You Are What You Read

A glorious shelf of books (found on Google Images)
A glorious shelf of books (found on Google Images)

The old adage, you are what you eat, is very applicable to writing. To write you must read. To create, you must gain fuel—inspiration—from somewhere; be it short fiction, long fiction or research. As a former lit major, I have gathered a plethora of authors who I like to turn to when I’m looking for inspiration for writing. And though denser literature is my preferred style of reading and writing, it doesn’t mean that I only read or write dense literature.  Recently, I got on a bubblegum teen lit binge, though I usually only read that stuff when I’m working out. It’s a mindless treat for my head and they make the elliptical time go by quickly. Plus, trying to parse out H.P. Lovecraft and keep my balance all at once is just a bit hazardous to my health and my ability to remain upright. So, lighter reads take precedence during workouts. These lighter books are fun to read, but to write the type of fiction I want to write, I need to be reading things that are more dense and make you really think about the world. Not only do they inspire me with unexpected language, but they also continue to teach me the art and true craft of writing.

Perhaps this sounds elitist to you. And maybe it is. But I find that I write best when I’m reading things that really get my mind buzzing, things that engage my brain in specific ways. My writing is first and foremost inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne and I have staked this claim since high school. I can still remember reading The Scarlet Letter in middle school. What struck me about the book was not the subject matter (I didn’t like that part of it so much). Instead, it was the way he described the light; how it moved around and almost became a character in of itself. And for me as a writer, I’m all about the description and the language. Character and plot take a back seat and become more contingent on the type of story I want to tell and what type of descriptors I want to play with.

For the moment, I’m still stuck on writing Gothic-inspired detective fiction and because I am a greenhorn when it comes to writing this type of fiction (though I studied it extensively during my master’s program), I have created a very green detective to be my companion. These stories are inspired by Poe and Conan Doyle, by the character Irene Adler, and by the real human being Kate Warne (the first legit female detective in the United States. She worked for Pinkerton in Chicago and uncovered a plot in Baltimore to assassinate Abraham Lincoln while he was en route to his inauguration). And, of course, there’s a hefty dose of Absinthe mixed in for good measure because Absinthe just brings out the Gothic in my opinion.

When I get stuck on a bubblegum binge, I find that my writing stalls. I am not thinking in complex images and language terms and thus my favorite aspect of writing disappears from my work and then my writing disappears altogether and I stall out on whatever project I’m working on. This is a really bad habit to have. But for whatever reason, it pervades my creativity and my creation.

One of my favorite modern writers to turn to when I’m seeking a bit of inspiration is Carlos Ruiz Zafon. He writes a sort of new-age Gothic and if I were to have the ability to write like anyone, it would be like him. His characters are real and imperfect and they have some of the best dialogue ever written. Additionally, he crafts some of the most intriguing phrases and images. I always pause and marvel at them as I’m moving through one of his books. Another popular writer who I find inspiring is Erin Morgenstern. She writes Gothic so well and I can’t wait until she writes another book.

Though I truly believe that you will create what you read, I find that I have a hard time sitting down and reading modern detective stories. I don’t engage with them well. Now and again I will run across a story that is intriguing, but really I take what I know from what I have read in the past and I try to craft something new. I’ve also taken to watching detective television shows to see how they progress the story and introduce all the players and suspects. This is how I use my time when I watch Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. I love the show in of itself, but I also have found a way to make it useful to my aspirations to complete this series of detective stories.

Research extends beyond just researching a time period, a person or a historical event. It is so much more than scientific research or battle tactics. You have to read what you write. You have to experience the flow of the words that are customary to what you want to do, even if they don’t necessarily match the genre you are writing within or creating as you go. If you are writing to a particular genre, you have to become intimately familiar with that genre and all of its wily ways so that you can push it towards something new and different and exciting.

But most of all, you have to write. You have to build and craft and dream until you eat, sleep and breathe the story that you imagined. You have to write. I’m not trying to preach to you today. Really, I needed to remind myself of this and send this message to myself so that I can get back on track and write the stories I was meant to create.


And just for kicks….

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