I’m not sure that my reading habits change all that much when I write. The fact is that I’m always writing (even if it’s only a few little scribbles on a napkin) and I’m always reading, both have always been in tandem; I’m quite sure I’ve been taking on influences as I’ve progressed.
It’s inevitable. When something of literary merit affects you, then a sliver is naturally going to rub off on your prose. Writers like Beckett, Banville or Nabokov have always been a huge influence and I know this often seeps into the cadence of a sentence. But what of it? If you are to learn from others you may as well learn from the masters, the absolute best. No point in reading second-rate stuff; the only thing to be gleamed from the inferior is how not to do something.
Music might be a better analogy here. The blues masters all learned from each other, as Bernard Dunphy in my debut novel Killarney Blues might tell you. http://viewbook.at/killarneyblues
Muddy had learned from Son House and Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf from Charley Patton and so on. When they were themselves ready they were able to go out and entertain in their own inimitable style. It took time for Muddy Waters to become Muddy Waters, and after a while Wolf could only howl like Wolf.
James Kelman is a writer I’ve always admired and have returned to his singular fiction again and again. His novel A Disaffection (arguably his best) had a huge effect on me when I first read it in 1989. I’ve read it four or five times since, actually just finished it again last month, and it has been an influence on my present work-in-progress, so much so that I may even dedicate my new work to Patrick Doyle, the main character in the novel, and one of my favourite fictional characters of all time.
At the moment I’m reading A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride, and it’s clear that this author has taken inspiration from (and I think somewhere in an interview she admits to this) James Joyce. Her writing is energetic and uncompromising and also proving to spur me on, to continue with my own vision (yes, it’s possible too to find stimulus in those younger than you).
I do know people who will say “Oh, I’ll read anything”. Well, I won’t. Certainly not. Life is too short. I’ll read only what I’m pretty sure will interest or inspire me. Anything that doesn’t do so after thirty pages will get violently tossed out the window (I don’t literally do this, my neighbours can be ever so cranky).
In my writing I know that after another week of reading Pale Fire or The Book of Evidence or The Unnamable that if a wee drop filters through to the pings of my sentences, then that’s okay, all these things make up only a miniscule amount, the rest of the rush that cascades over the falls is all me!