Making a living as a freelance writer requires that you’re skilled at stringing words together.
But there’s another skill that’s equally important in helping you become a stronger and more efficient wordsmith.
This skill is something we practice from an early age and are encouraged to do.
It’s something we more often associate with pastime and pleasure; an activity we can do in our down time to escape the rigours of our everyday life, rather than improve it.
Active Reading For The Freelance Writer
Of course, in reality, it can help us do both. But when your goal is to make a living as a freelance writer, you should view this skill in a new way, and learn to cultivate and strengthen it – so that it might also enhance and protect the foundations of your career.
So, what is this magic skill that can have such a positive effect on your freelance writing career if you do it right?
The ying to a writer’s yang, reading is essential for growing, learning, and improving as a writer; especially if your way with words is your bread-and-butter.
But how can you make sure you’re doing it effectively?
Focus on ‘active reading’ – a catchall term for how to read better, smarter, and more intelligently.
Implement the advice I share, and you’ll soon squeeze every last drop of productivity from your reading habits.
1) Build Reading Into Your Routine
Making a living as a freelance writer is hard and complicated. There are a lot of tasks you need to do such as pitching, marketing, following up with clients, and of course, writing.
All these skills are equally important to master so that you can keep the cogs of your freelance writing machine running smoothly – and you need to treat the power of reading with the same reverence.
By carving out deliberate time for reading, you’re treating it with an appropriate level of respect and psychologically hardwiring yourself to view it as an essential task.
It might not be possible or practical to engage in reading a book every day, but aiming to finish a certain number of books per week or month will help you set reading targets you can accomplish.
Figure out a time and place you can read undisturbed – for me, that’s usually in my kitchen, first thing in the morning and away from online distractions. Soon you’ll be reading like a pro.
2) Read Widely But Usefully
it’s important to read from different genres, topics, and perspectives to help you grow as a writer.
Reading widely rather than sticking to one subject will help infuse your writing with colour and vitality, as well as help your brain make new connections between disparate ideas so that you can think in conceptually broader terms.
These abilities will help advance your freelance writing career and allow you to easily over-deliver to your clients.
However, developing a reading system is just as crucial as being open to learning from anything and everything you read.
Before you dive headlong into a new reading project, ask yourself: How did I come into contact with this book? What do I hope to gain from reading it? Why do I think it will help me achieve my goals?
A quick glance at the table of contents will help you get a good feel for the structure of a book, and that way you can go straight to the most relevant parts for you (and move on to a different book if there aren’t any!).
3) Read Because It’s Good For You
I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that if you are involved in making a living as a freelance writer, you’re already pretty smart.
But did you know that developing a strong reading habit is proven to make you smarter? Beyond that, there’s also evidence to suggest it’ll make you happier.
In addition to speeding up your cognitive skills and increasing your critical thinking power, the act of reading will ramp up your levels of empathy, emotional intelligence, and help reduce stress.
Reading also forces you to focus for a sustained period, improving your attention span while simultaneously giving other ideas and abstract thoughts from your subconscious the chance to float to the top of your mind.
In short, there are many healthy upsides to nurturing a varied and active reading habit.
4) Read Smarter, Not Harder
The adage ‘work smarter, not harder’ has gained a lot of traction in the digital age.
It’s an attractive idea, particularly for those of us looking to thrive in the new economy and continue making a living as a freelance writer.
The same principle applies to reading – there’s a smart way to do it that’ll help you get the best from it.
There’s more value in a sustained reading habit if you can actually apply what you’ve learnt. One way to engage in active reading to regulate your learning is to devise a reading schedule, and stick to it.
Much like writing, you’ll find that it’s easier to fall into a steady rhythm if you read at the same time, in the same place, and for the same number of hours.
5) Read and retain
The frequency of your reading is up to you, but I’d suggest setting weekly if not daily routines. Practice keeping a reading journal – this will help you keep track of what you’ve read, as well as make note of what you’d like to read in the future.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll already have a pretty substantial ‘to be read’ pile, and you don’t even need to *think* about buying any new books until sometime after the year 3000… but you will anyway!
A reading journal is also a great place to expand on any notes that you make in the margins, or favourite passages that you want to quote from or go back to later on.
Don’t be afraid to make notes, use highlighters, and seek to clarify any chapters or sections (or even words) that you don’t fully understand.
Books – just like any in-depth content – serve us best when they’re fully absorbed and digested, so whether your reading is physical or digital, make no bones about leaving your copy well-thumbed.
I hope this post gives you food for thought on why active reading is an essential skill when you’re trying to make a living as a freelance writer.
For more on the subject, check out Lisa Bu’s TED Talk on how books can open your mind, or my list of 10 books that’ll make you a better freelance writer.
Do you have reading habits that you incorporate into your freelance writing career? Let us know in the comments!