Take it from a Comms Pro: Reading Fiction Will Improve Your Writing
Writing is the currency of the professional world. It’s the cover letter that introduces you to a potential employer, the email exchange with a promising client, and the follow-up message sent to the interesting person you met at the recent AF happy hour. And, of course, it’s what you spend most of your work day doing.
But spinning ideas into words with clear, concise language and confident professionalism is rarely effortless, even when the audience is a small group or even a single person.
The first step is to recognize that almost all writing is storytelling: a reporter’s article, a business plan, a risk assessment, a legal brief, a press release, a presentation to investors, a think tank report or white paper, notes on a meeting with lawmakers, or even a simple email to a project team.
And the best way to get better at telling stories is to read more stories. So, when you pick up the book on your nightstand – ideally, a good piece of fiction that you have not read before – here are some tips to help you write more like the authors you love:
Read With an Editor’s Eye
It’s easy to let the plot of a book carry you away without paying attention to individual sentences. But taking the time to read a work of fiction with an editor’s eye will show you how the author builds characters, sets up plot points, and introduces new ideas word by word. As you allow yourself to linger over specific phrasing, you will quickly notice that some words or sentences could be clearer, and others pack a punch worth emulating. This habit of considering the craft of writing will carry over into your own work helping you produce clearer, more deliberate prose.
Consider the “Elevator Pitch” Version of the Plot
As you read fiction, pay attention to how the author tells a detailed and compelling story while using clear plot points that drive the narrative forward. The next time a friend or colleague asks what you are reading, think about how you describe the plot and the takeaways from the book. When you sit down to draft a document, think about how a reader would summarize what you’ve written. As you write, make sure your key points match what would be included in your reader’s summary.
Bookmark your Favorite Passages
The hardest part of writing is staring at a blank page. Saving passages from novels that resonate with you or offer particularly compelling phrasing will often give you a spark of inspiration to start drafting. Building up a bank of such passages from different books will, like a playlist of favorite songs, help you get in the right mindset to focus on writing and consider how to start stringing words together.
Read What You Like
Although the classic “Great Books” are on those lists for a reason, you don’t need to slog through a great work of literature that you don’t like to become a better writer. Unlike high school English or freshman composition, you can now read what you like on your own schedule. This makes reading a treat rather than a chore. And while some readers like to track progress or maintain checklists of past and future reads, others take a more freewheeling approach. Whatever your preference, the ultimate goal should simply be to read.
And if you are looking for recommendations for your next book to try out these tips with, recent favorites of mine include Ali and Nino by Kurban Said, Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin and Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins.