Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Read to Write

Every once in a while, I like to veer off the course of all Real Estate, all the time. Today’s topic is just such a diversion for me.

It’s always been my impression that those who write well – and those who write for a living – are also likely to be those who read widely and extensively. There are some who are so gifted with the ability to write well that they may never read more than they write themselves, but those folks are likely to be few and far between.

While I’ve always enjoyed reading, it never was a priority for me. Other than the local newspaper (mostly my favorite writer in the Sports section), several Real Estate periodicals, and an occasional book (maybe 5 books each year), reading tended to end up in my “C” priority list.

So, in order to improve my ability to write, I set an ambitious goal for this year (2008). My goal this year is to read at least 50 pages in books each day.

As of mid-March, I’m averaging nearly 60 pages per day. Not bad.

I’ve even gone so far as to post on my Facebook profile both my goal and the books I’ve read (and am reading even now). Bold, but it sure keeps me motivated!

As I write this, I’ve just begun Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman. I’ll say right off the bat that I’ve never been one for poetry, so this book is a challenge for me. But, we grow stronger by meeting and beating our challenges. Some of verse can really hit me (“I project the history of the future” – think about this awhile), while others become just a jumble of words in my head. Still, I plow onward.

Mostly this year, I’ve read biographies. Andrew Carnegie (U.S. Steel), John D. Rockefeller (Standard Oil), J.P. Morgan (Investments),Edmund Burke (British statesman), Mark Twain, and Frederick Douglass so far. Yet to read – Einstein, Lincoln, Washington, Horace Greeley, Edison, Tesla, Henry Ford, and many others.

Some of the biographers have done an outstanding job of writing, as the text is riveting. Some of these works were a challenge, too. It has struck me that one of the more difficult challenges is to write a biography. It certainly helps that the subject is a fascinating historical figure. Above that, though, a crafty biographer weaves a narrative story of the life and times of the subject. Many of these books have carried me back in time, such that I was made to feel like I was walking alongside the subject during their lifetime.

The fascinating part of a biography, for me, is that you can “see” across the horizon of the subject’s lifetime over the course of a week of reading. You learn how the subject’s early life affected them throughout the rest of their life. You learn how they made lemonade out of lemons. You learn how they conducted themselves with family, friends, and associates – sometimes for the good, sometimes not! You also learn how they aged – sometimes surrounded by family and friends, sometimes terribly alone. Each of these events in the subject’s life is a teaching moment for my own life – again, sometimes for the good, and sometimes how NOT to live one’s life.

It’s been said that you learn from your mistakes, but that you can become brilliant by learning from the mistakes of others. Perhaps the flip side of this idea holds true, as well. You can also become a better person by learning how great people have conducted themselves and modeling that same behavior yourself.

Has all of this reading helped me to write well?

That’s really for you, the reader, to judge.

All this reading has certainly made it easier for me to write. When you read and absorb how others have assembled their thoughts into words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and entire books, it helps you to begin to do the same. You have to learn to crawl before you can walk. With the books I’ve read so far this year, it has felt like I had to begin as a world-class sprinter!

All this reading has also taught me to savor each day, whether filled with success or with challenges. It’s uncanny how you can read of an event in a biography, and then witness a nearly identical event in today’s world. Scary, too. Those who fail to learn by their mistakes are doomed to repeat them.

With each book I’ve read, I’ve kept a journal of notes. Sometimes it’s the way the author has developed an idea, or the way the words just seem to flow together. Other times, it’s a summation of an idea the author was trying to convey in their work. I captured that thought while doing my research for this post:

What if you could learn the success secrets of the greatest people who ever lived? You can.

The lives of the famous and the infamous have been recorded in biographies and are ready for you to read and research.

The lives of great government leaders, businesspeople and humanitarians are there. You will read about successes and triumphs. You will also learn how many times champions lose on their way to winning.

In reading biographies, you may come to the startling conclusion of how much greatness you possess. You may conclude, "Hey, I can do that." You can make your life significant. Biographies help show the way. You only have to take the action to go to the library, bookstores or surf the Internet.

So, friendly reader, will you be the judge of how my reading has impacted my writing this year?


Brian Brady said...

I'll be watching, and commenting, Vance.

For a brilliant but lighter side to marketing, I suggest any one of these four:

Vance Shutes said...


Many thanks! I've read all of Dan Kennedy's books, and found many ideas which have helped me greatly in my business. We have a local chapter of GKIC, to whose meetings I sometimes attend, as well.