Over the years, the most common advice I've heard editors and authors give aspiring writers about how to get published is to read, read, read. I didn't fully appreciate the notion until I began the Vermont College MFA in Writing for Children program.
Reading? I remember thinking as I reviewed the requirements for the degree. They want to give me a degree for writing and reading? Cool.
Didn't take me long to realize why reading is crucial to any writer's success. Reading trains our inner editor. With each book, we deepen our understanding of plot and character, and internalize the poetry of prose and the rhythm of story. In this way, our writer's heart learns how to listen with an editor's ear.
There's an upside and a downside to reading books this way. The downside is that once you've trained your editor's ear, reading for pleasure without analyzing what's working--or not--is damn near impossible. The upside is anything you read will inform your writing, and increase your chances of escaping the slush pile.
With this principle in mind, I pledged to keep an ongoing reading log after graduation. My total since last July: 65 books, mostly novels.
Not bad considering the year we've had, and that fact that I read after the girls go to bed, which means a book had better be good in order to compete with Monk, Lost, Buffy reruns, or the urge to crawl under the covers.
My reading goal for next year: to increase my total by at least half, and to keep better notes about each book.