One of the most misleading pieces of writing advice is "read a lot".
It's not that it's untrue, it's just that it's too broad to really be helpful.
Look, if you want to read a lot fiction, feel free. But it's unlikely to help you become a better memo writer, content marketing writer or business writer. Why?
It's the old apples and oranges problem. Yes, fiction or creative non-fiction or pick your genre *is* writing, but unless your audience is fiction-readers, identifying tactics you can apply in your daily writing for work is going to be difficult.
So, yes, reading a lot can really help you be a better writer for work *if* you read what your audience is reading. So how can you improve writing through reading? Read on (haha).
How does reading make you a better writer?
Here's what I mean. One of my writing coaching clients is a financial analyst. He's a strong writer when his audience is other analysts but is less confident when addressing non-analysts, like the board of directors.
Since this audience doesn't read a lot of analyst reports, he needs to present the information in a different way to serve their informational and emotional needs. We decided the board would need more informative heads/subheads to support skim and scan, tighter writing to make dense content easier to understand, and contextualized graphics to deliver clear take-aways.
How does reading influence your writing?
We decided to look at media we know the board reads and that explains complicated topics in shorter form to a general business audience, like The Economist, BNN Bloomberg, Harvard Business Review and Fortune.
What I like about this exercise, which English teachers call a genre study, is that these are publications my client also reads, so the additional work burden is low. After reading articles for the information he needs to do his job, he went back through and took notes on how the writer handled titles and subtitles, distilled a complex topic and presented data. By pinpointing what made the writing good, he can begin practicing those tactics in his own work.
Here are two examples of how I glean actionable insights from reading:
This kind of reading yields far more relevant and actionable insights on how to be a more effective communicator than taking spin through a favorite work of fiction.
And a quick word to you reluctant readers out there (my people!) who may be wondering, "can you be a good writer if you don't like to read?" Of course you can. Don't look at is as "reading"; look at it as research or analysis and use model texts that make sense for your job and your audience. You don't have to like it, but you might!
Now you know the truth about how to use reading to be a better writer. Good luck.
Got 60 minutes? I can show you 9 tactics to improve your writing immediately. Email me to schedule a session.