Read to write – and enjoy


NYTtblcontentsReading is one of my greatest pleasures, and I suspect it is one of yours, too. It’s my treat to myself after I’ve completed the day’s work. If I’m feeling particularly self-indulgent, I’ll put the to-dos aside and curl up on the couch or sit in the sun with a good book (the real thing, not a digital version).

When I teach creative writing, I tell my students to read like a writer and to write like a reader. That might explain why I am such an annoyingly slow reader and such a compulsive revisionist. It takes me nearly a full week to finish reading the New York Times. Not because there’s that much news or I’m a news junkie, although there is and I am. It’s because I read everything.

“A blond woman in a hot pink spandex tank hoists a sledgehammer over her shoulders, then slams it down with a dull thud onto the big tire in front of her.” (“Never Quit” by Heather Havrilesky)

I care nothing about extreme fitness, but with an opening sentence like this, how can I not read the second. Or the third. The headlines, too, draw me in. Captivating in print, they are rewritten for search optimization online. “Never Quit” becomes “Why Are Americans So Fascinated by Extreme Fitness?”

Articles I likely would pass over in other publications, I read and reread word for word to analyze why the images are so clear, the structure so crisp and – most importantly – the story so compelling.

“Once a year, Elimelech Ehrlich travels from Jerusalem to Lakewood, N.J., with a cash box and a wireless credit-card machine.” (“Beggarville” by Mark Oppenheimer)

The Times journalists are fine reporters, but just as importantly, they are unparalleled storytellers.

“In August, Tom Steyer and seven campaign advisers sat in a small conference room in Coral Gables, Fla., trying to figure out how to save the world.” (“Money Talks” by Jim Rutenberg)

The leads in these The New York Times Magazine stories from the October 19, 2014, are ones that would be at home as openings to detective, espionage or science fiction novels.

Our time is limited; each hour is precious. There are a lot of good writers out there – and a lot of bad ones. There are fewer excellent ones (with outstanding editors). Find them. Read them. You will be a better writer because of it.

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