When I heard it for the first time, I was puzzled. I don’t read books in the genre I’m writing, I’m afraid they would influence me. What? I didn’t understand. How can they write in the genre they don’t read? How do they avoid clichés? How do they know what works and what doesn’t work in that particular genre if they never read it? The statement didn’t make sense to me.
Then I looked at some of their writing. Well, I got answers to my questions. They didn’t avoid the clichés, and they weren’t very good in that genre. They didn’t seem to understand it.
I’m not saying all of what I’ve read was terrible. It wasn’t. Talent shows, after all. So do the long years of writing. It wasn’t unreadable (except when it was, but those were the cases of illiteracy, of reading nothing at all). It was just overdone to death, and in a much better way. The first thing that someone thinks of, the first idea someone gets, is the same idea countless others already had, and had already written about. The same goes with the second idea, and the tenth. By avoiding to read in our genre we fall into the trap of doing what was already done and, most likely, contributing nothing new.
If someone is extraordinarily gifted, I suppose it’s possible to reinvent the genre without reading the books of the same kind, or to invent a new subgenre. However, even that would go much easier if you’re already familiar with the genre, just as it’s easier to do anything if you know what you’re doing.
It is true that reading in the genre the author is writing would influence the writer, but that’s not a bad thing.Why would it be bad to be influenced by the masters of the craft, or to know what your contemporaries are doing? It helps the author learn how it’s done, and then it’s easier to do your own thing. The author’s unique voice is best heard after his or her skill was honed, and reading in one’s genre is a part of it.
How about you? Do you read in the genre you write?