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?