Reading About Writing

March 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

Do you think about writing while you read? When done well, we rarely notice writing while we’re reading. It’s when your professor assigns selections from Grudrisse that you think “whaaaa?”

The thing is, writing is part imitation. George Orwell once said “modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits that spread by imitation and that can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble.” In the same way as we go on putting commas in the wrong place or using which instead of that because we’ve seen it done a million times, we should be trying to imitate writers that do it well. 

Reading about writing doesn’t have be limited to style guides and reference books.

Do you want to be a journalist? Start putting sticky notes in your magazines or start a bookmark folder with articles you think do it well. Use them later as reference, for generating a good hook, or the perfect close. Similarly, take notes on what not to do.

Have you read an academic paper in one of your classes that stood out as comprehensible (finally) and maybe even sort of enjoyable? Keep it! Read it often. Imitate its style (at least until you develop your own).

Try thinking about what you’re reading as a piece of communication. Would you give it an A+?

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