I once read somewhere – and I don’t know whether it’s true or not – that the renowned writer Vikram Seth never reads lest he gets influenced by the other writers’ writing style. On the other hand, in his autobiographical book Salman Rushdie says that he has always been a voracious reader.
To an extent I do agree that you tend to write like writers you like. There was a time I was really influenced by writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Charles Dickens and Dostoevsky. Back in those days there wasn’t much choice available. There was no Amazon.com, no Flipkart.com, and to be frank I didn’t even have much money to buy books. So most of the books I read were either given to me as gifts, or lent to me by friends and relatives or I got them issued from some library, mostly the British Council. So it was mostly the classics, and that’s how I wrote in my initial days. Obviously the writing was constrained, full of long, antiquated words and I spent more time trying to imitate my favourite writers than actually telling stories.
Letting yourself be influenced by your favourite writers isn’t as bad as it may seem when much stress is put on being unique. If writing like a particular writer gets your literary juices flowing, then why not? Actors acquire the demeanour of their favourite actors (have you ever noticed the similarity between Amitabh Bachchan, Dilip Kumar and Al Pacino? Even Gregory Peck and Dev Anand?). Singers imitate other singers. Even painters imitate the painters who influence them. Remember that initially it’s not important whether you’re copying somebody’s style or you’re creating your own style, what matters is how much you write. Many writers don’t succeed because they don’t write much. And eventually, as you keep on writing, you begin to find your own voice.