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.
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