April Hamilton wrote a really thought provoking post the other day looking at how the next literary greats are going to be found in the emerging climate of independent/self publishing, since literature and business (and building author platforms) hardly mix in that milieu. It’s well worth a read. But it’s not the body of her post that prompted me to post…it was a small comment at the end:
Remember: it was probably some classic of literature, not a NY Times Bestseller, that originally inspired you to become a writer in the first place.
Hold the phone.
This would seem to indicate that we are all inspired by the so-called literary greats of a predominantly white male canon that’s been shoved down our throats and overanalyzed in English lit classes from middle school on and imply that such inspiration is not likely to be as forthcoming from popular fiction.
While I will readily admit that Catcher In The Rye resonated with me, and I have a serious soft spot for Shakespeare, absolutely NONE of the literature or classics I read, in school or out, EVER inspired me to write. Frankly, other than Jane Austen, I don’t think I’ve picked up a so-called classic since I graduated from college and got to move on to fun reading (and I’d wager a lot that most other people haven’t either). I don’t read Oprah’s latest pick, and the idea of a book club makes me break out in hives. Such books always feel pretentious to me, as if everyone reads them because they’re supposed to, as a cultural norm. So finding inspiration in those books–no, not so much.
What DID inspire me to write? Paranormal. L.J. Smith, in particular, when she came out the first time in the early 90s. I loved stories about the fantastic, the otherworldly, particularly romances with those elements. L.J. Smith had soulmates. Be still my happy little romantic teen heart. There was no Stephanie Meyer or any of the glut of awesome YA that there is today. We were stuck with crappy YA that moralized and seemed to think that teenagers had the mental capacity of your average 12 year old and the hormones of college students. Oh I wrote before then. Best friend stories inspired by the adventures I wanted to be having. My inspiration author before that was Madeleine L’Engle, who still touches me today. But fundamentally, I was inspired to write more of what I wanted to read.
And I hazard a guess that most writers are more like me. I only know one or two other writers who have any designs of writing something that might possibly deserve the designation of “literature”. The vast majority are interested in writing popular fiction. Because, and here’s a big shock, that’s what the declining reading public actually WANTS TO READ. Reading is escapism at its finest. We generally don’t want to have to think deep thoughts that might make a good topic for an English lit paper. And I really have a hard time believing that any of us who love popular fiction got our inspiration from anything other than something else classified as popular fiction. We mostly write what we like to read. And let’s face it, if they eliminated the required reading for school, literature books would not be jumping off the bookstore shelves.
But I am a scientist by training, so I’m gathering some informal hard data in the form of a poll. Weigh in. Who inspired you to write?
Such serendipity to read this post today! I just finished writing a blog entry called Who is Your Writing Muse? on this exact topic!
My inspiration to write my current Regency-romantic-comedy-mystery (my one and only writing project for the last 10 years!) came primarily from studying the Romantics in University–in particular, Lady Caroloine Lamb and other Female Gothic writers– which I guess is considered ‘literature’ now but at the time most of their works were the equivalent of pulp and ‘popular’ fiction.
Lady Caroline Lamb is my particular muse. She wrote a gossip/gothic novel about Lord Byron and other people she knew (it’s called Glenarvon)–and while it was a bestseller, the so-called ‘critics’ hated it (as did many of her fellow High Society folks…it didn’t do her reputation any good to write/publish it, though I think personally by that point she had nothing to lose: her reputation was pretty much in tatters after her affair/obsession with Byron anyway…it wasn’t the affair that was the problem per sea, but rather her inability to be ‘discreet’).
But you are definitely correct: I write what I like to read, which is a hodge-podge of Regency/Jane Austen, rom-com, bodice rippers, comedies, mysteries, the gothic–all of which I’m trying to channel into my book.
One day I’m hoping to add a comedic-Urban Fantasy to my writing repertoire (I am also a big fantasy/SF fan)…but I’ve got to finish this one first!
I think that grand mistress Victoria Holt was my first inspiration. I wanted to write sweeping romances the way she did. But Linda Howard’s Cry No More really kick started my writing juices and steered me in the right direction.
