One of the (many) reasons writing books is tricky business: a reader is shaped by the books (s)he reads, but a writer cannot allow to be overwhelmed by the books (s)he reads.

And reading and writing are inextricably linked. A good writer is always an established reader. And sometimes, an established reader is a good writer. As Stephen King put it - “If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write.”

Our notions of good writing can come from no other place than the books we love. It is here that we discover the narratives which appeal to us, the themes we enjoy, the voices that resonate with us, the characters who shape our lives. It is here that we explore everything we love in a story. And it is here that an introspective reader begins to draw parallels and establish patterns.

  • I love fantasy.
  • I love lyrical prose.
  • I love anti-heroes.
  • I love stories set in small towns.
  • I love sarcastic sidekicks.
  • I love books which explore loss.
  • I love an emphasis on families.
  • I love unreliable narrators.
  • I love ghosts (both metaphorical and literal).
  • I love morally dubious protagonists.
In his Writing A Breakout Novel, Donald Maass refers to this list of our inherent preferences as a Magna Carta (of things we love in a novel). These are, of course, the concepts which might win us over more easily in each new book we pick up, because they play to our predilections. But these are also concepts we might find ourselves exploring in our own writing, because they also play to our strengths.

It is a fine line between inspiration and imitation sometimes. And walking this line is dangerous business.

In a way, we-the-passionate-readers are beings molded by every book we've ever read. The contribution of each is proportional to our love for it and the impact it's had on us. And to translate these influences into our own writing without translating these influences into our writing... well, most of us are still working on it.

To deny the influence our favorite books have on us is to deny an essential truth of writing. But to give into this influence and allow our minds to regurgitate these books is to give into poorly-disguised fanfiction.* The inspiration is real. The imitation is (a) real (threat).  And as we both chase and avoid the authors we admire, so our admired authors both chase and avoid the authors they admire, in turn. This is not an issue we amateur, unpublished writers deal with exclusively. But it is one we amateur, unpublished authors know how to navigate the least well.

As all things writing, I suspect there is no quick-and-easy fix, a magical potion, a mystical secret which bestselling authors know and the rest of us don't. Let's be honest - we were all recommended books in the past which were very obviously heavily influenced (and reliant) on other books. As all things writing, I suspect it's all down to practice.

As all things writing, it's where writing buddies and critique partners with similar reading tastes are indispensable.

(But if you are aware of spells/potions/instant fix-its/old family secrets which might help us embrace inspiration and banish imitation, please let us know in the comments below.)

* Not that there is anything wrong with fanfiction. We are both big proponents of it here on our blog. But when it comes to original work, fanfiction is the exact opposite of a desired goal.

To all who are participating in Camp NaNoWriMo - happy beginning and may the odds be ever in (y)our favor! We will try (emphasis on try!) to publish a writing-related post each Wednesday, partly because we love alliteration and partly because with us both participating, the blog is bound to be a bit neglected. But follow us here or find us on social media and stay in touch! We could use all the support we can get, and offer just as much in turn. If you're still searching for Cabin mates and/or reconsidering going at it alone, leave us your username and expect an invite shortly.