When you’re elbow deep in a first draft, can you read other fiction, or does it mess with your own writing?
This is a good question, and I’ll be eager to hear what other writers have to say about it. I think my response would have been different, or more emphatic with the first book in the Dani O’Rourke series, when my protagonist’s voice was less mature; that is, when she hadn’t yet become a thoroughly embedded persona in my head. There were books that might have swayed my own writing, and I knew it instinctively. So, I didn’t read any female narrators, light or humorous stories, anything set in San Francisco or the art world. I have a hunch the fear some new writers have of having their own ideas stolen in the marketplace is a projection of their own concerns that they will unconsciously “steal” from someone else. It may happen in small or large ways, but the more you write, the more you realize that five people can take the same premise and write five entirely different stories.
I’m glad I made that choice to avoid reading other crime fiction while I was working on my first draft because I was forced to dig deeper into my own head for character, plot, setting. I hope I wasn’t echoing anyone I admired while I was figuring out how Dani O’Rourke would react, think, and protect herself emotionally and physically. However, having written the third in the series (Mixed Up with Murder, out February 2), I’m a lot better connected to my own fiction. I am grounded, as a writer, in the world I’ve created.
I will say, though, that if it’s a writer I particularly admire who has a strong voice of her or his own, I may shy away from reading until I’ve finished the first draft, not so much for concern that I’ll start mimicking as that I’ll get so caught up in that good book that my own manuscript will suffer in my head from the comparison and I’ll get discouraged. So Catriona’s latest is usually on my this-will-be-a-reward TBR, as are Terry Shames’, Sara Paretsky’s, Tim Hallinan’s and a handful of other crime fiction writers whose work always pleases me.