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“The most important thing is to read as much as you can, like I did. It will give you an understanding of what makes good writing and it will enlarge your vocabulary.”
― J.K. Rowling
When I was a kid I was a voracious reader. I absolutely loved libraries (and still do) and I think every Christmas and birthday it was books that featured my gift register. I read so much fiction into my mid-twenties, sometimes I found it hard to tell the difference between what was real and what wasn’t. In my confusion I abruptly stopped reading and never really started again until my late thirties.
Beginning to read again was never the same. I didn’t read very much fiction and that have to stay awake the whole night to finish the book, feeling did not return. I was reading mainly self-help and success literature and it would take me an extraordinarily long time to finish a book; sometimes I didn’t bother to finish at all.
Then about a year ago, I was hired as a copywriter to research and write about the reading habits of very successful people. Something in that article must have triggered me because since then my ravenous appetite for reading has returned (and then some). In my youth I only read fiction and a bit of poetry, now I’m reading just about everything. It’s so exciting to have back my gusto and passion for reading as I honestly thought it had disappeared for good.
As I’ve been reading more I’m noticing a big improvement in my writing. Not just in the quality and structure of the words but also in the reduction in time it was taking me to begin and finish a project.
Because of these noticeable improvements in my writing and productivity, I’ve become more strategic about my reading. And by this I don’t mean I’m reading loads of boring textbooks (though I am reading a few), I’m just scheduling at least one hour of uninterrupted reading into my daily writing practice. I’m not really a morning person but I truly push through the 4.30am wake-ups knowing that after my 30 minutes of free-writing I can indulge in a full hour and bit more of reading.
Since adopting a more strategic approach to reading, the results are even more apparent. I’m clearer in my thinking and finding it much easier to sit and write without interruption. Not only do I feel more confident starting to write but the ideas come a lot quicker and the words flow more naturally. And these improvements are inspiring me to read more and more.
Any time I have a spare minute in the day I find myself reading, and it’s stuff that’s never interested me before. Because I’m doing a lot of copywriting for clients I’m suddenly interested in marketing brochures. I’m such a greenie and hate wasting paper so I used to always say no to junk mail and flyers, but now when they’re being handed out at the entrance to the shopping mall I’m all for it. I’m reading all the ads in the in-flight magazines and paying attention to who’s doing the advertising.
Then there’s my weekly eZine I started seventeen weeks ago (poetry, photography, personal stories), it’s informing my reading too because now I’m looking at the structure of magazines with renewed interest. I’m fascinated by the font sizes of the headings, and the little asides that fill columns, and the captions under photos.
And then I’m reading literary magazines and poetry. Because I have readers especially from Australia and the Philippines I’m making sure I fill my reading list with authors and publications from both countries.
I’m not suggesting that you need to read marketing brochures, but do read the material that’s relevant to your business. If you’re a children’s author, then children’s literature, if you’re a copywriter, The Copywriter’s Handbook (excellent book BTW).
If you’re interested in what I’m reading I’ve begun recording my reading list on Goodreads. I’m actually enjoying tracking my progress and challenging myself to write some book reviews. It’s amazing how much more you takeway from the content of a book when you write a review.
I could have filled this blog post with hundreds of quotes and examples of well known writers and authors whose reading habits inform their writing. But instead I wanted to reflect on personal examples of how constant reading has made a big difference to my own skills as a professional writer. I’m not a big famous author, I’m just a regular person making my living by writing. And my commitment to constant reading is definitely making that easier to do.
© 2018 Melinda J. Irvine