Linda Sue Park: The Cardinal Rule most writers, especially those
just starting out, want to know is how other writers work. There's
no doubt that exchanging ideas about process or reading about the
routines of acclaimed writers can often furnish useful tips. But after
only a few inquiries of this sort, you quickly find out that every
good or great writer works differently.
That's why those ten-step books, the ones with titles like
Ten Steps to Believable Characters or Ten Steps to Poetry are so limited.
While they provide a good basic framework, you can find myriad authors
who break every one of those rules—and almost none who follow them
all. There is one rule, however, that no writer worth his or hersalt
violates. Read. Read what you want to write. You want to write short
stories? Read Carver, Paley, Chekhov, Joyce. A children's novel? Paterson,
Dahl, Susan Cooper, Philip Pullman. Poetry? Too many names to list,
all easy to find without even leaving your keyboard.
The Internet is rich with sites for all the great masters of poetry
and a good few of the mistresses, too. Aspiring poets especially are
guilty of writing without reading. It ought to be required of all
participants of online poetry bulletin boards to read two dozen good
poems for every one they post. Read, read again aloud, and read a
third time--and then memorize their favorites. The quality of the
work posted would skyrocket. That's almost a guarantee.