The necessity of reading if one is aspiring to become a writer is not a new one. Stephen King famously quoted, “If you don’t have the time to read, then you don’t have the tools or the time to write.”
But what should aspiring writers be reading? How does one read like a professional?
Step One: Read within Genre
If you love mystery then you best educate yourself on that genre. If historical fiction is your thing then you better read the best (and worst) that the historical fiction game has to offer. You need to read the titans of your projected niche. If you do not know who these people are, well then Dew Drop, you have some studying to do. Start at the letter “A” in your local library’s mystery section (if that is your bag) and work forward from there.
Step Two: Read without Genre
A well written story is not beholden to category, and neither should you be. If something has won a Nebula or a Man Booker Prize or a Pulitzer then it might be worth a gander. It is self-limiting and a bit ridiculous to say that you “don’t read fantasy” for example. Most books have something to teach, even if it is to further refine your distaste. By reading outside your comfort zone you stretch your literary palate and while you might not always appreciate the taste, having tried what an author has to offer will broaden your education.
Step Three: Don’t Read Novels (all the time)
Writing long form prose is a certain skill, and while some think in novels others play better within the realm of short story, or flash fiction. Good stories are good stories and it will refresh your creative mind to consume other sorts of prose. This also means listen to literature. Attend some theater. Play an audio book. Get a sense for how words sound as well as appear on page.
Step Four: Consume Poetry
Poetry is the leanest form of wordcraft, structured to elicit an emotional or thoughtful response with a minimum of fatty prose. A poet creates with a specificity and attention that would put most novelists to shame. Learn what is possible along the full spectrum of literature.
Someone reading this entry might just boil down the theme to read everything. And they would not be wrong. That being said, splitting up the process to component parts is useful, and helps the aspiring writer or educated reader discover where there are holes. On that note, go forth and read something that makes you slightly uncomfortable. You might thank yourself later.