The Read Then Write Workshop approach to writing is so simple, and yet, it took a beloved professor in the first MFA semester to sum up what is now my best writing advice: “Read, then write. Read, then write. Read, then write.” Thank you, Philip F. Deaver for that epiphany. You changed my writing practice by giving me simple ledges to hang on to. When I don’t know how to start or how to write something, I read the form I think it should be, whether story, poem, prose, or lyric, and read until that part of my brain starts to hum. For years, this has been my simple recycled advice for my own students and mentees. When in doubt, read what it is you want to write. Saturate your brain and spirit in it until your own words start to swirl around. Trust other writer’s good words and storytelling to inform your own.
Writing is the sum total of what we read + what we live + what we practice.
Yes, it’s more than that: it’s mystical and awe-inspiring in the ethereal sense. A human algorithm no AI glue factory can replicate.
Whatever it is you set out to write, read a version of it. Sit at the feet of the masters. If you want to write a (fast-write) stream of consciousness passage? Read James Joyce or Virginia Wolf. Want to write a haiku? Read a collection of the best haikus. Want to write a narrative song? Listen to the most notable or award-winnng narrative songs. Want to write a news article? Read a respected newspaper or newsfeed. Want to write travel articles? Indulge in glossy travel magazine features and high traffic travel blogs. I promise it works. The first time I tried it, I read Olive Kitteridge on Phil’s advice with a short story idea in mind. I logged more than a few miles on my treadmill reading, laughing, crying at Elizabeth Strout’s brilliant story until my own story starting forming sentences. I threw the book aside—literally—and ran to my computer to write the first draft of my first short story, “Home Run.” This story found a home at Menda City Press a few years later.
So, read, then write, my friend.
And, movement and caffeinating don’t hurt…