The old saying goes like this: “The more you read, the more you know.” But what you read matters, too—especially if you’re trying to improve your writing skills. For writers, the old saying merits an update: “The more high-quality content you read, the more you know about writing well.”
If you’re reading an abundance of poorly written content, it’s easy to pick up bad writing habits—consciously or subconsciously—from that low-quality content. (To use a dirty cliché: garbage in, garbage out.) Reading better writing helps make us better writers. That piece of advice might sound obvious, but we often forget to seek out better writing—instead contenting ourselves with reading the same old news sites, the same old blogs, the same old industry publications. And plenty of people who must write as part of their jobs fail to do much reading beyond their immediate work-related boundaries. (They read corporate e-mail and reports from colleagues, but they can’t remember when they last read a novel or a “think piece” in a magazine, and they might rarely visit major national news sites.)
Reading great writing helps build your sense of the rhythm of written language—a sense that will help you craft more fluid language for your readers and give them content that they can more easily process. (When your readers can process your content easily, your message gets through to them better.)
Reading great writing increases or reinforces your vocabulary by exposing you to words and phrases that can help you communicate more clearly and more crisply, helping you to maximize the reader’s comprehension.
Reading great writing can better inform you of news and developments in your areas of interest and expertise—giving you a better grasp of information that you, in turn, can convey in your own writing.
Reading great writing gives you a sense of how high the language bar has been set in a particular field, and it helps you set writing goals and objectives. (How does your writing compare to the “good writing” you’re reading? How does your writing compare in terms of clarity and descriptiveness—or in terms of the usefulness of information or the quality of sources? How can the great writing you’re reading be made even better?)
The quality-of-writing spectrum runs from “rotten” to “poor” to “fair” to “good” to “very good” to “excellent” to “exceptional”—with plenty of room for debate at each slice of the spectrum. In looking for better content to read, don’t get mired in the middle of the spectrum. Content that you consider “good” might be “poor” to a friend or co-worker. “Excellent” and “exceptional” content tends to garner greater critical consensus, and it’s often clearly labeled as “excellent” or “exceptional” or “the best”—thanks to literary and industry awards.
Seeking out award winners, therefore, is a smart way to find the great writing that will help make you a better writer. And there’s no shortage of award-winning material to read. For starters, you can find scores of examples of exceptional writing at www.pulitzer.org, and the literary-awards category on Wikipedia can help you discover several hundred more examples, from comedy writing to science writing.
Copyright © 2014 by L. Scott Tillett, lstillett.wordpress.com. All rights reserved.