How Reading Can Make You a Better Writer
Updated: Jul 13
If you were to create a Venn Diagram of those who enjoyed reading and those who wrote professionally, the middle section would be less a sliver and more a huge blob connecting the two. If you write for a living - or otherwise - you spend a lot of time reading. You'll read information to comprise the research for clients you may be unsure of, you'll read your own work back to ensure that the t's are crossed and the i's dotted, you'll read the best practices of the industry to ensure that what you are creating is fresh and adds value to the client. If you're a writer, you'll spend a lot of time reading. But, if you spend a lot of time outside of work reading, chances are you'll feel sharper when you come to put pen to paper or pixel to screen for your clients.
Copywriters are tasked with creating huge amounts of content that is fresh and engaging in a short space of time. While inspiration may come from some tried and tested methods, often inspiration strikes while we are indulging in someone else's creation. Even just a throwaway sentence in a book could spark an idea in us. Reading widely can give us titbits of knowledge from a variety of fields - from procedure in crime writing to techniques to build suspense in thrillers to alternate ways to describe body parts in some romance books. Reading both fiction and non-fiction could help us expand our repertoire of content ideas.
Good writers make us feel something when we open their books. The best writers make us feel something long after we've closed the final chapter. As a copywriter, your job is essentially to also make the reader feel something as they read your writing, but also to recollect what you have written at a later date. This is done through creating emotional connections. The more you read books that have a general emotional appeal, the better your sense of creating that emotional attachment will be. And this can be extremely beneficial when transferred to your copywriting.
Grammar and Readability
Reading books that have been through the editing ringer or even magazines that have to uphold stringent publishing criteria means that you are absorbing the best practices for grammar, layout, and readability. The more you read, the more you'll find it second nature when it comes aspects of grammar that might not be strictly incorrect, but can make a copywriter seem lazy or unobservant. You'll also develop a keen sense of flow and how your paragraphs, sentences, and phrases can become more readable. Not to mention, you'll gain a sixth sense for the wonders of the Oxford Comma.
Understand What Doesn't Work
The more you read, the stronger your opinions will be on the books you are reading - and the greater your ability will be to pinpoint why you don't like a certain book. One of the benefits of reading good books is to see how the authors did it, but it's just as beneficial to read 'bad' books in order to find out why we don't like it - and then apply this to our own work. Sometimes characters appear too shallow to make us care about them, the plot meanders so we lose focus, or the writing is too bogged down in telling us exposition and less in showing us the story unfolding.
When we read, we are exposed to writers who are better than us. We are immersed in different genres, cultures, and ways of telling stories that can help inform us on how to combat the competitive world of copywriting. Through reading a lot and reading a variety of things, we are able to - through some kind of osmosis - absorb what it means to be a good writer, and then can apply it into our own work.
My challenge for 2019 was to read a book a week - or 50 books throughout the year. My total for mid-June stands at 22 and some have been exceptionally heavy-duty reading. So far I've chosen a range of books - from the classic horror of Stephen King to contemporary fiction from Sharon Bolton, Sabine Durrant and Peter Swanson. I've picked books that became TV shows and films from Liane Moriarty, Caroline Kepnes, Anne Cleeves, and Gillian Flynn to old school novels such as John Le Carre and Arthur Conan Doyle. I've been transported to the French village of Joanne Harris, the wonders of Botswana with Alexander McCall Smith and the lip-smacking delights of Sicily with Andrea Camilleri. I've read from the point of view of someone with dementia from Emma Healey and from the point of view of Real Housewife of New York City Carole Radziwill. The rest of the year will see be revisit Kafka, Huxley, Flaubert, and Austen, while also reading the latest from Ian McEwan and Anthony Horowitz, and reading about the early days of the USA, the perils of government lobbying, and how the peace was kept in Ancient Rome.