Saturday, October 1, 2016

Read Before You Write

I started Week Two of my 'Drafting Against The Dark Arts' class with a story, and some simple but effective tips on reading.

Here's how it went:

And NO Pokemons allowed!

* * *

Sometime in my second year of practice, I was invited to be a guest writer for The Star in a column called ‘Putik Lada. It was then I suddenly noticed something disturbing. When I tried to write, my mind would just go blank. I was struggling to string simple sentences together. My vocabulary was limited to legalistic jargons, my style was boring.

To my horror, I realised that my writing skills had actually gotten worse since I started working as a lawyer. How is this even possible? I was drafting letters, affidavits and submissions on a daily basis.

Then the answer struck me. I couldn’t write well because I hadn’t been reading enough. So I started reading again, and true enough, my writing improved. Not just for The Star column, but also in my everyday legal work.

From that mini crisis, I picked up a few good reading habits. Today, I wish to share some with you. Here are three things to take note of: what to read, when to read, and how to read.

I can't write? That's impossible! NOOOOO!!!

1. What To Read

Being a busy lawyer, all I ever read was statutes, cases and legal documents. Those are not enough. You need to read the news and books. Time is short and precious, so choose wisely. Read more Huffington Post, less Elite Daily. Read more BBC, less The Star. The keywords here are quality, efficiency and diversity.

My personal favourite? The Economist. It’s informative and insightful. It’s comprehensive and concise. It packs a lot of stuff in a few pages, so it saves me a lot of time catching up with the latest developments in the world.

Don’t just read about law. Read about business, technology. Read about everything. Mix fiction and non-fiction. Bounce between American and British styles.

Read a lot, and read wisely.

2. When To Read

No matter how busy you are, you must make time to read. Some people are disciplined enough to set a regular reading schedule – before they sleep, on weekends, and so on.

But here’s something else you can try. Carry something to read wherever you go – a book, magazine or tablet (like me). Whenever you have time to kill in between activities, start reading. Taking the train to work? Read. Waiting at the airport? Read. Your friend’s late for lunch? Read. This trains you to read, regardless of your mood. In time, you’ll be able to read anything, anywhere, anytime. Reading then becomes second nature to you, like drinking water.

Make reading part of your daily life.

3. How To Read

Don’t just read blindly. Set goals. Treat it like exercise.

Start with easy goals, and gradually scale up. One book per month, two books per month, and so on. Yes, the more you read, the faster you will absorb things.

Your goals don’t need to be rigid. For instance, The Economist is a weekly magazine. Sometimes, the next issue comes out before I can even finish reading the previous issue. But that’s okay. Some weeks I’m busy, so I read less. Some weeks I’m free, so I read more. I just make sure I don’t fall too far behind. Being flexible keeps me on track.

So set clear reading goals, and stick to them.

Read up, punks!

I know, law involves so much reading, so the last thing we want to do is read in our free time. But reading doesn’t need to be boring and taxing. Just like exercising, reading can be quite enjoyable, if you do it right.

Always remember: to be good at writing, you first need to be good at reading.

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