Invariably, good writers are also good readers. I can see why one could argue the irony that one of the most basic tips to set you off on a successful literary career, and yet one of the most important of all, doesn’t really involve much writing at all.
However, we need to learn to see writing as a craft, just like carpentry or cooking. What does every apprentice do before striking off on their own? They first follow the master and observe. An apprentice cook must first observe the master chef to learn just how much salt goes into a soup to enhance the flavor and not spoil it, not more and not less, just as the reader learns not to abuse metaphors and similes in a book by an experienced writer.
Writing is no different. As beginning (or even experienced) writers, we must constantly observe what the masters did. Our mind absorbs the techniques of their hands as they lovingly make art out of a lifeless canvas. Reading provides such a mentorship.
Not only does reading show us what good writing looks like, it helps develop a criteria to guide our inner writer throughout the writing process. A ship without a compass is bound to wreck sooner or later, maybe not during the first draft, maybe not in the second, perhaps it’ll happen in the rewriting or the editing stages. Having a good eye for what makes good writing is like developing a good ear for music.
So start picking up good books that will not only teach you how to write but will inspire you and remind you of why you got into this in the first place. Let the masters guide you on your path to discovering your own voice.
You don’t have to pander to a certain intelligentsia either. Your reading doesn’t have to be confined to the more literary authors such as Hemingway, Capote or García Marquez (please do read them, however!). You can find good writers doing valuable work in different genres such as romance, self-help or travel. Read whatever your inner voice tells you to!
By all means, read within the genre you want to write in, but don’t constrain yourself to it. You’ll find that a varied reading diet is the healthiest. Just like eating nothing but tomatoes can’t be good for you, so too
As free as you are in reading, so too shall you be free in writing!