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Jesse Kornbluth writes:

"Writers—real writers—are formed by their reading. It can be vast, it can be selective. But at some moment, the process freezes. Heroes emerge. And then the writer sees himself/herself as an upholder and extender of the convictions and style of those heroes...

[...]

Why do you need to read widely in order to write better? After all, you have something to say and it's like nothing anyone's ever said before. But if you have any perspective at all, you know it's all been said before and you are a pygmy standing on the shoulders of giants and the best way to make yourself worthy is to quote your betters and, when push comes to shove, appropriate their work.

By "appropriation," I don't mean plagiarism. I'm no fan of those famous writers who keep making the news: the ones who write prize-winning books in which—and it's always a mystery to them—another writer's sentences end up, word for word, in the book. I'm talking about style, about the sudden burst of dazzle that makes a reader feel you're not just committing journalism, you're actually writing."


I like that. It's quite true, and I know, from experience, what it's like to stand in a class and find people who would like to write, but don't read. I once had a guy tell me he wanted to write science fiction, but had never read any. Just seen Blade Runner and a few other flicks.

The real question it leaves, however, is just who are you following in the footsteps of? Who are you standing on the shoulders of and crawling through their empty spaces? Have you thought about it? Me, I know some of my influences and where I'm coming from, but I'm going to think about it, have some breakfast, spit out my flem (I'm actually feeling quite better today) and then come back and write about it. You should do the same, even if you're a musician, artist, whatever. You're standing on someones shoulders.

Comments

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benpeek
Mar. 10th, 2005 04:26 am (UTC)
It's not so much that you want your work to look or feel like another. I mean, you don't. You want to find your own voice and your own way of saying and doing things. but you don't arrive at that voice fully born and brand new, you know? you have to work for it, and mostly, that means consuming texts and finding influences, and tracing those paths of those who have gone before you until you don't need them anymore.

an influence isn't the same as someone who, maybe just for a moment, gave you this cohesive moment where everything gelled and everything made sense and you knew that this was the path you wanted to tread.

it's maybe a bit murky, and a lot of people get twitchy when talking about their influences. they think it might be plagiarism, but that's not what i'm talking about here. we're not talking emulating or sounding or ripping off someone, we're talking about the artists who cemented the ideas of what you want to do in fiction, the beliefs that held that you want to keep in your work.
shadowsandice
Mar. 10th, 2005 01:17 am (UTC)
I prefer to think of it as standing on someone's toes, and kicking them in the nadgers when they look down, and then kneeing them in the nose while they're doubled over, and mugging them blind right there.


I tend to get influenced by whatever I'm reading at the time.
benpeek
Mar. 10th, 2005 04:28 am (UTC)
yeah, but there have got to be a couple of real strong influences there, right? the people who you think, 'what they did is where i'm coming from.' or something like that.

you know, i can't believe i wrote that whole post. i think my brain is fried.
shadowsandice
Mar. 10th, 2005 04:46 am (UTC)
I think I've already talked about this with you, to some degree.

I'd have to say China Mieville had one of those brain-exploding impacts with Perdido Street Station. He made me believe in setting, and making any setting a character within the story.

Pratchett, although I don't read him as fanatically as I used to, has a lingering influence. I'm far too tongue in cheek at times. Appreciate the ridiculous.

Beyond that, I'm not sure anymore. Still finding my feet.
benpeek
Mar. 10th, 2005 06:03 am (UTC)
yeah, i remember talking to you about it. i'm just curious to see if it was the same. i'm not sure mine would stay the same in a couple of years, but you never know.

shadowsandice
Mar. 10th, 2005 06:11 am (UTC)
Yeah, I haven't read anything earth-shattering recently.

Actually, I'm starting to pick up something of a Matthew Reilly/John Birmingham influence, what with all the shiny guns and shit and explosions starting to pop up.

I'm all about high literature.
benpeek
Mar. 10th, 2005 06:15 am (UTC)
well, there's nothing wrong with blowing shit up and shiny guns. i'd never say that. but you know how i feel about matthew reilly. don't make me do what i did to a bunch of year nine girls to cure them.

you ever read that christopher brookmyre novel ONE FINE DAY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT? shiny gun explosion fun.
shadowsandice
Mar. 10th, 2005 06:43 am (UTC)
I READ EDDINGS! I READ REILLY! I REGARD THEM OH SO HIGHLY!
benpeek
Mar. 10th, 2005 06:48 am (UTC)
do you want the cure?

it involves me reading the book in a fake english accent that has in inflection whatsoever. afterwards, whenever you go near the book, all you hear is my dodgy fake accent saying, 'and billy walked to the door and picked up his bazooka and said, 'fuck this shit, granmama, lets go kick some mutant walrus ass.''

...yes, i am paid to teach.
shadowsandice
Mar. 10th, 2005 07:07 am (UTC)
Pfff. Doesn't sound like much of a cure to me.
benpeek
Mar. 10th, 2005 11:43 am (UTC)
like most cures, you think that until hour ten and i'm still reading ICE STATION in a monotoned british accent.

i mean, it sounds horrible to me.
shadowsandice
Mar. 10th, 2005 11:51 am (UTC)
It took you TEN hours to read Ice Station?
benpeek
Mar. 10th, 2005 12:11 pm (UTC)
as part of the cure, you read it twice if the patient needs it. it's like ICE STATION on repeat.

personally, i never read the whole thing. i just couldn't.

(i'm waiting for paperback for the birmingham. i've liked his stuff before, so i'm going to give it a shot, though it's not my usual cup of poison.)
shadowsandice
Mar. 11th, 2005 02:51 am (UTC)
The pacing is way off in WEAPONS OF CHOICE. He wasn't sure where he was taking the story when he wrote it, and it shows, but it's an amusing and surprisingly thought provoking read.

Although the logic he employs in one instance makes me grumpy.
studebakerhawk
Mar. 10th, 2005 01:55 am (UTC)
I want to have your babies.

I think being a film guy, film (not to mention music) has influenced my writing as much as literature. Even my essays have become conceptual lately, so i consider myself first and foremost a 'creative' writer, i guess. But i'm standing on so many shoulders naming names would be futile - anyone who knows me knows my tastes and influences anyway.

beautiful post.
benpeek
Mar. 10th, 2005 04:30 am (UTC)
babies?

man. i think not. i can't afford them little things.
bodhichitta0
Mar. 10th, 2005 11:48 am (UTC)
I told you the sequins on the beanie would work. *grin*
benpeek
Mar. 10th, 2005 12:12 pm (UTC)
bah, he just wants to steal by seed to impregnate his girlfriend in some voodoo ritual. i know his type.

girlfriend won't like that, though.
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