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The most common tip you’ll hear to improve your writing is to read more.
When I was first looking to improve my writing, I did just that, but I didn’t feel like my writing was actually improving, despite devouring more books.
After turning many pages, I realized why: I had been lied to. Kind of.
When people say you can become a better writer by reading, what they actually mean is “you can become a better writer by reading with purpose” The secret is italicized.
Why reading with purpose is your key to becoming a better writer
Purposeful reading forces you to think and take in information differently than if you were reading with the intent of relaxing. That’s not to say that reading with the intent to just…well, read, is bad. There’s no denying that reading builds soft skills like empathy and critical thinking (among many others).
But reading with purpose is key when you’re looking to become a better writer.
What makes a great writer?
Great writers have a few things in common. They have:
- A unique voice
- A broad vocabulary
- The ability to paint vivid scenes
- Attention to detail
Of course, that’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s a good start. And purposeful reading can help you develop each of the above points.
Here’s an example: You just wrapped up a long day and want to unwind with a good book and a drink of choice (I love a good spicy hot chocolate). You become engrossed with your book, and before you know it, an hour has passed, and it’s time to get ready for bed.
After your hour of reading, you likely remember the main plot points of what you just read, but smaller details—like diction—may escape your memory. I know it sure does for me.
And while there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s those small details that help improve your own writing.
To help you cement those smaller details in your mind, I developed an easy three-step framework. You can use this framework to become a better writer through purposeful reading.
Purposeful reading [framework]
Before getting started, make a copy of the framework here and follow along below. (Clicking the link will automatically create a new copy of the Google Sheet for you to use.)
Step 1: Build your vocabulary through a word-repository
When I’m flying through a book, I don’t always stop at words I don’t know. Usually, the words that sandwich the one I’ve never seen before give me enough context to understand what’s happening.
But part of becoming a better writer is expanding your vocab, and there’s no better way to do that than to stop, look up the words you don’t know, and use them yourself.
Next time you read and come across a foreign word, jot it down and look up its definition. Then, use the new work to write a sentence (or two) of your own.
(I save my sentence writing until after I’m done reading. I don’t like the lurching back and forth between starting and stopping while I’m in the middle of a good book.)
👉Why do this? Expanding your vocab gives your writing more color.
Step 2: Jot down sentences or phrases you love
Because this is a personal document, you don’t need to worry about copyright infringement and can write down sentences and passages you absolutely love.
But although it’s personal, it’s still good practice to include citations for two reasons:
- You can easily revisit any passages
- You’re reinforcing the notion that what you’ve written isn’t your own work, so you don’t subconsciously pull these phrases into your own writing
After jotting down prose you enjoy, write a quick note explaining why you liked. This part is key and will help you develop your own voice as you figure out what you like.
👉Why do this? This helps you develop your own unique voice and you’ll have a bank of inspiration for the next time writer’s block hits.
Step 3: Write a summary of what you liked/disliked about what you just read
Lastly, after reading something (be it a few chapters in a book or an article), jot down what stood out to you.
What did you love? What was missing? What would you have done differently?
Take a few moments to reflect.
👉Why do this? Reflection helps cement what you read in your memory so that when it comes time to write, you can quickly pull inspiration from the depths of your mind.
Use your spreadsheet and write
Your spreadsheet will be a living and breathing file, but the beauty is you can begin using it right away.
Next time you need to write something, fire up your spreadsheet.
Review your word repository to see if you can spruce up your writing with some better language. Just remember: don’t use words that your audience wouldn’t understand.
Re-read your favorite sentences and passages to see how you can emulate something similar.
And go through your summaries to see if your writing captures all the things you enjoy when reading others’ work.
I’ll admit, spreadsheets and word repositories don’t exactly scream relaxing reading session to me.
But you don’t need to do this every time you read. Fit this practice into your schedule where it makes sense and at times that work best for you.
Be consistent, practice, and your writing will improve.
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Dana Nicole is an award-winning freelance writer for MarTech/SaaS who was rated one of the best SaaS writers by Software World. She specializes in writing engaging content that ranks high in search engines and has been featured in publications like Social Media Examiner, ConvertKit, and Hotjar. Dana holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and has over 15 years of experience working in marketing for national brands.