Smelling the Reading Right Under Your Nose May Open New Doors In Your Writing

Sometimes the best writing, the writing you need to read, is where you least expect it.

It’s not news to most writers that they should read if they want to improve their craft. “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot,” Stephen King wrote in his book On Writing.

We read books, maybe venturing outside our preferred genres, but usually sticking to what we know and love. We may read magazines, blog posts, perhaps even vehicle owner’s manuals. (Hey, that counts!) And if you’re reading this, you probably read Medium articles.

The New Yorker is part of my regular reading rotation. Doing so requires diligence as the magazine comes out most weeks of the year. Miss one week, and you’ll never catch up.

But I don’t read every issue of The New Yorker from cover to cover. Who has the time?

Instead, I read only the stuff that interests or relates to me in some way. At least that’s how I used to read The New Yorker until I discovered something.

It Was Under My Nose This Whole Time

One section of The New Yorker I skipped every issue is titled Talk of the Town. These are short, roughly 500-700 word pieces about something or someone somehow connected to current events, often about New York City. 

Not living in New York, I figured I could ignore Talk of the Town and not miss anything. The other day, though, I read this Susan Orlean article about how she mentally approaches her writing. 

When Orlean first started at The New Yorker, she wrote for Talk of the Town. Learning to write for that section of the magazine established a writing framework she follows still today.

“The metric I live by is the Talk of the Town,” Orleans said.

Realizing that today’s Talk of the Town writers could be tomorrow’s Susan Orleans, and recognizing how Orleans compartmentalizes her writing is similar to my mindset, I decided to give Talk of the Town another chance. Good thing I did. 

The pieces are quick, engaging, entertaining, informative, and short. They are perfect templates for online writing, which is how I make my living as a self-employed freelance writer. And, newsflash, that’s the kind of writing we do here on Medium. 

Plus, as Orlean points out, it can be wise to tackle any writing project as if it’s a Talk of the Town vignette.

“I find myself sitting down and writing the equivalent of a Talk piece and thinking, wow, that wasn’t so hard, was it? and then writing the next and the next, and then suddenly I’ve written a piece or a book,” Orleans said.

Switch Up Your Reading, Open New Doors

No longer do I skip Talk of the Town. The pieces in this section of The New Yorker are ideal reading for those of us writing for an online audience. And, as Stephen King said, good writers read a lot. 

So, I stopped to smell the writing right under my nose. Now I’m enjoying well-written, professionally edited content that is a good example of my writing.

What about you? Is there writing you could be reading that will help you grow as a writer?

Try reading something different, maybe a newsletter you’ve heard about but ignored, or a book you’ve been putting off reading. You never know what doors in your writing you may open by switching up what you read.