I love reading. I read on the subway, before I go to sleep, while waiting for various appointments―all the time! I read both fiction and nonfiction in a variety of genres. I'm not the fastest reader, but I'm always reading something. Not only do I read for education and entertainment, but also because reading other people's work makes me a better writer.
Reading good writing is inspiring and educational. When I run across a clever turn of words, or a vivid description that makes me feel like I'm right there with the characters, it motivates me to create a similar effect in my own work. When an author does a great job of developing a protagonist, I want to do the same with mine.
I learn from other authors by experiencing the impact of their work firsthand, i.e. as the reader. For example, if you react strongly to a particular scene, ask yourself why. Is it because the author uses a lot of details? Or does the dialogue ring true? Are there a lot of colors? Smells? Actions? Emotions? All of the above? There's no exact formula for writing a great story, just a lot of potential ingredients that - if mixed together correctly - could result in something special.
Reading a book you don't like can also help you improve for the same reason, just flipped around. Why don't you like it? What does the author do that bothers you? Pay attention to the answers, and then ask yourself if you do the same things in your own writing.
Writing is hard work, and it takes a lot of time to complete an entire book. I recognize that for many authors the idea of spending more time with words on a page, especially ones that aren't your own, might be the last thing you want to do. But I promise it's worth it.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This blog post originally appeared on CreateSpace.com. Reprinted with permission. © 2014 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.