I am a voracious reader. (How can one be a writer and not be a voracious reader?) I'll read most anything, from cereal boxes to novels, but I've recently been making a shift in my reading habits. Where I once read several magazines each week, along with several chapters of various novels and a few short stories, I've been making a conscious effort to read more short fiction.
It started with the realization that most of the magazines I read add little value to my life: Did I really need to read Esquire and GQ? Sorry, GQ I let your subscription lapse. Did I really need to read Newsweek now that it's an opinion magazine and no longer a news magazine? Sorry, Newsweek, I let your subscription lapse. I didn't actually cancel any subscriptions, I just let them lapse over the course of several months and realized I didn't really miss any of them.
But, like a junkie needing a fix, I had to fill that reading time with something. The solution: short fiction.
At least half the books in my to-be-read pile are anthologies--mostly crime fiction in its various sub-genres, but the pile also includes horror, science fiction, and fantasy--and, because I usually read in bed just before going to sleep, I've made it my goal to read a short story every night rather than a chapter of a novel.
I'm meeting my goal most nights. Some nights I'm too tired to read, a few novellas and novelettes get read over the course of two nights, and some nights I read two or three stories.
I've noticed this impacting my writing in two ways:
1) When I read a great deal of non-fiction I find that I incorporate things in my fiction that clearly doesn't come from my day-to-day life. For example, I'm more likely to set stories on beaches after reading several issues of Islands.
2) On the flip side, I find myself having a better feel for story structure after I've immersed myself in short fiction and my stories seem to have more depth and more complexity.
I don't know how long my dedication to reading at least one short story a day will last, but it's working for me right now.