Jenn Ashworth tells us why all writers should read.

Acclaimed novelist Jenn Ashworth tells Cuckoo why all writers should learn to love their library cards.

My first, last and most important piece of advice for any writer or would-be writer is to read. People are going to tell you this all the time – and it’s for a whole bunch of reasons. Here are a few of them.

Read what you love – it will remind you of that excitement and sense of magic that made you want to be a writer in the first place. It will nourish your spirit when things are going badly and the writing is tough. And it will be tough, a lot of the time. You’ll need the imaginary friends and worlds you find in books to comfort you.

Read what you don’t love and work out what you don’t like. Subject matter, style, technique, setting, or something else? Finding out what you don’t like helps you develop your own voice, as it emerges. And studying something that didn’t immediately grab you might help you uncover its hidden gems.

Read the best – the classics, the well reviewed, the prize winners, the controversial, the experimental, the overhyped and the famous. Writing and literary culture is a conversation. You don’t turn up to a party and shout about your own news without asking anyone else a question (or if you do – stop it, because its boring).

Writing is the talking part of the conversation, and reading is listening. Listen to what’s going on right now. Read reviews. Find out who is trying to do something bold or interesting or experimental with the form you want to work in. Learn from them.

Read outside your form. Sticking to YA or poetry or film scripts or novels or short stories narrows your education and your ability to imagine options for yourself as a writer. What if you’re not a novelist, but a poet? What if you’re a short story writer in the making, but a radio drama script teaches you exactly what you need to know about pace and characterisation through dialogue? What if you’re not a fantasy writer, but a crime writer, and you just never gave yourself chance?

Read widely. Read humbly. Listen. Learn from everything. Read.