By the time you’ve accumulated some gray hair - or lost most of it - people start assuming you must know a lot about some subject matter. In my case, one of the professional questions I get asked most often is, “How can someone become a better writer?”
The truth is that not everyone can become a great writer, just like everyone can’t become an engineer or a surgeon. I happened to be born a word geek, a lover of great writing, particularly news writing. I have voraciously devoured newspapers and magazines since I had a full head of dark brown hair. (Yes, that was a long time ago.)
But the good news is that most people can become good writers. And anyone can become a better one.
How? Simple. Read. A lot.
I’m such a word geek I’ve found myself critically reviewing packaging labels on chewing gum or soda cans, or I will re-read umpteen times an extremely well crafted sentence in a magazine or book. If something doesn’t move and it has words on it, I’m going to read it. You will not become a strong writer by taking a couple of college English or creative writing classes. Reading, and habitually studying the writing as you go, should become something you do all the time.
Just as important, make sure you read the really good stuff. What better way to learn than by absorbing the techniques of the best writers and editors out there? I send young, aspiring communications professionals to magazines like Texas Monthly, The Economist or National Geographic and to newspapers like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. These are organizations that take writing very seriously. Every time you pick up one of their publications you will be challenged to write as well as they do.
Want to become a good writer? Study the great ones.