Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | September 6, 2018

Back to School—for Writers Too!

 

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, beach, Jersey shore

Long Beach Island, New Jersey, after a fierce thunderstorm, July 27, 2018

 

Good-bye to summer—to vacations and lazy days and kids at home.

Labor Day weekend has passed. As the laid-back days of summer transition into the goal-driven days of fall, children either already are or are preparing to go back to school. Parents and children regard this transition with mingled eagerness, sadness, anticipation, and anxiety. It’s a time of new opportunities and new directions, as well as a time to refocus and re-energize.

Back-to-school time can also provide an opportunity for writers to refocus and re-energize—and not just for those who will have more writing time when their children return to school. Some of us have taken vacations from writing during the summer or slowed our pace as we enjoyed summer activities. September is a good time to settle back into or change our writing routines … and maybe add something to help us grow in the craft.

 

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, notebook and pencil

Photo by Jan Kahánek on Unsplash

 

If you’re a regular reader of The Author Chronicles, you know that each week we publish Top Picks Thursday, a collection of our favorite recent blog posts about writing and topics related to literature and the arts. While I was searching for blog posts to contribute to last week’s Top Picks Thursday, I came across Emily Temple’s wonderful compilation of Ray Bradbury’s greatest writing advice on the Literary Hub site.

I never tire of reading writing advice and tips from well-known authors. As a long-time fan of Ray Bradbury’s writing, I was excited to see Emily Temple’s article. [There’s a lot of pithy information in the excerpts she’s included, so reading the whole article is worth the time.] As I read Bradbury’s advice—great advice for all writers, no matter what they write—one particular section caught my attention: his recommendation for daily reading.

Now, there’s nothing unusual about successful published authors urging aspiring writers to read. Some advocate reading in general, others suggest reading in your genre or reading outside your genre. Ray Bradbury, however, has a specific recommendation: for 1,000 nights, read one poem, one short story, and one essay before going to bed.

Few of us would argue against the importance of reading, but most of us have to squeeze writing into an already full schedule that leaves little time for reading. Ray Bradbury’s advice has remained in my thoughts over the past week for two reasons: it’s specific and it wouldn’t take much time.

Let’s take a closer look at his recommendation.

Read a poem every night.

I’m not surprised that Ray Bradbury would value reading poetry since his writing is so lyrical and full of beautiful imagery. I especially like this suggestion because most poems are short and can be read in just a few minutes. If you don’t already have books of poetry, libraries have plenty of anthologies of poems by individual poets or by many poets, or you can find poems online.

Reading and analyzing poetry can teach all writers about the use of imagery, the rhythm of language, the economical use of words, and much more. Poetry is a distillation that seeks the essence. It is a paring down to the core of ideas, thoughts, things, emotions. Poetry uses few words to convey much. Paying attention to these things can improve writing in any genre.

Bradbury recommends reading the great poets because he has a poor opinion of modern poetry, which he doesn’t consider poetry at all. I disagree with him there. For a full experience of poetry, you should read a wide range of poems on many topics and written in a variety of poetic forms.

Read a short story (fiction) every night.

Bradbury urges writers to take ten or fifteen minutes each night to read a short story. Telling stories is central to the writer’s craft. Fiction, of course, revolves around stories, but stories can be found in poetry and nonfiction as well. Like books of poetry, short stories can be found in anthologies in libraries or online.

Bradbury doesn’t prefer reading classic short stories to modern ones. Reading a variety obtains the best results: choose classic and modern stories of different lengths from all genres.

Read an essay (nonfiction) every night.

Although Bradbury uses the term “essay,” the examples he cites imply nonfiction in general, not just essays. He advocates reading in every field: sciences (archaeology, zoology, biology, anthropology), philosophy (the great philosophers of all times and comparing them), politics, analysis of literature (which might include writing advice), and other fields of your choice. Nonfiction essays and articles are plentiful online and in magazines (which are also available at the library, where you can sign out older issues).

For poets and fiction writers, reading nonfiction broadens your knowledge base and is a great source of ideas and inspiration.

Some nonfiction articles are long, particularly in the sciences, so you might want to spread reading them over two or three nights.

 

Photo by David Clarke on Unsplash

 

If you’re a writer who’s had trouble finding time to read, give Bradbury’s program a try. If you don’t think you can squeeze out the time to read a poem, a short story, and an essay/article every night, you could try a modified version of his plan: read a poem the first night, a short story the next, and an essay/article the night after that. Adjust the program to make it work for you, and you might decide not to limit your reading to 1,000 nights but make it a permanent habit.

 

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, bee and yellow flowers

Bee and wildflowers, September 5, 2018

 

One more back-to-school tip. Since writers use many of the same tools that students use, take advantage of the back-to-school discounts on items from pens and pencils to notebooks and electronics to get your writing area stocked and ready. Then write!

 

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, orange flowers

 


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