A couple of weeks ago I started this mini-series to share what I call “attention collectibles” for reading and writing.
These are any and everything we tuck away in a safe place to reference when writing. Like a “creative well” that never runs out. A lifeline for dry spells or the dreaded writer’s block. And a lifetime of content to harvest for ideas to write our next magnum opus.
Having introduced generic examples of collectibles in that first post, it’s time to share my personal collectibles in this post.
Today, I’ll cover those attention collectibles I have under the general term “reading resources.”
But first, a word about reading itself.
In the beginning was the word…
Nearly every famous author on the planet has been asked at some point or other their opinion about reading’s place in a writer’s life:
Scanning through the quotes, it’s pretty clear and pretty universal — how well you write depends on how well and how much you read!
No surprise really, if you think about it. For all writers are first and foremost readers. So our ability as a writer is honed primarily through how extensively we read and what we read.
These could be anything. Fiction or non-fiction. Long-form memoirs or short essays. Poems or prose.
A good writer knows the importance of reading widely and deeply all forms and genres they can get their hands on. Even reading stuff you wouldn’t normally be interested in. If only to stay humble and curious.
And who knows? You might find nuggets of gold in the most unexpected places.
But with so much out there ripe for the reading, how does one deal with the avalanche of data?
For me, I always start with a few must-visit sources for all my regular reading needs. Cos there’s simply no way to access ‘everything everywhere all at once‘ (plugging Michelle here for the Oscars!).
Now I don’t mean short messages like what you read on Facebook, Twitter, and most social media platforms.
I mean essays and articles of any length between 500 and 2,000 words or thereabouts. Cos you need to absorb at least that much content for your reading to be layered and meaningful. To give you “cause for a pause”.
And lead you to your next inspiring “A-Ha!” writing moment.
So what sources? And where to park them?
Reading resources I use
Whenever I ideate for my next piece of writing, my first stop would be the Internet.
Other than Google Search, and the now increasingly-ubiquitous ChatGPT AI, I always visit a few key online news platforms.
They include mainstream media platforms in my country like Channelnews Asia and The Straits Times — so I am informed about what goes on in my own backyard. Also the occasional foray into alternative media like The Independent and Mothership.
Internationally, and for more quality reporting and writing, I’ll usually check out The Atlantic, The New York Times, or The Guardian. For in-depth, investigative writing which I love, I’ll usually explore Pro Publica and The Conversation.
From these, I usually download articles on trending topics of interest to me, saving them into my computer hard drive — my “creative well” — for reading later.
There, I add separate folders labeled according to the interest areas I blog or write about (depending on whether I’m posting on my blog or writing for my private journals or external publications).
Over time, I’ve also created sub-folders within them.
These I either label by sub-topic (eg Main folder <Education>; Sub folder <Teaching>); or by year or date, to better track evergreen topics to see how they evolve. Like two of my blog’s cornerstone content areas — autism and parenting.
With reading and attention collectibles, more is always more!
After a while, I get over-zealous and find I’ve downloaded more stuff than I have time to read, and created more folders than I might actually need!
But in this case more is always, well, more! Plus I always hold to the adage “it’s better to have and not need than to need and not have.”
The point is not that I need to read everything I save. It’s to ensure I’m never in want of ideas when it comes to planning my next writing task or if I have no Internet access.
And when I’m reading with care, caution, and careful attention — even just one essay or article a week — several ideas can easily pop up. Giving me endless options for writing multiple blog posts and essays!
This brings me to an important corollary.
Pay attention to your (reading) attention collectibles
It’s one thing to have a collection, but it’s just as important to pay attention.
I like what British novelist Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials trilogy) once said: “When I’m reading, I’m looking for something to steal. Readers ask me all the time the traditional question ‘Where do you get your ideas from?” I reply: ‘We are all having ideas all the time. But I’m on the lookout for them. You’re not.’”
To that I would add this:
“Resolve to establish, populate, and regularly maintain and use your own archives, databases, reading sources, or attention collectibles. Remember to plow them, pay attention and keep a constant lookout for ideas.“
So here’s wishing you fun and endless creative writing topics as you set up your own attention collectibles!
And please come back here to share with us what they are and, more importantly, how they’ve helped you pay more attention as you expand and deepen your writing.
When you do, I hope to share with you other attention collectibles I use in my next post for this mini-series.