If girls are made with sugar and spice, great writing is made with lots of writing and lots of reading. Yeah, it doesn't sound as sexy as 'sugar and spice.' Oh well. Despite the lack of sexiness, I'm a firm believer that these are the two most powerful and basic ways to improve your writing.
The writing part is often the easier of the two, even when it's not easy. You know you want to write, so you set your goals and you sit down and you do it. It's harder to carve out the time to read. Mostly because when you already have other responsibilities and you're trying to carve out time to write, you feel pretty guilty carving out time to read too.
Many people greater than me have said it, "If you don't have time to read, you don't have time to write." (Actually it may have been Stephen King that said those exact words, but I'm sure he wasn't the first and won't be the last.)
I've decided this year, to track my reading progress. LJ is spotlighting a pretty cool little community that accomplishes this called:50 book challenge
The goal for members is to read 50 books in a year. My goal isn't 50 books exactly, but 50 novels. With nonfiction I rarely read every word. I tend to skim to the parts I really need the most. I also intend to keep track of the novels I read in a reader's journal I have, where I can write the books I read and review them and put the date, blah blah blah. (I know, I'm a big dork.)
I generally try to do my reading at the gym. I read while I'm walking on the indoor walking track. (And I don't bump into things...go me!) So I manage to do two things at once that a lot of people (women especially) seem to feel guilty doing for themselves, exercising and reading for pleasure.
As a side note and veering just a tiny bit, a lot of writers say they don't have time to go to the gym. I think it's important to try to take care of yourself and exercise is an big part of that. You know you need to read, you know you need to exercise, so go to the gym and read. Incidentally, you don't have to walk on the track to do it if that weirds you out; many bicycles and treadmills are set up for reading. Two birds, one stone. As Larry the Cable Guy would say: "Get er done!" Okay, I promise I will never use those words again.
Now go read!