At last year’s Philadelphia Book Festival, I was one of the many people treated to hearing Joyce Carol Oates read from her then current book of stories called, Dear Husband. As she was setting up the story for the audience, Oates mentioned how she reads the morning paper every day. In her readings, she came across the newspaper article about the woman who killed her children and then herself. Her story “Dear Husband” was the wife’s letter to her husband before she killed herself. It was, as with most of Oates’ material, a very raw and haunting piece.
I never thought about the power of reading newspaper articles until now.
With my blog (www.mwittle.wordpress.com) I have been noticing a very nice trend. Because I have been living on the New York Times webpage, my blogs are becoming more and more viewed. I am taking the time every day (truth be told, it’s more like an hour or so a day, depending on how things are moving) to search through the Times and look for articles that appeal to me. I read the articles and then I post my opinion on them.
But the Times aren’t just helping with my blog; it is also helping me with my writing.
I notice my writing becoming different. My writing voice is sharper. Also, as I read these articles, I can start to see how the articles can turn into a story.
I am finding new inspiration in newspaper articles. I am taking the old, washed up stories in my head and giving them a different spin. I am looking at the world and changing it the way I think it should be changed.
Sometimes a news article is so bizarre it can’t be made up.
If you find yourself in a writing slump (which I have been in for a pretty long time now) I suggest these two basic things.
One: Pick a newspaper and start looking through it. Find articles that you like and hold on to them. Practice writing what you think happened before or after the article you read. Look at the person the article is reporting on and try to get inside his or her mind.
Two: Change your reading habits. My mother used to say “you are what you eat” and I like to just twist that statement a bit to “you are what you read”. For a while I was reading a lot of poorly written novels. I read them because the books were easy to get through, but my writing suffered. Now I am reading novelists I admire again and I am seeing my writing improve.
The only way to become a better writer is to practice it. Practice is not only writing but also reading and opening up your reading world.