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Writing: It’s All About Reading

“Do you really want to write for National Geographic or the New York Times?” I asked last week in this post about voice and the goodness of fit between you as a writer and the publications where you’d like to see your name in the bold letters of a byline.

Then I went off and had a baby, so it took me a minute to get back and riff on this goodness of fit idea a little bit more.

Here’s the riff, and we’ll cut right to the chase because it’s almost time to feed the baby: becoming a good writer is all about being a good reader. And becoming a PUBLISHED writer is about being an exceptionally observant reader.

For all my criticism of the Times’ cliched travel articles, there are two or three articles they’ve published in recent memory (and at least two of them were front page, feature-length pieces) that were absolutely novel ideas which were also executed well. They were pieces I didn’t expect to see in the Times. And this article about Cuba, published in TIME Magazine, is unusual for that publication.

How did they get published in publications that don’t normally feature “that type of writing”?

They read these publications–and many others–over a period of time and got a feel for them: what they publish, what they don’t, and how a writer might pitch a piece that’s outside the scope of a publication’s usual content interests.

Take a look at your bookshelf, backpack, desk, or windowsill… what are you reading? Are you reading widely- not just travel magazines or travel blogs, but other types of publications, too? Do you read these regularly? If you’re not reading, you’re probably not ready to be writing. And you’re definitely not ready to be pitching.


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