Noir and mystery writer Max Allan Collins, who you probably know from Road to Perdition (the graphic novel that was adapted into a Tom Hanks / Jude Law movie), wrote an essay for BoingBoing today on a question he’s asked a lot: “Who do you read?”
The whole essay’s worth reading, but a particular piece caught my eye. Collins follows his friends’ work, and books by authors he liked before he “turned pro” (as he puts it). But since he tends to ape the style of people he reads, while he’s reading them, he avoids new authors. The authors who influenced him as a child, well, he’s already absorbed so much of their style that he feels reading them yields no ill effect.
Something about this rings true to me. A writer’s reading is like an athlete’s diet. When you read a story, you smelt it in your mind, with your experience, into new stories. I don’t avoid new writers, but I do try to be conscious of what I’m reading, and how it affects the choices I make. If nothing else, the books I read while writing dramatically affect the type the editing the prose requires. My current project bears too much of Infinite Jest’s imprint, I can already tell – editing this prose will be a struggle to make it mine.