Reading – and how you can learn anything

There is nothing you can’t learn through reading. I myself have been reading up on writing recently (what a poetic sentence, don’t you think?). Writing of all sorts: from copywriting, to content writing, to short fiction writing. I even Googled ‘Haiku’, but I still don’t really understand this style of poems.


Reading up on things is not just for writers, even though there seems to be a natural correlation between the two activities (“the one implies the other”, a quasi-philosopher would say). But the reason I personally and particularly started reading up on writing was because writing is part of my job, and I wanted to become better at what I do.

Amongst other things, I started reading a book by the influential literary editor, Sol Stein. Though he talks about fiction, plot, narrative, and characters, the information can be applied to anything from composing adverts to newsletters.

Stein on Writing

Here are some things that he says – which are applicable to any kind of writing, really:

“Successful writing immerses the reader in heightened experience- emotional, intellectual, or both”


“Your entire story or novel may depend on that first sentence arresting the reader’s attention”

and very relevantly:

“By practice one learns to use what one has understood. Only writers, it seems, expect to achieve some level of mastery without practice”

Successful writing can help with various types of work that you might end up doing.

Think about it: what kind of job are you possibly going to get where you won’t have to write an occasional e-mail, proposal, report, or letter? And what about getting a job in the first place: if you can ”arrest the reader’s attention” with the first sentence of your CV’s cover letter, then you are already halfway there!

Pile of books

But what about getting ahead by reading about something else, besides writing? When I write about the College SA courses, I often find myself repeating the same sentiment when talking about building a successful career in business, wedding planning, or whatever else I’m discussing. “But if you want to become successful,” I will usually write, “you’ll need to read up on, and build knowledge of, [this] and [that] and [all these other things you might’ve thought were unrelated to your field].”

Okay, so let’s say you want to become a writer, for example:

To become successful, you’ll need to read up on and build knowledge of: marketing (to market yourself as a writer, a brand, an up-and-coming star); sales tactics (you are going to have to essentially ‘sell’ your book to a publisher); and working as a freelancer (there are few South African authors who can make a living from just writing novels).

If you are interested in self-publishing, you must essentially become your own agent, advertiser, and online marketing strategist. The most successful self-published authors know how to use the internet to advertise and sell their novels successfully. “Read up on e-commerce,” I’d say, “and how to sell your novel as an e-book on Amazon.”

Alternatively, you might want to start your own writing blog or online magazine as a sideline project, so you’ll need to learn how to do a bit of HTML coding, some basic layout and designing, as well as how to strategically employ SEO in your writing. (SEO = Search Engine Optimisation, which is a big part of what I do here at College SA. Go read up on it if you don’t know what it is).

The best way to become a well-rounded, multi-talented, and knowledgeable professional is to go and read up on all these things: HTML, graphic design, self-publishing, marketing, advertising, etc. And you don’t have to go buy books on each subject. There are other ways to source information.

Reading on laptop

What about taking a short course in web design through distance learning? Naturally, there will be a difference between reading up on Wikipedia, and using College SA’s study material – in terms of the depth, extent, quality, relevance, and reliability of the things that you’ll learn through your reading.

Now that I’ve segued into the topic of distance learning, there are many misconceptions about distance learning as opposed to going to a campus university. But I can tell you from experience that succeeding in your studies does not depend on classes, lecturers, and study buddies. Succeeding in your studies is all about reading.

While at university, I knew a lot of people who went to all their classes, but never picked up their textbooks, and thus went on to fail miserably. On the other end of the spectrum, I knew plenty of students who didn’t go to a single class, yet passed their courses with flying colours, because they read and reread their work zealously. Studying is all about reading.

To strengthen my point, I’ve even gone ahead and read up on the word ‘study’:

‘Study’ comes from the 12th Century Old French estudier, which meant “to apply oneself” and “show zeal”. The French word itself came from Medieval Latin studium, which originally meant “eagerness”.

The Old French phrase estudier was actually also used to describe the act of “reading a book or writing intently”. (If you Google Image search ‘study’, you’ll find pictures of people reading).


Distance learning itself, like any other form of learning, is all about reading and studying. It caters for those ambitious individuals who want to know more, learn more, read more, and get ahead in life.

Maybe, in light of this, I’ll even give up trying to Google-educate myself on things like ‘Haiku’, and rather just take one of our very own writing courses.