Category Archives: reading

Reception before Expression

A former colleague once proclaimed in a department meeting that “receptive skills precede expressive skills.” The focus at is, of course, the latter. However, if you want truly to improve your writing, you must always be developing as a reader. You cannot express well until you’ve learned to receive well.

One way to do this is simply to read. Reading anything is beneficial, but developing your reading muscles is a lot like developing your mountain-climbing muscles. If you aren’t finding more and more challenging cliffs to attack, you are probably stagnating as a climber. I’m not suggesting you run out and read James Joyce, but as much as I enjoy People magazine, there’s not a lot of sustenance between its pages.

Grab one of those books you were supposed to read in college but didn’t, or pick up the occasional issue of The Atlantic. You may find, if you do this regularly enough, that at first much of your writing echoes some of the words and phrases you see in your reading. That’s good! It means something is resonating with you. Don’t worry about not sounding like you, or at least don’t worry too much. Just keep reading, and just keep writing. Your writing voice should be an evolving thing, and if certain words or sentence structures work themselves a bit too frequently into your prose, you’ll notice it in your proofreading and adjust as needed.

If you regularly read People, pick up Entertainment Weekly. If you regularly read Entertainment Weekly, pick up the Rolling Stone. If you regularly read the Rolling Stone, pick up the New Yorker. If you regularly read the New Yorker, you probably write better than me and should start your own writing-tips website!

I would love to hear about something you’ve recently read that caused you to notice its style or clarity. Perhaps others will be inspired to peruse the same material!