HOW TO BECOME A BETTER WRITER

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Generally, there are two things that writers recommend to others who want to improve: more writing, and reading. More writing is an obvious one, since practice makes perfect. But writing in a vacuum won’t do us much good. Reading exposes us to other styles, other voices, other forms and genres of writing. Importantly, it exposes us to writing that’s better than our own and helps us to improve.

Since reading is something we learn to do when we first start school, it’s easy to think we’ve got it sorted out and we don’t need to work on this skill anymore. Or, that we don’t need to exercise our reading muscles anymore.

So let’s take a look at five unconventional ways to become better writers by changing the way we read.

1. Skip sections

When we’re reading on the web, we’ll often find handy stuff to help us do this, like subheadings or bold text. These can help us skim through and get the gist of an article quickly, so we can decide whether to go back and reread the parts we skipped.

improve your writing - readingCan I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. – Stephen King

Even if you’re not a ‘writer’ per se, writing can be highly beneficial. It can be helpful for a number of things:

Generally, there are two things that writers recommend to others who want to improve: more writing, and reading. More writing is an obvious one, since practice makes perfect. But writing in a vacuum won’t do us much good. Reading exposes us to other styles, other voices, other forms and genres of writing. Importantly, it exposes us to writing that’s better than our own and helps us to improve.

Reading—the good and the bad—inspires you. It develops your palate for all the tricks that writers have invented over the years. You can learn from textbooks about the writing craft, but there’s no substitute for discovering for yourself how a writer pulls off a trick. Then that becomes part of your experience. – Roz Morris

Since reading is something we learn to do when we first start school, it’s easy to think we’ve got it sorted out and we don’t need to work on this skill anymore. Or, that we don’t need to exercise our reading muscles anymore. But illustrator Chuck Jones pointed out in this letter to a class of students how silly it would be to not read when we have the chance:

Knowing how to read and not reading books is like owning skis and not skiing, owning a board and never riding a wave, or, well, having your favorite sandwich in your hand and not eating it. If you owned a telescope that would open up the entire universe for you would you try to find reason for not looking through it? Because that is exactly what reading is all about; it opens up the universe of humour, of adventure, of romance, of climbing the highest mountain, of diving in the deepest sea.

So let’s take a look at five unconventional ways to become better writers by changing the way we read.

1. Skip sections

I’m one of those people who feels bad if I miss anything (sometimes known as ‘fear of missing out‘). When it comes to reading, I definitely feel this. If something further ahead catches my eye, I can’t keep reading until I go back and catch up on the parts I missed.

I’ve actually realized recently that there is a kind of freedom in giving up that feeling of needing to see everything. Sometimes, it’s okay to skip parts. Especially if they’re not relevant to you. Readers on the web skim for a reason. In fact it has almost become our default way of reading, as this eye-tracking study shows:

2. Quit altogether

The older I get, the more I’m becoming a fan of quitting. Not for the sake of it, of course, but when continuing on doesn’t have enough (or any) benefits, sometimes pulling out is the best option.

3. Read things you hadn’t thought about reading

4. Walk away and take notes

5. Fight back

There’s a reason social networks like Goodreads and GetGlue exist. We love to share our recreational activities. We love to have an opinion on everything, including what we read.

This is a great thing.

If what you read makes you angry, or sad, or frustrated, or whatever—use that. Finding something you care about is worth cherishing. If you want to rant against the author’s premise or post a rebuttal to their argument, go for it. This will make your brain work really hard, as you analyze their ideas and form your own in response.

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