Home > Writing > Inspiration and Craft: Entering the Writer’s Life

Inspiration and Craft: Entering the Writer’s Life

I am curious to know which novels and stories inspired authors and which helped hone their craft. It is part of what I am exploring in myself now as I continue to work on a (long-time-coming) novel of my own. Similarly, my short stories, which I have had more practice at writing, need the same reflection.

In college, I wrote a biography about George Orwell for my capstone. Not only was it immensely interesting to explore one of the authors who has had a profound influence on my own writing (thank you, 1984 and Down and Out in Paris and London, among others), but it made sense to understand his own influences. For the most part, it isn’t a story or a novel or an author that sparks the need/desire to write. At least, it doesn’t appear that way. For Orwell, his life in Burma afforded him the spark under his pants to finally get writing (something he enjoyed, but failed at before he writes Burmese Days).

Now, I don’t have a life experience that truly caused me to write. I have always wanted to write (don’t we all). I remember the desire snagging me in 1st grade when my teacher at the time would ask us to write stories based on prompts. Mine were always fantasy, granted, I was a child. My teacher then really pushed me and encouraged me to write. Ever since then, I have wanted to do it, and failed at it miserably. I like to think that part of it has to do with my influence and craft. I have the influence behind my chosen genre, but I don’t explore craft in a way that makes sense to my writing.

Hell, I have an English degree, yes. I have analyzed and broken down many a novel and story. But what has that done for my writing? In all honesty, I wasn’t paying attention to the analysis in a way to make it inform my own writing. I was paying attention to the analysis in a way to make it inform my mind. You can argue that it is one in the same. I disagree.

My reading tastes are unusual, to say the least. Russian classics, SciFi classics, modern SciFi, and a dash of Fantasy makes up my shelves for the most part. I did not read these types of novels and stories in college. These are not the stories and novels I analyzed. These are the stories that influence me daily, that excite me into considering my own plots. However, I have never looked at them as more than a platform from which to jump myself. Instead, I have missed possibly the most important offering these books have to offer me: craft. If only I had paid attention to them in a more serious, critical way before this point. I believe true craft comes from studying what makes your favorite novels great. What symbols did they use? How did they get to the denouement? Did they begin in media res?

Influence and craft is something I am going to begin exploring more in depth–what do my favorite author’s have to say about it?

I also want to know what other writers in the community think about their own experience. Does the simple act of reading inform our craft or do we need to look at what we read with a more critical lens?

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  1. March 15, 2015 at 12:08 PM

    Great topic with, I predict, a multitude of fantastic perspectives depending on the writer. For myself, I’ve always needed a balance between critical reading and mindless consumption. Reading critically, with an eye towards the mechanics of storytelling, is a great way to grow as a writer, but it’s exhausting and time consuming. The longer/more you do it, the better you get, so practice is imperative, but there needs to be a healthy amount of mindless consumption as well otherwise it’s easy to lose focus on why you enjoy reading in the first place, which, I suspect for most people, is to get wrapped up and lost in a storyworld/character. It’s hard to get wrapped up when you’re constantly analyzing.

    • March 15, 2015 at 12:32 PM

      Thank you, AntVicino, for your thoughts. I agree that there are likely a ton of different perspectives, all equally fantastic for each individual. Your method appeals to me. I spend most of my time with mindless consumption across different genres. However, my lack of critical reading hurts my story telling (at least, I think so). My goal over the next month is to spend more time on at least one story and novel and get down to the mechanics at work behind the storytelling.

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