Question - Whose work can you not read while reading your own?
Answer - Gillian Flynn.
I read Gone Girl a few weeks ago, and it's worth the hype. The book had me in its grip, dreaming its fictive dream, from the opening line to the very last page. (Like many others, I did not love the ending, but I respect its poetic logic.)
The problem: the protagonist, Amy, has a lot in common with the main character in my own work in progress.
Some writers can't read any fiction while writing, but that's not me. I can easily read books I love—even writers whose craft I want to emulate or learn from. I dissect the novel while I read, figure out which elements I can incorporate into my own writing, and often expand my work in progress as a result of a hugely enjoyable read.
After reading Chevy Stevens' Never Knowing, I was so impressed by how she made me sympathize with her bad guy that I emailed her demanding to know her secrets. (She's lovely; she actually responded with some tricks of her tradecraft.) But I could still write.
But ever since Gone Girl, I cannot get Amy out of my head. Which is particularly frustrating when I'm in Megan's head and I hear her talking in Amy's voice rather than her own.
Since I'm not willing to stop writing, and I refuse to admit defeat and change my own protagonist, here's what I do: when Amy creeps in, I take a hard look at Megan and note all the ways that they're different.
Yes, they're both high-strung, intense, wealthy Manhattanites. They both like nice clothes. They're both brilliant. But Amy is warm on the outside and cold and cruel inside. Megan is the opposite: cold outside; warm in. Amy is confident, Megan insecure. Amy's a writer; Megan's a scientist.
And focusing on their differences, I'm managing to push this character forward.
Still, I'll finish writing the first draft of this manuscript before I dive into Flynn's Sharp Objects.
Thanks so much to Hilary Davidson for inviting me to join this funky cast of characters at 7 Criminal Minds. I look forward to biweekly blogging here.