Why you need to read and listen: Essential skills make a better writer

By Jordan Gruener

Read it all. Listen to it all. As much as you can. Non-fiction. Fiction. Poetry. Epic poems. Newspaper articles old and new. Fanzines. Books. Magazines. Music. Movies. If you’re setting out to become a writer or simply want to improve, you must read and listen to as much as you can, no matter how mundane it may seem at the time. 

Writing is all about reading and listening. When you read, you’ll discover authors you enjoy. The ones you connect with on a visceral level. Finding genres that fascinate or excite you are just as important as identifying the ones you hate. 

Tuck away the words you love just because you like the way they sound. Like concurrent or exacerbate; two of my favorites. There will be words you won’t want to use, like “gifted,” “tasked” or “pivot.”

Imitation is the sincerest form of writing well

Now, I’m not talking about plagiarism. I’m talking about latching on to writers you love. You love their style. The way they weave words together. The way the words fall on the page. The same goes for music. Try to feel the way it flows through speakers into your ears. Immerse yourself in the sound and the words. 

Then try it out. Mix short and long sentences. Use a sentence that’s only one word. Make a paragraph super-long without any punctuation like Cormac McCarthy or short and choppy like Jim Thompson or the late, great Robert Parker. Have a go at the intensely complicated sentence structure that made James Ellroy famous, along with his epic stories of graft and greed.  

You may have noticed that I tend toward noir, and I do. But before I became aware of noir, I read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, ee cummings and others. I read all the classics. I read all the reportage I could get my hands on; journalists who inserted themselves into the story and built classic non-fiction around the topic and themselves.

I listened to punk and dissected the lyrics. I listened to the great blues players and did the same.  I watched movies to understand phrasing and tempo.

Like all writers, you must learn the form’s rules before you can break them.

Keep writing

Now that you’ve done some reading and listening, it’s time to write. Take what you’ve read, heard and learned, and give it a try. Experiment and have fun. 

A great way to start is by taking a class and workshopping your writing. Try poetry, fiction or journalism classes. Find out what you enjoy and makes you happy, and do it some more. Get the opinions of others. Use what makes sense and matters. Toss the rest.

No matter what you do, be yourself. Find your voice, and don’t back down. Many of the greatest writers received rejection after rejection from publishers. The same will happen to you. It’ll be discouraging, but remain true to yourself, your style and your writing. As Noel Gallagher famously said, ”You need to be yourself. You can’t be no one else.”

Now all you have to do is give it a try.

Copyright Jordan Gruener 2021. All Rights Reserved.

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