Creativity's Workshop

Taming and Training Your Creativity to Write Abundantly


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How Healthy is Your Reading Diet?

Someone heading to bed with a good book and a bowl of cereal

“Good Night” by Leo Hidalgo via Flickr

Last week I mentioned this quote by Ray Bradbury:

“Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.”

Now if you’re a writer it’s understandable that you must write (we covered the writing diet in last week’s post), but must you read?

Ray Bradbury and many other successful authors say you do. Why? Because the words you take in as you read affect the words you write.

The reading diet isn’t just about picking up a good book and flicking through the pages. Notice Bradbury said, “Read intensely.” What does that mean?

It means savouring what you read, chewing it over in the mind and noticing the details from word choice to character development. Do you see why it’s called a diet?

Today we’ll cover the three aspects of a reading diet:

  • How often we read,
  • How much we read, and
  • What kind of books we’re reading.

Remember, everyone is different. The books and reading methods that appeal to me might not appeal to you, and vice versa. I’ve tried to keep the suggestions here as general as possible so you can tailor them to your own personal tastes.

Shall we get started?

How Often?

So how often should you read? Well, remember your reading diet depends on your personal needs. Some writers read every morning before they write. Others read on the weekends or just before they go to bed.

Once again, regularity is key. It is very easy for the creative well to run dry if you are not topping it up with regular input.

How do you know if you’re not reading enough? Here are some signs:

  • Difficulty finding the word you’re looking for. Reading provides you with a continual stream of words and often enlarges your vocabulary. If the words you use are shrinking, then you need to top yourself up with some reading.
  • Reoccurring cliches in your writing. Reading widely shows you what has already been done in your genre and demonstrates the inventive and unique places stories can go.
  • Lack of new ideas. If your Creativity’s excitement and output are starting to wane, it’s likely you’re not providing enough ‘idea juice’ for her/him. Keep the creative will filled.

If any of the above signs are sounding familiar, then the solution is to increase your reading time.

How Much?

What about how much you read? To determine this you need to take into consideration how long you read for and how fast you read.

When it comes to reading intensely, you want to read less and read it slowly. Too often we find ourselves pulled into a good book, turning the pages faster and faster as the plot progresses. That’s great if the aim of the reading is to enjoy the story, but as a writer you need to see more than just the scenery whizzing by.

Sometimes all you need is a single paragraph and ten minutes to pick it apart. Read slowly, deliberately, questioning each word you come to. Why did the writer choose that word? How is the writer directing the reader’s attention? What is the writer building towards?

You may even choose to read the passage out loud, listening to the lilt of the words so you can absorb the music inherent in the sentences.

What Kind?

Now, what kind of books should you be reading? The choices before you are countless. Does it matter what you pick up to read? Well, if your purpose is the “read intensely” and slowly, then you want to make sure you’re reading the right stuff.

First and foremost you want to make sure you’re reading quality work. Think back to the diet analogy. Whole foods are recommended over fast food. Why? Because they provide your body with the high-quality fuel it needs to operate efficiently. So while your favourite comic book might have some great one liners, for this diet you want to be sinking your reading teeth into something more filling.

Now this doesn’t mean you should go out and find yourself a dry and dense tome of a book and spend years poring over every single sentence of it. Look for books you enjoy reading but books that will challenge you.

Find books that you can learn from, whether it be new subjects, new words, new genres, new writing forms or just new perspectives. But don’t think that means you can only grab the latest book hot off the presses. These are things that are new to you. There are plenty of classic books, reaching back hundreds of years, that contain fresh and interesting writing for you to experience.

So, to recap, the reading diet is as follows:

  • Read regularly.
  • Read slowly.
  • Read good quality books you enjoy and that will teach you something new.

Now it’s your turn. Tell me what’s on your reading list? What are your reading diet tips?


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What’s on Your Writing Diet?

A half-eaten cookie on a book.

Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

I recently came across this quote by Ray Bradbury:

“Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.”

So, what’s on your diet?

When it comes to dieting, we’re usually encouraged to look at:

  • How often we eat,
  • How much we eat, and
  • What kind of food we’re eating.

The same holds true for our writing and reading diets. So for the next two weeks I’m encouraging you to take a closer look at your writing and reading habits.

Of course, it goes without saying that everyone is different. The diet that works for you may not work for me and vice versa. The principle is the same for writing routines and reading choices.

The trick with dieting (as well as reading and writing) is to tailor your habits to your own needs. This week we’ll look at the different aspects of a good writing diet. Next week we’ll tackle the reading diet. As we go, think about the tweaks you can make to your writing and reading habits to increase your creative output.

Ready?

How Often?

The first thing with any writing routine is working out how often you write. Most writers recommend writing daily in order to get into a good rhythm. But there are some writers out there who write less frequently What about you?

No matter whether you write every day, every second day, or only every week, the important thing is to make sure you are writing regularly. Why? As Ray Bradbury pointed out in his quote, this is a diet. Binge eating doesn’t work for your body, so binge writing doesn’t usually work well for your Creativity or your mind.

No matter when you plan to write, make sure you have a specific time and place in mind. Schedule it into your calendar or set yourself a reminder on your phone. If you only write when you feel like it, then it’s too easy for other things to take the place of your writing. Make an appointment with your writing and keep it!

How Much?

What about how muchyou write? Some writers stick to word counts. Other writers prefer to set a time limit. How do you decide how much you will write?

Whichever method you use, you want the amount to be achievable, something you can manage on a regular basis. Getting into a routine is hard, and there will be days when you miss your writing goal for whatever reason. Melissa Dinwiddie describes her goals as “ridiculously achievable” because they are easy to do every day and easy to return to if she misses a day.

Setting a goal for yourself means you can measure your success and improvement. You may start out with a goal of writing 100 words a day. Gradually that goal may increase to 500 and then 1,000. It’s great to have an overall goal of reaching a certain amount of writing a day, but remember to work you way up with achievable goals that you can realistically accomplish during each writing session.

What Kind?

Now, what kind of writing are you doing? Short stories? Novellas? Novels? Poetry? Songwriting? Are you writing romance? Science-fiction? Comedy? There are so many different writing forms and genres. Are you taking advantage of them?

A healthy diet encourages you to eat a variety of foods. So too a healthy writing life involves variety and even experimentation. We all have our favourite writing forms and subjects, but stepping outside our comfort zone from time to time not only allows us to learn and grow, but can also lead to very pleasant surprises. You never know whether you’ll enjoy something or not until you give it a go.

For example, I used to love writing novels and had no interest in short stories until several years ago. A friend of mine organised a “writers’ day” and requested each writer bring a short story with them. While preparing my contribution, I discovered I loved writing short stories and have greatly enjoyed writing them ever since.

Don’t rule anything out until you’ve tried it. You might discover a brand new outlet for your Creativity.

So, to recap, no matter what kind of writer you are, the writing diet goes as follows:

  • Write regularly.
  • Write achievable amounts each session.
  • Use variety and experimentation in your writing.

Now I hand it over to you. What kind of writing diet works for you?