Write something new; stop trying to be original.
Many books influenced me when I was writing Radiant Shimmering Light, but a handful of them were strong teachers and mentors.
Whenever I had a big question about craft, character, setting, or structure, I would go to these books directly for advice.
I would read with a question in mind, sometimes not even formed in words.
The books I read for help answered me with clarity by showing me how something tricky could be done really well, and this helped me finish my book.
You might not be able to pick them out, but these titles are in my novel’s DNA:
Overwhelmed by Brigid Schulte
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood
Questions to ask yourself the next time you’re browsing your library or bookstore:
1. What does my book need me to read, so I can learn how to write it?
2. What can I learn from another genre that would show me how to solve this craft problem?
3. What do my scenes and story structure want me to read for influence?
My current Influence Journal includes the following five titles, and their respective lessons. Already I can see themes of trust and delight showing up in my reading, and from my journal, I understand why these books are compass points for me right now:
The Measure of My Powers, by Jackie Kai Ellis Your book is also an object. Make it beautiful in a physical way! The beauty of the object can inform the content, and the content can inform the beauty of the object. Imagine the book in 3D, and let that inspire you. Like perfecting a croissant recipe, trust your craft and keep trying to get the consistency right. Perfection may not come the first time, or even all the time. It’s not your fault.
Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer When you write and pay attention, magic happens. Trust your intellect, your senses, your intuition — in other words, your mind, body, and spirit. Permission to use all three in your book. Tell the truth. Write what is. Learn from nature and let it be present in your work.
The Parasol Protectorate series, by Gail Carriger Trust your heart. Trust that you know how to write, and let yourself have fun! Indulge in pleasure and delight. Writing and having fun does not mean you’re doing it wrong or slacking off. Pleasure is your birthright. Lean into your weirdness — what makes you different is your strength. Surrender to how much fun you get to have as an author. Feel the joy and release the best part of yourself.
The City We Became, by N. K. Jemisin Let go of the hero story and structure, and experiment with a collective. Every character brings their own weirdness and history and way of seeing/being — the story is a container that is big enough to hold them all. Don't overthink it — let them be who they actually are. Trust the collective, trust the ecosystem. Without trust you become a bottleneck for story. Find out what happens when you let your characters lead you.
The Wild Kindness: A Psilocybin Journey, by Bett Williams Let yourself unfasten and linger longer in the play state — see what happens there. Logic is so overrated. There is poetry in the surrender. Trust your craft, trust your spirit — let go into flow, and know that your writing can hold you wherever you go.
I have a few books in process right now; this reading will certainly be in the DNA of whatever I finish next. I’m improvising with all of them, writing something new that is also not new at all.
This is how influence guides us, and how we know that we belong. When we write something from our own true nature, we will naturally express ourselves within an ecosystem.
Listen and respond to the books in your ecosystem, and you will flourish there.
Photo credit: Kazuend on Unsplash.
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