One of my biggest regrets in being a professor is that I don’t get to read as much as I would like during the school year. That’s a funny thing to say, since I truly spend much of my day reading. I read academic articles. I read student work. I read at least 60 e-mails a day and probably 400 Tweets. I read news pretty compulsively. But it’s not the kind of reading I like to do, which is the kind of reading that can help me be better as a writer.
Here’s how reading helps.
Reading widely – Some of my colleagues at the university in the traditional liberal arts and sciences are surprised when I share with them how much we in communications value the liberal arts core of our and our students’ educations. But I am completely sincere. As a writer, I am weak if I don’t have a deep base of knowledge and context to understand the things I write about. I have to think critically before I communicate, and that means I need to have considered a variety of issues from a variety of viewpoints. Reading widely gives me new ideas, better understanding of existing ideas and an appreciation for how the complex variety of people that composes humanity views the world. Increasingly, my own students have holes in that deep base of knowledge and context, as well. You’d be surprised how much history and government and science and even math gets taught or at least refreshed in communication classes. I never regret having learned new things.
Reading deeply – In addition to having something meaningful to say, I need to be able to say it well. If you write things and I read your work deeply, I learn from you. Great literature is wonderful for this. But so, too, is great journalism. Surprise – even the latest Buzzfeed listicle can teach me as well as amuse me, if I pay attention. Deep reading teaches me about wording elegantly and clearly, but also about being convincing and about being interesting. I teach my students to do this by deconstructing news articles, humor columns and advertisements like they might in a literature class. By taking reading apart, they learn how they might put their own writing together to achieve similar success.
So although the reading on my immediate plate is 24 first-year research essays and a whole passel of student blog posts, summer beckons. Stretches of time and mental space to read widely and deeply. I can’t wait.