This question was posed elsewhere, and responses were quick to make fun of mandatory reading, and of “Reading The Classics”. I, on the other hand, propose a different answer.
There is no have to. Do I look like your abuela? But here is what you should do, in order to improve:
Read widely. Read deeply. Read the critically-acclaimed successes. Read the high-selling works the critics declaimed as Trash or Merely Pulp.
Read the dime store novels, the here today and gone tomorrow that had brilliant vivid covers on the truck stop spinner racks and now lurk in piles at the used bookstore with dogeared pages and cracked spines that show they were read and re-read.
Read other genres. Follow the late and much loved Dave Wolverton (David Farland)’s advice and research deeply something you don’t think you’ll be interested in. Read scientific papers. Read industry trade rags for industries you’re not in. Read biographies. Read fanfiction. Read Appendix N.
Is it impossible to achieve success without this? Of course not. If you do this, will you automagically succeed? Hah! Don’t we all wish we knew The Way To Assured Success?
What it will give you is a huge and ever-growing foundation of ideas, of words in action to interest, excite, and inform you. Words that astound you, entrance and bedazzle you, and fill your mind’s eye with places that never were, and the people completely unlike you in jobs you’ve never done who were larger and more real than life, with situations and cultures, items and economies, worlds and possibilities…
And a much former grasp on the markers of your favourite genre, because you’ve seen how it’s grown, changed, and explored its limits.
I have known garage bands who never had a classical music education who came up with some really great music. They couldn’t tell me why, because they lacked the technical vocabulary that thousands of years of music offers.
I have known garage bands that never studied music outside the things they grew up listening to on the radio, who were utterly frustrated with the limits of the popular style… but because they didn’t seek out and experience music or training beyond their scene, they were fumbling in the dark and failing to reinvent the wheel from scratch.
I have known bands working the club scene and ampitheatres that had members with a classical music background, and the audience thought they were amazing, fresh and new and completely unexpected… because they were adding Things From Elsewhere into the current expected style.
Why is Sabaton incredibly popular in a way that transcends the metal scene? Because first off, they’re really good musicians. Second, because they know their martial history. That’s well outside the genre norms, and adding the unexpected to the comforting and familiar, and doing it well, makes them amazing.
So seek out bold new words… in the history of your favourite genres, and well outside them.