In a season of reflection and gratitude, it’s fun to examine your writing influences. Have you ever thought about the topics and themes you choose or your writing style? Taking the time to examine your writing influences might inform future writing. Or, it might explain the path you’ve chosen thus far.
Themes and Topics
Is there a common thread in your work? Do you find yourself gravitating towards the same writing tropes? I have. Themes of female characters searching to discover themselves are rampant throughout my work. After some thought, I can pinpoint one of these influences going as far back as grade school.
I received The Practical Princess and Other Liberating Fairy Tales by Jay Williams in 1980, a birthday gift from my mother’s best friend. An extremely liberal woman herself, she thought this book might prepare me for the patriarchy of my future. Throughout college, I would read this book to help me sleep. The delightful silhouettes and tales of young women saving themselves with sensibility and selflessness soothed my soul. Each female heroine reminded me to always be kind and that, with clear-headed thinking, I could accomplish anything.
Much like The Practical Princess, my female characters strive to find strength and beauty within themselves to move forward and defeat adversity. When you examine your own work, do you find any common themes? If so, can you trace them back to their source?
Your style of writing has to come from somewhere–it’s a blend of all the experiences you’ve had, all the words you’ve read, and all the people you’ve listened to in your lifetime. However, every now and then, you might encounter another writer’s work that leaves you stunned, breathless.
For me, that happened in college when I was introduced to Zora Neale Hurston. The first time I read, Their Eyes were Watching God, I couldn’t stop thinking about Ms. Hurston’s powerful wordcraft. To me, her work transcends most fiction writing in a mic-drop kind of way that either makes you want to work harder or just give up writing entirely.
Here are three quotes from Their Eyes were Watching God. Let me know in the comments what you think.
“She didn’t read books so she didn’t know that she was the world and the heavens boiled down to a drop.”
“Here was peace. She pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see.”
“She had an inside and an outside now and suddenly she knew how not to mix them.”― Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
Rebel Rulebreakers as Writing Influences
Once you decide that you’re a writer, you start to notice the craft of other writers. How are they structuring their story arcs? How many POVs are they using? Are they breaking any rules, and does it work?
When I read George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, I loved the multiple POV shifts. This went against everything I had been told to do as a writer. Don’t have too many storylines, don’t have too many characters. Choose one main character and tell one story supported by other sub-characters. George chucked this idea right out the window and I adored him for it.
Therefore, when I wrote the second book in my Merrow Trilogy, I took a cue from George and had several storylines running concurrently. Some readers have taken issue with this–too many storylines to keep track of–others have loved it. It was a risk, and sometimes risks are worth taking. (For more on being a rebel writer, click here.)
Reflection and Gratitude
As we head into a new year, maybe take the time to see where you are and where you’re going. What are your writing influences? Also, take the time to consider who has helped you along the way and why. You might get some new inspiration to carry you forward as you start a new project.
Best of luck to you in all your writing endeavors!