You know what I’m talking about.
You read a book that blows you away and suddenly, wham, your own writing has a pep in its step that wasn’t there before. Your plots are better, your stories find their flow with ease, your characters all but round themselves out on the page for you. Your essays are more interesting, yours poems more visual, addicting. Your blog posts suddenly seem to write themselves and are full of useful information that you’re proud you’ve created. Your journal entries are more organized, calmer, productive.
Whatever happens for you, I’m sure as a writer you know when a good book as impacted to you. You feel your mental gears turning faster. The words you put on paper have a sizzle to them. You love it.
It’s not only books, though. And it’s not just writers. Movies have this affect, as do photographs and paintings and a good quiet ride down to the beach. People can breed good writing– spend time with someone interesting and passionate, someone you find fascinating, and you probably walk away wanting to write about them.
Good books breed good writing. But not every good book gives you that little something extra in your own writing. I can count the books that have fired me up and given me no choice but to write.
There’s From a Sealed Room by Rachel Kadish, who was my mentor for two semesters in my MFA program. I wrote one of my best short stories while reading this book simply because her writing was so clear and beautiful that it taught me how to write well— and in addition to that, she as a person taught me some invaluable writing lessons as my mentor. But her book, last summer, ignited a story that I now think might potentially turn into a novella someday.
And more recently, The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I read that book as though my house would explode if I didn’t finish it in a certain number of hours– and what I learned from the book and from Stockett’s essay on rejection were two important writing lessons: really good characters are the ones readers are genuinely sad to say goodbye to, and you have to keep writing and revising. No matter what.
What books have made you a better writer, just by reading them?