What are you reading?
One of the questions I'm most commonly asked -- and I'm sure I'm not alone in this -- is what do I read? What do I recommend?
Depending whether the asker is asking as a reader or a writer, my answers are different. If they're asking as a reader wanting to know what books I love, I give them my latest favorites I think they might enjoy, too. But when a writer is asking that question . . .
In general, I suggest reading everything you can get your hands on. But that's not exactly practical, so I like to narrow it down to a few categories, and I suggest adjusting the ratio of each to what you're writing, and what you're trying to learn.
1. Popular books
Study these books for what the authors did that makes huge numbers of people want to read them. Is it the premise? Plot? Characters? Something is happening in those pages that makes people recommend it over and over, and if you can identify what's attracting them, you can use it in your own writing.
2. Award winners / books with all the stars / books librarians push on anyone and everyone
Same deal as above, but these are the books librarians are putting in the hands of readers. Some of the books that had the biggest impact on my reading life, as a pre-teen and teen, were books that my school librarians gave me.
These come with strong recommendations from people who know books, so study what it is that makes these books so significant. Use the tools you learn from these and make your own books stronger.
3. Books out of your comfort zone
One of the more useful things friends had me do early on in my writing education was get me to read literary novels, spy novels, and romances -- types of books I didn't usually pick up on my own. It didn't matter whether I liked the books they assigned; I was supposed to learn from them, and figure out how to take what I liked/admired and apply it to my stories. The lessons I learned from those books were invaluable and absolutely made me a better writer.
Stretch yourself. Read books that make you uncomfortable. Read books that challenge you. Read widely.
4. Books you love
This should be obvious, but read the books you want to read. If you love reading fantasy, read more fantasies. If you love reading detective novels, read more detective novels. Learn from them, of course, but these are the books that will help you refill your creative well. Chances are, they're what made you want to write in the first place, and it's important to remind yourself of that. Reward yourself.
And hopefully, with all this wide reading you're suddenly doing, you'll find even more types of books to love.
So, what are you reading?