Today’s advice is simple: Read everything, and reflect. For why I keep it that simple, keep reading (and for a longer, more editing-specific version, read the wise John McIntyre).
I grew up an eager reader, encouraged by my mother. I was also a quieter-than-normal kid. Well, my mind raced faster than I could communicate, so more of the time, I didn’t say much. So I read everything, observed everything, and filed it all away. That mountain of intake and information and perception was my base training, much like what an athlete undergoes before he or she can begin to think about competition.
To this day, there are things I vividly remember — facts or memories — with no rational reason. Then, something will occur that will spark that relevant thought, and I’m grateful for my memory. Only sometimes does it involve my job as a copy editor, but sometimes is immeasurably better than never.
And to this day, there are dozens — perhaps hundreds — of words in English (and Latin and German, etc.) that I understand and can use in writing, even though I’m unsure how to pronounce these words. That’s less important — to me, at least. I can still communicate in a lasting way with those words, and all the others I’ve learned (and forgotten).
After all this reading, the reflection is equally important. I think it allows some of the knowledge to sink in, be applied to your philosophies and life situation, and actually be worth the trouble. Reflection allows me to be able to take the random facts I have and apply them, concretely, productively and, above all, accurately. Reflection gives me a chance to find context, with the situation, the mood and the person or people I’m talking with or writing for.
I believe that only a lifetime of that has left me able to edit (and occasionally write) effectively, smartly and empathetically.
It’s the lack of reflection, not the lack of print reading, that worries me most about digital natives. An insurmountable problem? Not at all. But it’s one they’ll have to recognize before they can solve, and I’m not sure society will slow down long enough to help them see it.