A writer must have read an enormous amount by the time he begins to write. I remember when I first wanted to be a writer, at the age of eighteen, just immersing myself in books—marauding forays I made at the Duke University library. I read everything I could get my hands on. I read promiscuously: I read poetry; I read drama; I read novel after novel. I read until I realized I was causing damage to my eyes. It was a kind of runaway lust.
The second thing is that you must love language. You must adore language—cherish it, and play with it and love what it does. You have to have a vocabulary. So many writers who disappoint me don’t have a vocabulary—they don’t seem to have much feeling for words.
Those are two of the most important things for a writer. The rest is passion and vision; and it’s important, I think, to have a theme. Melville said, probably in a grandiose way, To write a mighty book you must have a mighty theme. I do think there is something to that. You need not have a grandiose theme but you must have an important theme. You must be trying to write about important things, although a truly fine writer will deal with seemingly unimportant matters and make them transcendentally important.
—William Styron, The Paris Review, The Art of Fiction No. 156