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Posted on 20/09/2013

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And why reading comes before writing.

I’ve been silent the entire summer. Much like SazJ, work and other commitments have got in the way of updating TheAntiSofa. Both are pretty reasonable excuses, but only for so long – eventually you find you’re just not making the time to write any more. Now as the temperature drops and London begins to hibernate again, it’s time to get on it.

Although now I’m completely out of practice. When you stop writing long-form, good sentences don’t come as easily. Having spent a good part of the summer writing slides, my head’s full of punchy, action-filled sentences and smart-art shapes. Now I’ve got to think sentences, tone and style. How do you get back back into this way of thinking?

The answer’s surprisingly close. I might not have been writing, but I’ve sure as hell been reading. Instapaper, emailed to Kindle or the new(ish) iPad app is my constant companion, and partnered with Om Malik’s Om Says, the Startup Digest reading list, and Medium newsletter, it’s constantly filled with average to great writing.

Nothing triggers ideas like other ideas. It might sound contradictory (what if you have none to start with? Isn’t it a bit “chicken and egg”?), but it’s foolproof. James Webb Young wrote a best-selling book about this, a staple of the creative and advertising industries. The first idea, or even the second or third don’t have to be your own. Immersing yourself in other people’s ideas is the first step in any creative process. Look for similarities, compare with your own, even adapt them. Borrowing doesn’t automatically mean copying.

And the easiest place to find them? Online. If there’s one thing the Internet has plenty of (aside from adult content) it’s ideas. Millions of connected people, sharing billions of interconnected ideas. I’ve found my way back into writing (aside from making the time) is through reading and watching other people’s ideas. At the very least you’ll discover two things in an interesting order – back to front’s can be an interesting way to look at the world.

I’ve tried stream-of-consciousness writing, setting 30 minute post deadlines, and live blogging, only to be disappointed with the results. For me, the natural step that comes before writing, is reading. Sometimes indirect activities are the most natural way to get something done directly.

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