Read something you love or something that will help you.
Ok, I know some of you are protesting, “But, Nicole, I will be influenced and that will be terrible!”
I think the myth of influence being bad is as pernicious and false as the myth of American individualism (after four years of living abroad I have a RANT about this but that’s a whole side rant about how we believe that’s how we live our lives but is not the truth of how we live our lives).
But let’s talk about influence for a moment. Influence is everywhere. You cannot avoid influence. Other words for influence are preference, taste, canon, learning. There would be no The Lord of the Rings without the Völsunga saga. There would be no Sword of Shannara without The Lord of the Rings. There would be no The Deed of Paksenarrion without either or all of the other books influenced by The Lord of the Rings that made Elizabeth Moon decide she needed epic fantasy to do something different than what was influencing her. Everything is in conversation with what has come before.
Influence is where the best art comes from, plus it’s unavoidable so I wish we would all just stop trying to avoid it and embrace it. Rant mostly over.
But, you might be saying, what about voice? You might be saying, I’m a new writer and I don’t know what my voice is yet. What if my book sounds like Ursula Le Guin or Alistair Reynolds or whoever it is that I love so much?
First of all, have you ever seen art students copying the masters in an art museum? Imitation is a great way to learn the skills you want.
Second, if you did manage to sound like Ursula Le Guin, I would probably read everything you wrote because I LOVE Ursula Le Guin and wish there was more of her fiction in the world. But get over yourself. You will never sound like Ursula Le Guin or Alistair Reynolds because you are not them. You don’t have their life experiences or writing history and even if you replicated their writing styles you still wouldn’t sound like them because the things that interest you cannot be the exact same things that interested anyone else. Also, if you’re a new writer you are not that good yet, so stop worrying. And finally, most people are not that good a mimic.
Third, that’s what revision and beta readers are for. When you are done writing your draft, the next step is revision and if you are afraid you copied someone, then you revise all those parts so that you haven’t. Or you give it to trusted readers and tell them, I’m afraid I copied Stephanie Meyer, can you help me? (Also congratulations might be in order because maybe that means you are the next E.L. James.)
(Sorry, I’m cranky today. Because I’m actually on next week’s trick, write something else, in conjunction with this week’s trick, so I’m writing this blog post instead of the fiction I hoped I would be writing. I’m sad and slightly depressed because of some things happening in my life and I find it very hard to write fiction in that state, even though paradoxically, writing fiction would probably help me to get out of it.)
Ok, back to reading something you love or something that helps you because we’re trying to bust writer’s block here. This can take a lot of forms.
Immerse yourself in someone else’s writing and just enjoy it. Let it be a reminder that it can be done and of why you want to do it. Let the thrill of reading wake up the thrill of writing inside you.
Go to other authors for technique and inspiration. Maybe you need to look at how other authors end their chapters or interweave character action with dialogue. Pick up a book by someone you admire and examine how they did the thing you’re having trouble doing. I love Heather Seller’s advice in Chapter After Chapter: Discover the Dedication and Focus You Need to Write the Book of Your Dreams. She says to have six wise guides for the book you are working on. From memory, I think she says have three fiction books that are like the book you want to write and three non-fiction books that you find helpful and inspiring, but I think any combination of fiction and non-fiction works. These are books that are like the book you want to write, in genre, tone, theme, style, etc., or craft books that will help you get there.
Right now, my books are the Phryne Fisher mysteries by Kerry Greenwood (totally cheating, there are like 20 books in the series), The Death of the Necromancer by Martha Wells, Point of Hopes by Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett, Fearless Creating: A Step-by-Step Guide To Starting and Completing Your Work of Art by Eric Maisel, and What Every Body is Saying by Joe Navarro.
Oh, you know what? Light bulb moment: Those are the wise guides for the book in revision, not the guides for the novella I’m currently working on. That might be part of my problem, right there. I’m a pantster, so it helps immeasurably to have the shape of an book I have read in mind when shaping my own.
Read to learn craft or for motivation. I need to add a book on how to write mysteries to my six guides, but I haven’t found one that really works for me yet. Instead I’m listening to back episodes of the Writing Excuses podcast on character to help me figure out how to handle all those characters who just might be the murder suspect and so need page time in a way that doesn’t happen in other genres. I read parts of Fearless Creating when I need to be reminded that fear, or as Eric Maisel calls it, anxiety, is part of the process of creativity. And I’m reading What Every Body is Saying is because my main character is supposed to be good at reading body language and I’m certainly not.
That’s it for this week.
I’ll get back to you about the wise guides I choose for my novella. I also thought I’d add a progress update since I’m using these techniques as I write about them to wrestle with my own writer’s block.
Today: blog post written in lieu of fiction; fiction wincingly glanced at and a bit of exposition for copied in from one book to another.