It’s important for writers to read, and many writers make an annual reading list of what books to read.
But because I need to push myself to read, my overarching requirement is that the book interests me. This limits the range of what I read, which is not a good thing, but it’s better than not reading at all. So my first goal is to read what entertains me, or sometimes, what educates me.
My second goal is to identify what I like—so I can apply it to my own work—and don’t like—so that I can avoid it.
Third, I look at what keeps me turning pages and what tempts me to skim—or stop reading altogether. Again, this informs my own writing.
Fourth, I look for writing that confuses me. How would I edit that section?
Last, I listen to my editor’s internal commentary. Since I do a lot of editing as a periodical publisher, I can’t just turn off that part of my brain when I read—even though I try. Despite this, I remain mindful of the big issues: the flow of the work, the beginning, the end, the order of the chapters, and so forth.
As I do this, I’m vigilant about not emulating the author’s style or voice.