I moved into my first house when I was 19 years old. My husband and I had very little money since I was still in college and he was a new teacher. Still, right away I was motivated to improve my new house. With very little money, the easiest transformation was to fix up the yard. When you do the work yourself, moving dirt, getting cuttings from family and friends and planting these cuttings, and clearing weeds is cheap. It also improved the property so much so, that neighbors came by to comment and friends were impressed.

I did not have any gardening experience before that first house. I had never worked in the yard as part of my chores, never taken a horticulture class at school, nor ever thought before buying that first house that I would be interested in gardening.

Twenty-five years later, I have a beautiful yard in my third house. I am a self-taught gardener. I still have never taken a class, but I have paid attention. First I bought lots of books about gardening. I read through them carefully, studying the names of plants, the diagrams for planting schemes, and the pictures of gardens I liked. Then I paid attention to the gardens in my neighborhood. If there was a plant in a neighbor’s yard I liked, I went to the nursery and asked about it. If my neighbor had entire plantings I thought were beautiful, when I saw that neighbor out, I would strike up a conversation the next time I saw that neighbor and ask lots of questions. And, I experimented. There have been lots of misguided plantings in all of my yards. In other words, when I decide to plant my yard, I pay attention.

Gardening is like writing. When I begin to plant in a new yard, I pay attention to other gardens and gardeners in the area. A desert garden is different than a valley garden. When I begin to write a new piece, I pay attention to other writing in that genre and other writers of that genre. A legend is different than a research report. Paying attention means reading in that genre.

In the National report put out by Alliance for Excellent Education, Writing Next: Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High Schools – A report to Carnegie Corporation of New York, it is acknowledged that reading and writing are complementary skills whose development runs a roughly parallel course (Graham, S., & Perin, D. 2007). To grow as a writer, you must become a good reader.

Besides, reading can motivate your own writing. There is the legend of James Fenimore Cooper, that after reading a western novel of his time, he commented to his wife that he could write a better book than the one he just read. His wife told him to go ahead and do it, then. And he did, becoming one of the most celebrated writers of westerns. Currently I am working on a series of essays about my job. Mr. Cooper was inspired by other writers through his belief that he could do better.

On the other hand, reading other writers can inspire you to improve your own writing by trying to write as well as writers you love. After I write a first draft of an essay, I read other writers I enjoy and admire. I look for how these writers successfully completed their essays then apply those techniques to my own writing. I am motivated to improve my writing through reading the writing of others.

Good writers are excellent readers, so in addition to your writing assignments, you need to read.  The reading should be enjoyable and introduce you to both classic literature that every writer needs to be familiar with, as well as introduce you to new writers you may not yet know.

It’s a good idea to complete a reading log for each reading session. The reading log allows you to record what you read, summarizing what you read. Writing summaries is a skill you will need for most types of writing, whether for tests at school, providing readers summaries of information that is pertinent to your topic, but not the focus of your essay or story, or completing incident reports at work. Like any skill, the more you practice the skill, the better you will be at it. Remember that to write a summary, you need to record the who, where, when, what and why of the reading you’ve completed. The expectation is that the summary will be written in complete sentences, in paragraph form.

Reading for 20 minutes five days a week should inform the type of writing you are completing. Reading is part of any writing curriculum, just like weeding is part of any gardener’s chores. The weeding is never admired, but all good gardeners know that without weeding, the most avid planter will not have a garden. Likewise, though reading is not the measurable part of this curriculum, without it writing quality pieces is very unlikely.

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