On Writing Well

To write well, read everything.

Read cereal boxes, classic literature, billboards, contemporary fiction, the tattoo on the arm of the woman sitting beside you at the dog races. Read calendars, thesauruses, dictionaries, encyclopedias, car-repair manuals, climbing and hiking guides to the Welsh backcountry.

Creative commons by Meena Akadri

Read comics, neon signs, advertising on balloons, graffiti on trains and water conduits. Read tiny, sincere pencil marks on the backs of old black-and-white photographs curled at the edges. Read an author you never heard of before, a hack who can barely form sensible sentences, a genius who makes you cry because she’s so good with the language.

Read tweets, twits, blogs, bromides, and broadsides on the latest expensive electronic toy bound to be obsolete in six months.

Read the dog tags of a friendly stray, the tiny script at the bottom of a legal contract, a child’s poem, the scrap of weathered paper that’s stuck beneath the white fir in the front yard.

Read the Bible, the Koran, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, papal bulls, evangelical treatises, atheist proclamations. Read the writing on the wall reflected backwards and upside-down in a rain puddle.

By Tom Murphy VIII.

Read a big, thick book that weighs two pounds; read a slender, heaving romance novel; read geeky science fiction on the bus; read outrageous opinions in the newspaper; read cutting-edge online magazines; read 18th-century literature late at night when the dogs are quiet and the only noise is the rustling of the page. Read everything, then write well.

Learn more about Slow Sand member Paul Miller.