Before we get into that, though, a few details about me. I tend to have problems sorting through auditory input. It's not a hearing difficulty as much as it is a brain problem: I hear everything fine, I just have a hard time ignoring the unwanted parts and focusing on the parts I need. I'm an expert at eavesdropping, but it makes having a conversation in a crowded room a real treat, let me tell you. At least after 16 years of marriage my husband has finally worked out that I am incapable of conversing intelligently when the television is on, so when he mutes it I know we're about to capital-T-Talk.
I also tend to imitate the cadences and rhythms of the speech I read in books. It's entirely unconscious on my part, but it happens so frequently that I can't ignore the effect. It's especially bad with some series - my husband groans every time I pull out an Elizabeth Peters book because he knows I'll be talking like Amelia Peabody for days.
Given these two facts, I decided early on that I would have to be careful what I was reading and listening to during the time periods I was writing. Not just while actually writing - that's a white noise situation, no question about it - but also during the rest of the day when I didn't actually have a pen in my hand. I didn't catch on at first, of course, which is why some of my early children's writing had to be HEAVILY edited. Apparently, listening to R-rated Paranormal Romance audiobooks in between writing a kid's book isn't a good idea, at least not for me. All of my 10-yr-old protagonists ended up sounding world-weary, if you can imagine that. Not quite what I was going for.
Since then I have learned to either sequester myself from other books ("to give my characters room to think for themselves," as I pretentiously describe it) or be VERY careful what I listen to. Classic literature is okay - Great Expectations and Red Badge of Courage, while not terribly exciting to hear, at least didn't influence my muse. But I have to take a vacation from Sookie and her vampire buddies while I'm writing , lest my tiny protagonists end up with fangs and ennui.
When I got the spark of inspiration for my latest story and started writing last month, I listened to the classics while I ran errands and did the laundry. About the time things started to go really well with my writing, I pulled up The Fault in Our Stars, and things really took off. Apparently my brain can admire John Green's prose without trying to imitate it, which is a relief because I was getting really sick of Dickens. But then Gus and Hazel's story ended before mine was complete, and I had to make a choice. Should I start a new book and risk ruining the good mojo I had going with my manuscript? Should I go back to Dickens and his boring brethren? Or should I give up and just maintain radio silence until the draft was complete? What if Gus and Hazel were giving me the mojo - should I start listening to that book over again? Or would that be like declaring these my lucky socks and not washing them until I was finished? How superstitious was I willing to become?
Fairly superstitious, as it turns out. I shut the radio off and wrote like a mad woman for two days, nearly crippling my wrist in an effort to finish before I lost my mojo.
And then I threw down my pen, bought the next Kim Harrison audiobook to celebrate, and dug out the magazines I had hidden for the previous few weeks. I let myself listen to Welcome to Night Vale again, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
Next time I start a book, I'll probably try crying along with Mr. Green again. Because why change something that seems to be working for me? That would be silly, kind of like shaving during a winning streak or not wearing my lucky hat to an Indians game. And that's just crazytalk, my friend.