Occasionally, you hear writers say they never read the work of other authors, especially writing in the same genre as they are, and especially if they’re currently in the process of writing a book themselves. The reason given is usually that they are afraid of being influenced, whether consciously or unconsciously, by the other writer’s work. It’s a fear that originality may be somehow diminished, or that a kind of helpless plagiarism may happen, which will then destroy their own literary integrity. Underlying this is perhaps an even deeper fear: that they may discover that those other writers’ books are actually vastly better, leading to a major paralysis in imagination and the feeling that as they’ve said it all anyway, why bother?
I understand those feelings—the writing life is quite often competitive, stressful, and prey to many fancies and fears–but I don’t share them. Partly, it’s because of the way I write: a process of complete and utter immersion. When I’m writing, I’m completely in the story, nothing else figures or intrudes, I’m away with the fairies. It quite blanks out anything going on around me–to the great frustration—and delight– of my children when they were growing up. My daughter says she could have asked for a huge rise in pocket money when I was in the middle of writing and I’d have said, Yes, dear, whatever you want, vaguely; and my youngest, our musician son, loves to tell the story of the day he’d spent an entire morning practicing drums loudly upstairs, and when he came down for lunch, and I emerged blinking from my work, I asked him brightly what he’d been doing all morning! I genuinely had not heard him at all. Equally, this immersion seems to blank out what I’ve been reading—perhaps because writing is such a different process to reading, perhaps because that’s the ‘safety switch’ that clicks on in my mind when I start to write. [Read more…]