How can you possibly become a writer if you don’t read?!?!
The thought of people writing as if they live in a vacuum where no other writers exist (or could possibly have similar interests) just blows my freakin’ mind. Sure, you might be worried that your stuff will become derivative if you read other people’s work too closely (which is a lame excuse, if you ask me). Sure you might "be too busy" to read extensively (which is a slightly better excuse, but only just…) But there is always time to read SOME things!
And what about research? How can you do research for your work if you never bloody well read anything that anyone else has written?
How can you know what works in a story, and what doesn’t, if you never read anything?
I’m not trying to suggest that you should use reading as a means of not writing. It’s easy to fall into that trap (trust me, I’m an expert on that procrastination manoeuvre), but, frankly, that’s a risk you’ll just have to take if you want to see what’s going on in the writing world, or if you want to establish your own corner within it.
For example, I was speaking to someone today about Connie Willis’s The Doomsday Book — which is a book that all members of our writing group were supposed to have read for today’s meeting. Everyone has known for the past 6 months that we were going to be discussing this novel today. Six freaking months. And how many people (out of 12) had read the book? Three. I felt like I was sitting in a first-year English tutorial! "Sorry, ma’am, but I didn’t do the reading because I was [insert lame-ass excuse here]."
So then I was talking to this person about the parallel depictions of illness in DB and this person became distraught when s/he discovered that the novel is about time travel and the plague. "What?!?" s/he cried. "But that’s what I’m writing about!" Now, I’m not trying to suggest that everyone should have an encyclopaedic knowledge of every work that has ever been written before their own, and I’m by no means trying to say that people can’t write stories or novels that deal with similar (or even identical) themes. Ask two people to write about time travel and the plague, and you will get two very different pieces. That’s hunky-dory as far as I’m concerned.
But to act like the world has ended because you’ve discovered that someone has written about a topic before you have–when you have had 6 months’ notice that you were supposed to read about exactly that topic (and when the book itself was written 16 years ago!)–really gives me the shits.
OK. Enough vitriol. Rant over. 😉