October 11, 2012

Be a better writer by being a better reader

Having trouble with your writing? Perhaps you're stuck for ideas. Perhaps the words are flowing but the final product reminds you of a Dickensian orphan - sickly, underfed and poisoned by mercury.

Put down your keyboard, drop your pen and pull up your favourite chair, because - and I'm not the first person to say this - reading great writing will improve your own work. It will inspire you, expose you to different writing rhythms and remind you of grammatical rules you mothballed ages ago.

The great fiction writers are easy to find at your local bookstore (while those last) and library or online. My tastes tend to the non-fiction side, though it's harder to find a starting place with non-fiction's more modest reputations. Here, then, are some of my favourite online non-fiction articles.

Illustration by Jaff Seijas
Anatomy of a Divorce
by Pat Conroy

Written in 1978, an insightful personal account of the "dark country" of divorce.

Welcome to Cancerland / Adventures in Cancerland
by Barbara Ehrenreich  / Mike Celizic

Two personal accounts of journeys through another country - cancerland. The first by a widely published American columnist who was ahead of the curve criticizing the hijacking of breast cancer as a "dream cause" (she's in this clip of 2011 documentary Pink Ribbons, Inc.) and the second by a TODAYshow.com / MSNBC reporter who was killed by lymphoma in 2010.

Photo by Phillip Toledano
Why Women Still Can't Have It All 
by Anne-Marie Slaughter

This recent article made waves and caused great debate - which is great - though I don't know if the systemic changes Slaughter is advocating have gotten the traction she clearly hopes for. Great read and blueprint for the future.

Letters of Note
curated by Shaun Usher

Not one piece of writing, but a logophile's attempt to bring attention to some of the very best letters on record. Usually from (or to) the famous, though not always. The "random letter" button and the near daily posts will satisfy any logophile's craving.

Nearly 100 Fantastic Pieces of Journalism
compiled by Conor Friedersdorf

A collection of 2010's best journalism as picked by The Atlantic staff writer Conor Friedersdorf. A sharp journo pointed out the list's imbalanced favour of men (of the 105 identified authors, 20 have feminine names), but I don't think this detracts from any of the individual pieces.

Can you recommend any great non-fiction reads for me? Any thoughts on the articles I linked to in this post? How's your Thursday going?

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