23 April 2012

Read-alikes, a.k.a. Confidence Destroyers

For my recent trip I wanted to buy new books to read on the incredibly long flight. Since I'm having such fun with my work in progress, I tried to find a few read-alikes that would keep me in the correct mindset. A read-alike is a book that is similar in some way, ie. the same genre, same tone (humorous? dark?) same theme, whatever. Supposedly if you like one, you'll like the other.

Now I have some advice: Never, ever read read-alikes to your own project before that project is finished.

I haven't even started reading the book I bought and I'm already intimidated. It's A Certain Ambiguity by Gaurav Suri and Hartosh Singh Bal, and it's about two people attempting to discover if there is absolute certainty in either mathematics or life. And okay, that's not exactly like my current project, but I was looking for mysteries combined with mathematics. The book I'm writing is a murder mystery slipstream novel about a woman attempting to create a world from mathematics, although she might just be insane. Comparing these synopses is like holding a crayon drawing next to a Picasso. If I read the book I might give up coherency altogether.

I've made this mistake before. Some years ago I wrote a spy novel that became a series. I began reading other spy novels, quickly realizing that mine was totally strange. Yes, I could argue that strange (a.k.a. unique) is good, but it's stressful to judge this type of thing while you're still writing your story. Too strange, and no agent or publisher will take a chance. There's also the possibility that your story isn't unique enough. Have you ever come up with a great idea only to find that it was done and dusted the year before? If you come up with enough ideas, you will.

So don't tempt fate. Write your story, from your own mind, and leave read-alikes and similar genres for after you're finished, when you're looking for where it fits on the shelf.

Unless you enjoy second-guessing every word, conversation, and scene that comes to mind. Then, go wild!

Photo: Math Fun by Christoph Lupprich on flickr


  1. Hmm, I can attest to the potentially confidence-destroying aspects of reading like works while writing but the inspiration I get more than make up for any momentary ego deflation!

    1. I'm glad! What kind of books do you write?

    2. Hmm, you gave me a thought about my thought: maybe it works differently for us "thriller" writers. We're heavily into intricate plotting and so checking out what others do really generates ideas for ourselves!

    3. I'm sure some genres react differently, yes. Certainly thrillers will be even more keyed into current events than many others, so it'd be very useful to know what's hot this season.

    4. And haven't you been more inspired when in a writing workshop? It's either bad stuff, which raises my confidence because I'm a much better writer, or it's good stuff, which raises my confidence because my own writing's going to improve!

      So to me it's really the same thing, only without the petty politics of circumspectly commenting on crap to the crapper's face!

  2. I'm impressed by anyone who can read and write in the same period. My brain hates it -- stalls like a horse at a high fence. I have reading periods and writing periods, and I don't mix the two. Funnily enough, I eat a lot during both... doesn't stop me doing that...

    1. I understand! About reading and writing, yes--I can't get too absorbed in someone's else world while creating my own or my brain starts to overheat--and also about the food. ;)

      I'm still all right reading more escapist fiction while I write, though. I find it reminds me of what I want to achieve.


Thanks for taking the time to comment. Discussions are always welcome.

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