I started writing, like, actually writing with the intent of finishing a novel, a little over two years ago. Yeah, I’m kind of a noob, but that’s okay ‘cause it works in my favor sometimes. You see, before I started writing, I didn’t read a whole lot. A topic I’ve already covered. Short story: The shit I had to read in school bored me and I didn’t know people wrote novels I wanted to read until much later.
Things changed when I started writing, though. I like to think of myself as having a bare minimum not-quite-stupid level of intelligence and the sponge residing in my cranial cavity told me something. Before you ask, it’s not an actual sponge. No, it’s more like a coral reef kind of thing. Either way, it’s alive and it talks to me.
So, the sponge said, “Hey, dumbass, if you’re going to write books, don’t you think you should read them too?”
To which I replied, “Why?”
“So you don’t sound on paper like the dumbass you are in real life, dumbass.”
The sponge is very fond of calling me dumbass. It’s like a cute pet name, only slightly less cute and less puke inducing. You know what I mean, Snookums?
The sponge had a valid point. How could I expect to string together words in a coherent way if I never actually read words strung together coherently? To satiate the sponge’s constant nagging as to my semi-illiteracy I started reading while I was also writing.
And now I come to my point. If I had read as much as I have now, I would never have finished my first book or any thereafter. Crippling paranoia of copying someone else’s work would have killed me deader than dead right on the spot. I find when reading it’s natural to compare to things you know, for reference sake, I guess. It’s set in space like Serenity or it’s about people trapped on an island like Gilligan, or it about bloodthirsty investment bankers that do blow off the wombs of maiden hyenas to retain their poster-boy good looks like Wolf on Wall Street. Disclaimer: I’ve never actually seen that last one, I’m just filling in blanks from what I saw in the trailer.
Comparing as a viewer is totally fine. It helps you define what you like. For example, Book F sounds a lot like book R. I really liked Book R so therefore I would also, probably, enjoy Book F. As a creator, comparing wreaks havoc on the fucking process. I start to write a scene and then I get all, “Man, that’s just like that one scene in Book F. Fuck my life.” *Slams delete key with all the anger of a thousand political talk show hosts*
The reason I bring this up is: I started reading a book, Devil You Know, it’s a good book that so far is very enjoyable. It’s about a witty, down-on-his-luck exorcist who has been retired for over a year and takes a job to help out a friend. My debut novel, Beasts of Burdin (Out February 10th, preorder today!) is about a witty, down-on-his-luck demon hunter who has been retired over a year and takes a job to help out his brother.
Sound similar? Yup.
Did I steal anything from Devil You Know? Nope. I hadn’t even heard of it when I started writing Burdin. But, I had heard of it then, instead of now, I can promise Burdin would have been a completely different book.
Now, I have a little more confidence in my creative abilities. I know that there are always going to be similar stories to what anyone writes; there are no new ideas, only new ways of telling them, and all that jazz. I also trust my integrity to never steal a person’s work or ideas. Sure, some things influence me. I see a powerful story and think, “Man, I want to write like that,” and possibly try to incorporate some elements of what I like into my style.
So in a short way, being ignorant of other books has helped my writing. Would I suggest an aspiring writer stop reading? Fuck no. Go read a book. Preferably mine. Not for literary content though. I’m still pretty bad at writing, obviously.