The other day one of my favorite authors brought up a familiar Author's Dilemma: The more she reads in her genre and area of interest, the more she thinks everything she wants to write about has been said.
Many new writers respond to this by not reading. This is not a savvy author's decision. Tempting, but not smart. Blissful ignorance catches up and bites you when you go to get an agent or publisher, when you have to demonstrate your familiarity with authors "on your shelf"--competitive intelligence, so to speak. You have to ultimately position yourself as a writer, identifying your readership, which is often done by way of what else your audience is reading. You also have to position your book's message or sensibility within what is already published, in order for a publisher to see how to market and position you within the field. Blissful or stubborn ignorance is publishing suicide.
So how to keep reading and remain (a) fresh with your own thinking, (b) largely uninfluenced by the style and content of other authors, and (c) confident in your writing?
Maintain fresh thinking: If the book you are writing is largely informational (as in a self-help or reference/resource book) then "fresh thought" may not apply: The information already either exists in a useful form or it doesn't. But if your book involves narrative, reflection, forming a perspective on something, analyzing something towards a given mission or objective, and such, which is unique to the writer's mind, experiences, and "voice," there is room for you. Whether your arena is memoir or business books, readers read across a wide variety of authors on the same topic because this is how they figure out their own thinking, how they are ultimately satisfied in their quest for particular knowledge.
And let's be honest: You are informed and influenced by what you read, which doesn't mean you are stealing someone's work, any more than discussing ideas in a group means you've taken others' ideas. You should be diligent in tracking what you read, sourcing what you might use (for later permissions), and to be able to find something later if you want to make sure you are not guilty of copyright infringement. But you don't stop thinking because other people have thoughts. What you write will one day influence other writers as well.
The confidence in your writing comes from listening to your own heart and mind, staying solidly within yourself. No imitation, no attempt to be like someone else or to conform to prevailing wisdom. Listen to your own unique voice--that one in your head. Let it out, with all that makes you Y-O-U. If something is compelling you, driving you to follow, then get it on paper. Don't let someone else stop you. Whether you later decide to publish or not publish doesn't matter: What matters is that you first explore what you have to, find the answers you need. To thine own self be true. The rest will sort itself out.So happy New Year to you -- happy new year of exploration!