I have read some spectacular books lately…Marissa Meyer’s Cinder and Scarlet, Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni, Aaron Starmer’s The Only Ones. And I just started Francisco X Stork’s The Last Summer of the Death Warriors. The quality of writing in all these books, at every level–from character to plot to storytelling to voice to prose so absolutely gorgeous you can taste it–is phenomenal.
And I’m being reminded all over again that (and why) I need to make sure I separate myself as a reader from myself as a writer.
Well, frankly, because each of these books could scare off my writer self.
I’m usually pretty good at this. I’ve been writing only a few years less than I’ve been reading, and books and authors have always been inspirations to me. Sure, yes, they’ve also been distractions, but they haven’t been deterrents. When I was twelve, I wanted to be as good a writer as Phyllis A. Whitney (in her teen mysteries). To be honest, at that age, and with that level of hero-worship, I probably wanted to write books just like hers. In later years, I got over the flattering wish for mimicry, and mostly felt like I wanted to be able to put words on the page as well as some of my favorites, but certainly not in an identical way.
Have you read those books I mentioned above? Okay, maybe you don’t aspire to writing fantasy/sci-fi, but which of us wouldn’t want to have the world-building talent that Meyer does. Who wouldn’t want to tell a story like Wecker, to dig deep and come up with characters like Stork’s Pancho and DQ? Who wouldn’t want to be able to fashion words with the beauty that all three of those authors do?
I don’t think this is a problem/solution post, more an observation of yet another stage in my writing journey. I’ll continue to lose myself in other writers’ books, and I’ll continue to remind myself that if I even want to get close to what they’re doing, I need to step away from their stories and get back to mine. And then I’ll get out the staple gun and attach myself to my chair and desk. And write.
My own words in my own way.
I seem more vulnerable to staring at that gap these days–that gap between what authors like this can create and what I–realistically, I think–am capable of. Today. So far. I’m not letting this turn into discouragement or push me away from my own writing. That path leads only to poison, as far as I’m concerned. But things have shifted a little for me in the past year–a combination, I’m sure, of struggling with one book for so long before deciding to “drawer” it; returning to work part-time; reminding myself that this is a long-haul path, not a quick flick of the magic wand. I’m a little less certain, a little more conscious of my writing flaws. (Ah, youth, I guess–loads of low self-esteem and lack of confidence in so many things, but apparently not in my writing!) Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as I keep it reined in and don’t let it get in the way of my writing.
I know some people who don’t read (as much?) when they’re in the throes of writing their own novel, maybe just for the first draft. Maybe they just don’t read books like their own. I’ve said before that the only time I had to pull back from reading certain books was when my 12-year-old male protagonist started sounding too much like Meg Cabot’s Princess Mia. In general, though, if my writer self even looks at the idea of pulling back from reading, my reader self comes at me in a fury, all teeth and claws and really loud screams. Besides, the corollary to my question of who wouldn’t want to write like those brilliant authors is the question of who wouldn’t want to read their words. Every day.
One more time: Not me.