, legends and folklore. I always find that my fiction writing becomes richer when I read widely, and my academia gets improved by exposing myself to different types of writing. So I’m living proof that reading widely works on a huge range of levels 🙂

    • It’s nice to meet you, Icy … thanks for sharing your story. We need more living proofs like you. 😀

  51. I recently was led to re-read “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs”by John Foxe. Then “How to Pray” by R. A. Torrey. I gained some information in Foxe’s book. I am not through Torrey’s book yet. I have a whole bookcase of ‘old’ books in our living room. I need to go back and re-read them.

  52. Hi Demian,

    This is the first article of yours that I have read and it struck a chord. Over the past years my health took a wobbly turn and it made me reexamine my life, mostly the little things that we take for granted. Such as, letting my passion for writing be over shadowed by the needs of making a living. In a new turn of events I began to do a few of the things you mentioned in this article and plan to look into others, especially the long journalism.

    As for books that I have read in the past year… I began my reeducation with what spoke to me:

    Alice’s Adventures Underground (Alice in Wonderland) by Lewis Carroll was my first love, and is the reason that I love to read and crave to write.

    Others in include:

    The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien (The Hobbit too)
    A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
    Ethics by Aristotle
    Utopia by Sir Thomas More
    Candide or Optimism by Voltaire
    The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin
    Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
    Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
    Dracula by Bram Stoker
    The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
    Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
    The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura

    To name just a few of the classics. For more modern reads these are but a few that spoke to me:

    Contact by Carl Sagan
    Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
    A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
    Mindfulness as Medicine by Sister Dand Nghiem
    The Courage to Act by Ben S. Bernanke
    Star Wars: The Force Awakens (novel) by Alan Dean. Foster
    Death by Black Hole by Neil deGrasse Tyson
    The Future of the Mind by Michio Kaku

    Just to name a few. When you are on a sabbatical you have much more time to read. And when your passions are rekindled, it is a desire like no other. Enjoyed your article. Will follow to see what you say next.

  53. I love gaining information and learning new things ,but to be honest I don’t like reading books exactly.I love watching documentaries and video related stuff more ,so any kind of advice for me

    • Watching documentaries is a decent substitute. But it can never beat reading, especially if you are a writer who wants to get better.

  54. What a different article! Thank you for writing it.

    The old books are great for creativity and personal growth. And also simply for pure entertainment.

    I believe your education is never quite complete without a glimpse into the past.

  55. A couple of years ago I woke up in the middle of a busy life where I was running two businesses-freelance writing and furniture restoration-and realized I had stopped reading anything more than quick articles online. I was mildly shocked to discover this. When I tried to sit and read a book, I found it impossible. I simply could not focus. As I asked around, I discovered many women my age seem to have this problem. I chocked it up to menopause and the stresses of life and did not think much of it. However, as time passed, I became more and more aware of my inability to focus on longform writing.

    A few weeks ago, I discovered some antique editions of Shakespeare’s plays that had belonged to my husband’s great-grandmother. I am half-way through Henry V, and after I started that work, I managed to start and finish The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables. I think the difficult language of Shakespeare and the flowery eloquence of Hawthorne (and the like) force me to focus in a way modern language, which I tend to skim, cannot do.

    • That’s a great story, Trina. Love the last line of your comment. Think I’ll frame it.

  56. Very good article, made me think. I read a variety of books. I have wanted to be a writer most of my life and have loved books since I was a child. My main interest in books is going to be either Fantasy or History. I love reading Historical books as it gives me knowledge and an understanding of how cultures around the world and in different times thought and lived.

    I am also fond of religious books for much of the same reason. Milton, Neitzsche, Poe etc. are some of my favorites as well. Some of the classics I have read but many make me fall asleep unfortunately.

    Fantasy allows my mind to wonder and imagine. I find it a pleasure to read about a world that does not exist and create in my head what I think it and the characters look like. I am and have always been a big believer in the power of the mind and imagination. Growing up on a farm miles from other kids means you have to use it allot to have fun!

    • Unfortunately I too can get lulled asleep to some of those authors, though I love them deeply. You said you love to read religious books, and added Nietzsche … Nietzsche as religious?

  57. English is not my mother tongue, but I try to learn it. For that, I read a lot. These tips will serve me much. Can you point me to the listening?

  58. I couldn’t agree with you more! I stopped reading for the longest time and just this last year started heavily reading again and not just in my profession. It has helped me expand my views on many things by reading well outside of my circle of interests. Bio’s are my favorite as of late. Thank you for this great article!

  59. Hi Demian, First of all thanks for your fantastic article. When I started my blogging and started my blogging, I was not reading the top posts of the most renowned blogs in the web. But within few days, I had the feeling that if I want to read a good post or article, I will have to read a lot. I started spending 80% time in reading and 20% in writing. This made my contents better and readers got engaged with the articles. I agree that a good writer is an absolutely good reader. Your post is really inspiring and informative. Thanks!

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