So the question is whether we can read fiction while we're writing fiction; specifically when we're elbow deep in our first drafts.
I've read lots of writer interviews where people say they don't read while they write. It's always struck me as peculiar (and "peculiar habits of writers" is a strong field). Because I'm always writing. If I didn't read when I wrote, I'd never read. And if writing came at the cost of reading I know which I'd ditch. I'd stop this lark as quick as I stopped studying literature, once I twigged that I'd never enjoy a novel again.
The short answer is yes. I can and do. I've written half of a first draft so far this year and read thirteen books, eleven of them fiction.
I couldn't read absolutely anything. P.G. Wodehouse is far too infectious. Raymond Chandler is too - but I'm not tempted to re-read Chandler the way I'm drawn back to old Pelham Grenville, because Chandler never wrote: "The least thing upset him on the golf course. He missed short putts because of the uproar of butterflies in the adjoining meadows".
|What are you wearing, Dr House?|
Which makes me careful to weed them out when I come down with a dose.
The biggest pitfall I've found in combining reading and writing is when you read something so perfect and brilliant and effortless that you get a case of the "why bothers". It's happening right now. I'm reading Kate Atkinson's A God in Ruins and when I come back to my own half-born first draft I pep myself up by saying to it: "oh blah blah blah. What's the point?"
Luckily, I answer myself by saying "the point is it's due in on the 30th of June and you've banked the advance". And I can cheer myself up with the thought that I only need to write two thousand words and then I can read Atkinson again at lunchtime.