I had an odd moment while book shopping today. I stopped in at my local independent first and didn’t find a single one of the books on my wish list. I continued on to the used bookstore a few doors down and, it would seem, hit the jackpot. They had an Anna Kavan, a Gilbert Sorrentino, and several Paul Auster novels that I’ve been wanting to read.
But instead of the joyful sense of triumph that such finds generally provoke in me, I felt a mounting sense of panic. As I flipped through the books and read the back cover summaries, I began to feel as if everything I’ve ever wanted to write had already been written, as if all of the ideas that I fancy to be my most original had already been used up by more accomplished writers than me.
I suppose I could transform this moment into a positive—a sign that it’s time to act on the urgency I’ve been feeling lately to devote myself more seriously to my fiction. Perhaps I should even take a break from reading fiction for a bit while I concentrate on writing my own. Or at least take a break from reading the sort of experimental fiction that seems too close for comfort to the thing I’m currently attempting to write.
In the end I did put all the novels back on the shelf. I opted instead for a collection of poetry and two non-fiction books. Then I fled to the nearest coffee shop to comfort myself with tea and a chocolate dessert.
Questions for writers:
What do you read while you’re writing?
Do you feel the need to insulate yourself from books that you fear will prove too strong an influence?