You don't have to anything, of course. But man, if you're not reading, you're missing out. I can't tell you how many epiphanies I had about writing upon reading something bloody spectacular. The latest of them, Faulkner.
I didn't know you could write like this.
Read this phrase again.
I DIDN'T KNOW YOU COULD WRITE LIKE THIS.
You see what's happening here? The more great shit you read, the more ways of writing you'll see. Now, why is it important? It's important because when you're starting out to write, you're uncertain. You don't know how to go about it. You have these ideas and this drive to do it, but you're scared out of your mind. And you don't dare at first to write like you. You know why? Because you don't know "the rules" and so you don't know if you're breaking them.
Rules, rules. Fuck rules. "The rules" I'm talking about here are the ways of writing you see. It's how we learn the language. We hear and we repeat. Same here. We read and we copy. After all, there are only so many ways of saying the same stuff over and over again, and all stories are the same. What's not the same is how you write them.
Until you can boldly charge forward giving zero fucks about what people might think about you or your writing or your books, you've got to get some confidence. And how do you get it? By reading. It's freeing seeing someone else do what you only thought about doing. I mean, if you don't read, how the hell do you intend to grow?
I read the first page of The Sound and the Fury and I put the book down and I stared into space for a long time. Here I was, freaking out about having to explain to my readers the way my characters look and how old they are and what they think and feel and where all the stuff that happens to them happens, and here is William Faulkner back from the dead showing me that I DON'T NEED TO DO ANY OF IT. The fact is, the reader will catch on!
It blew my mind, or whatever is left of it, as it gets blown quite often. I feel like with every new book that shows me new ways to write I get to the very bones of my own writing. It gets stripped to the wheels and cogs and springs of its machinery and I start seeing how it works. Wouldn't you want to offer your kidney for this? To know how you write? Well, relax, you don't need to. Just read like mad, and you'll see it.
All the different ways of writing you have ever learned in school you will happily unlearn while reading and then you will learn your own ways. That's the best part. You yourself have your own way of saying things. Why else would anyone want to read your stuff? It'd be so boring if we were all the same. And yet often you have no clue how to unlock it inside yourself, and so you get frustrated and blocked, and you hate your manuscript and yourself and the world, and you don't know how to get out of this mire.
It's like a treasure hunt. Rowling taught me that you can use as many adverbs as you want to. King taught me that you can start right in the middle of action. Chekhov taught me that the absurd is funny. Dahl taught me that you can be nasty and funny at the same time. Jansson taught me that simple writing is beautiful. Hemingway taught me that I don't need fancy words. And now Faulkner is teaching me that I don't need to anything. I don't need to describe or explain or stick to one time or to one setting or to watch out for repetitions or write grammatically correct sentences. NOTHING. You know how freeing this is? Yeah. I'm floating like a fucking balloon right now, taking off into sky.
Read anything and everything that hits you in the face with something new to learn. If it doesn't, don't waste your time, toss it and go read something else. There are so many books out there, you hardly have time in your life to find all that speak to you and to you only. I don't believe in this thing some people say, that you have to read wide, read both good and bad books. Fuck bad books. I can't read bad books. They makes me depressed. If the book doesn't fire that zing up my ass to make me want to write, why the hell read it? And the more good books I read, the pickier I get, and it's wonderful, absolutely wonderful to read something that amazes you. It's like a high you get, like the best drug.
So read, girls and boys, read like mad, read till blood pours out of your nose. Don't worry. You can use it later as ink. That's what I do. Yes, all my books are written in blood. You didn't know?? Go open one, scratch it and stiff it and tell me I'm wrong. I will eat you alive.