Like all great potential pitfalls, this one is tricky because it involves a balancing act.
First, my inspiration for this post.
Exhibit 1: Riley Redgate's post on writing what you know (or not)
Exhibit 2: Allison Winn Scotch's post on whether writers must be readers
These got me thinking about something I've come across, and a trap I hope I've steered well clear of—writing a novel with no knowledge of the genre/category.
Yes, I've seen writers attempting a fantasy without ever reading any. Others writing for teens without reading a single book from the YA shelves.
I'm sure if you look, you can find a handful of examples where an author did their own thing without any real knowledge of what came before, and yet was wildly successful. Perhaps I'll do another Potential Pitfalls post on acting like exceptions are the rule. More often, the writer's lack of reader-knowledge is neon-sign obvious.
How so? A common sign in YA is teen characters that feel like they were written by an adult. The voice is off, the actions don't fit—either coming across as a stiff adult in a teen's body, or falling deep into stereotype. Sometimes it's harder to put my finger on, but I have this instinctive feeling that the writer (a) has little-to-no meaningful contact with teens, and (b) hasn't read a YA novel published within the last five years (or even ten).
But like I said, it's a balancing act, because there's another pitfall right across from this one: Unintentional Rip-Off. Oh, and there's one in front of it, too: Authorial Laryngitis (Loss of Voice).
I know some writers that don't read fiction while they're drafting a novel (but may read non-fiction during that time). That's a strategy that makes sense to me. Some of us are susceptible to having another writer's voice seep into ours if we're reading and drafting at the same time.
I guess the bottom line is, know the conventions and requirements of your genre, but find your own voice and story. You know what they say, if it were easy ...
Any opinions on reading within your genre? I didn't discuss reading other genres, but there are benefits there as well. Thoughts?