The reason I picked “other” is because I read in so many genres, it would be hard to say who inspired me. I started writing when I was about 10 years old. But I will say (although this is a little off subject) that the person who kicked my butt and made me start writing again was Zoe Winters. Was it fate that I happened to meet a fellow writer who encouraged me to do what I really wanted to do? Who knows? But I’m eternally grateful.
I chose “Other” because there is no one specific thing that inspired me – except maybe my mother, and that’s for a blog post for a different day. I’ve read everything from nursery rhymes to theoretical physics books (that last was a doozy for me, though…I’m NOT a science person). Everything I read inspires me to write.
Since I was in Junior High… R.L. Stine. Hardly a literary masterpiece.
I’ve never been much on literary masterpieces.
And I can’t get over how freaking AWESOME your new banner is!
The forcing of reading the ‘classics’ in school instilled in me an abiding hatred of any classic. Overblown, horrid stories forced upon us to torture us by the previous generation who was also tortured and wanted to share the pain. Well, at least, that’s what it felt like. 😉
To this day I assume any book of which someone says, “This is a classic, you have to read it,” is crap until proved otherwise. And for the most part that’s turned out to be true. Sad, really.
What inspired me? Older science fiction and YA. And the wish to write what I couldn’t find enough of. I devoured books like crazy (obviously my hatred of ‘classics’ was not founded in the idea that I hated to read. I loved to read.). I couldn’t find enough books to satisfy that reading appetite.
Heh, I still have problems like that, since so much of the book market has stopped publishing the types of books I prefer. Which is another reason I love that the gatekeepers have fallen. I now have more of a chance of finding what I like!
Amen buddy! Man I can’t tell you how many books I had to read for school that they ruined. There were a handful that I went back later and read as an adult without the forced analysis, that I actually liked. It was the analysis for theme and such and all the hidden meaning that did me in. Great Gatsby for example–IT WAS JUST A FRIGGING GREEN LIGHT! IT DIDN’T MEAN ANYTHING!
I recently downloaded a copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray which was free at Amazon. I had never read it and thought I would give it a chance. Awful! I hated that book! And the thing is, the basic story could have been really good and spooky. But the writing, IMO, was horrific.
The other thing is that what was acceptable during the days of the “classics” would never fly with modern editors or audiences. So a lot of the language is really florid and purple and the description goes on and on and on. Frankly most of the classics probably wouldn’t get published today.
I agree! Writing really is VERY subjective. And what is “good writing” changes culturally. Most writing doesn’t ‘stand the test of time’. And the writing that does only stands the test due to the fact that the literati push it as some gold standard.
Then newbie writers read the “gold standard”, try to write like that, and NY tells them they suck because all the things they copied from the classics “Sucks” now.
I think it requires a certain intuition to tell a good story. And I’m not sure it can be gleaned from reading “the classics.”
I think what can really be gleaned from the true classics (i.e. Shakespeare and the like) is a feel for the archetypal stories out there. Tragedies. Comedies. Good literature, regardless of how the prose itself is written, pulls at the emotions and I think that THAT is what can really be learned from them.
I agree, though I don’t think the classics are the only place to glean that.
OMIGOD! Love the new header! 🙂
I chose Classic Literature because I’m a Lit major. Although, for about 5 years post college, I stopped reading the classics altogether. I mean, jeez! I must’ve read about a billion books just to get a BA?! Now, I read “fluffy” crime/mystery novels, random Oprah-esque stuff, and (gasp) sometimes classic literature. Tried and true, I guess. Sometimes, I just feel like reading Faulkner for the gazillionth time.
Mostly though, Life inspires me to read and write. People inspire me. Or I hear via word-of-mouth about a new or even old author, and decide to try them out. I heart libraries! In fact, I just finished reading Barmy In Wonderland by P.G. Wodehouse, a comedic writer from the 50’s, because of word-of-mouth praise from a fellow Twitter (@WhatKindOfGirl) friend. And I loved it! It was light, easy, verbose, and FUNNY! Granted, my tastes are extremely ecclectic, so I’m probably a rarity. Now, I’ve moved on to J.D. Robb (aka Nora Roberts). I don’t “do” romance novels, but I like her crime novels. Again, I often look for easy reads, that I can tackle at 6 a.m. on the bus.
Blah blah blah, but at the end of the day, mostly you do.