At the beginning of the quarter, we decided our quarterly goal would be to achieve a professional and personal goal. Goals have ranged from learning to speak Spanish again to dropping a few pounds for the summer to mine: learning to love to read again.
I used to stay up way past my bedtime as a little girl, flashlight in hand so that my parents didn’t know that I was awake, reading anything I could get my hands on. But then in college, where I studied English and journalism, and now in a career that requires large amounts of reading and writing, I have realized reading had become something I wasn’t necessarily choosing to do, but something I had to do. While I think I have become a better reader and writer, I noticed that I had stopped reading fiction—the type of writing that had kept me up late at night, lost in my own imagination.
But, good news for me is that reading is a muscle and it can be easily built back up. As I selected books to read this quarter, I tried purposely to steer away from the nonfiction that usually crowds my bookshelf, and carefully selected a few books that would stretch my mind creatively. I found that creative outlet in The Secret History by Pulitzer-Prize winner Donna Tartt. The book, which details the moral downfall of several Classics students on the campus of a small liberal arts campus, is a true page-turner—it was compelling, had intricate character development and more than one plot twist.
Tartt’s book had me up a few late nights, just like in the good ol’ days, but what I noticed in my work at the office surprised me. Words seemed to flow from my head to the page more smoothly when I was writing for clients and story angles seemed easier to formulate. Reading fiction for fun enhanced my PR skills and increased the quality of my work:
Reading fiction is inherently a creative process. It requires the reader to imagine settings, get acquainted with characters and anticipate plot developments. Flexing creative muscles with the guidance of a skilled author has made it easier to use those creative muscles on the job. Having a brain that’s ready to conjure up story ideas, imagery and innovative marketing strategy is part of any PR professional’s day—reading creative writing makes that job a little bit easier.
When reading fiction, you pick up on character voices. In The Secret History, students come from across the country to attend an elite college in the Northeast. The way each character spoke said something about where they came from. The dialect, tone and attitude of a character from California were different than of a character from the Northeast. Similarly, in PR, it’s important to understand a client’s voice and how it differs from another client, or even a competitor, especially as our job often requires us to switch gears frequently from one client to the next. It’s probably the most critical part of building a client’s brand and telling their story.
It may seem counterintuitive to say that a book well over 500 pages was written with brevity. What I refer to is the style of Tartt’s writing. Her sentences are succinct and to the point, void of flowery language. While easy to read, her writing doesn’t sacrifice character or plot detail. This concept easily translates into writing pitches, press releases or columns for clients. Often the most powerful sentences are those that have been finely tuned with only the most necessary words.
I’ve noticed that in the hectic daily life of someone working in public relations, reading takes dedication. But, the rewards are numerous. I’ve been intentional about relaxing with a good book by a talented writer, and have also been able to learn from osmosis what good writing looks like.