But, truth be told, the reading turned out not to be something extra (let alone extraneous) but essential. Here's how I think of it.
Reading is medicine for the writer.
What ails you? Weak characterization? Slow plot? Wimpy diction? There's a remedy for that... if you know what to read.
I've been thinking about this lately because I had the change to read Nance Van Winckel's collection of linked short stories, Boneland. (Get it from Amazon HERE.) Nance was an advisor of mine while I attended VCFA and I have long been impressed by her short stories and poetry (if you ever have the chance to hear her read... do it! She's a great reader as well as a great writer.)
These stories are wonderful. Whatever it is you are struggling with in your craft, whatever it is you need a reminder of... this collection is the right prescription. There is nothing better for a writer than to pick up a wonderful book and think: oh, yes... this is how it should be done!
There were many craft points that inspired me as I read (though I don't want to overemphasize this because Boneland impresses for other reasons: the stories are captivating!) but I kept being drawn to Nance's metaphors. What beautiful comparisons. It made me go back to the manuscript I have been working on and examine what I had done... did I even have metaphors? Were any of them good?
And that's what, as a writer, I love about reading: it not only entertains me as I get involved in the story but also inspires me to do better in my own craft.