I keep writing posts about writing, but reading is a huge part of writing, and something hit me yesterday as I started reading THE STAND by Stephen King. There are books that inspire you to write, period. This is not to say that there are books that don't inspire you to write for some reason. Every single book you read, whether you like it or not, is a learning experience. You can always pick up things, like how to write, or how not to write, and both are valuable. But there is something about some of them that speaks to you as a writer on a completely different level, and that is why we keep coming back to those authors again, and again, and again. They hold our hand and tell us it's okay to write, in fact, they say, yes, you can. Stephen King is one of those authors for me. It doesn't matter what I read by him, I get giddy like a little girl and I can't actually read him without interruptions because I want to jump up every 5 minutes and check my current manuscript, Oh, how did he say this thing again? And how did I say this thing? Oh, I can say this thing like this? Oh, I didn't know I can! And so on. After only writing (and reading) full time for a little less than 2 years, I now firmly believe that to be a successful writer, and by successful I mean to have a readership large enough to sustain you as a writer financially, you have to read only those kinds of books, until you develop enough of a stamina and belief in yourself to know who you are. I'm nowhere near that point, I'm very green. In a sense, I consider myself as a 2 year old (as a writer) and as a 16 year old (as an American writer) because I started learning English 16 years ago when I came to US from Russia, and I have a long way ahead of me to master the language. But let's pull this phenomenon apart and see what is it that makes you want to write, that magic stuff that you read in those special books.
SIMILES. (I got corrected in the comments that I really meant METAPHORS.)
Once upon a time, when I just published my first trilogy, someone told me over email that I have a problem with similes (I guess the person meant metaphors?). Similes are those things that every writer has to master, the person said, and yours are just weak. It got stuck under my skin, that comment, and ever since then I tried to understand what is it that is weak about my similes (ahem, metaphors) or why did they seem weak to that person. And only yesterday I got it. My similes (metaphors) are not weak, they are mine. They are not necessarily the things that particular reader was used to. One of the biggest problems every beginning writer faces is finding their voice. And similes are a large part of writing, that way of expressing your feelings that makes the reader go, Awww, this is so beautiful, oh my God, I must share it. In a way, similes are the meat of the language that you develop, in being able to communicate what you feel on a page to people who don't know you and who have a completely different set of ideas about life, world, love, what have you. You have to cut through it, in a universal way, but also in your own way. It struck me yesterday that Stephen King's similes are based in horror. I know it must be obvious, because, Hello, Stephen King? Of course he loves horror, he writes horror! But it didn't appear to me as clear before, and I have been reading King for almost 20 years, having discovered him at 16. What's funny is that I talked to my boyfriend yesterday and asked him what style of similes I use, and he said, euphoric. I balked, and then I realized, yes, he's right.
Here are a couple examples from the books that I read, that struck me, incidentally, about sun, and at the bottom a couple examples of my own (these are not perfect, mind you):
THE STAND, by Stephen King: "His eyes had been turned into magnifying glasses, and soon the sun would shine through them long enough to set his brains on fire."
THE AMERICAN PSYCHO, by Bret Easton Ellis: "...and the sun, a planet on fire, gradually rises over Manhattan, another sunrise, and soon the night turns into day so fast it's like some kind of optical illusion..."
TRAINSPOTTING, by Irvine Welsh: "Ah sat oan the wall by the bus stop, letting the sun soak intae me wet jeans."
THE LIGHT FANTASTIC, by Terry Pratchett: "The sun rose slowly, as if it wasn't sure it was worth all the effort."
THE MASTER AND MARGARITA, by Mikhail Bulgakov: "Here it seemed to him that the sun, clanging, burst over him and flooded his ears with fire."
THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE, by Neil Gaiman: "The sun got lower in the sky, and the shadows blurred into the dusk, became, if anything, more indistinct, so now I was not certain that anything was there at all."
LOLITA, by Vladimir Nabokov: "The implied sun pulsated in the supplied polars; we were fantastically and divinely alone..."
ORLANDO, by Virginia Woolf: "So the green flame seems hidden in the emerald, or the sun prisoned in a hill."
HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, by J.K. Rowling: "A red-gold glow burst suddenly across the enchanted sky above them as an edge of dazzling sun appeared over the sill of the nearest window."
1Q84, by Haruki Murakami: "The walls didn't have a response. Nor did they express an opinion. They simply, and silently, reflected the color of the setting sun."
FIGHT CLUB, by Chuck Palahniuk: "Today is the sort of day where the sun only comes up to humiliate you."
And here are a couple of my own examples, just for the sake of comparison:
ROSEHEAD, by Ksenia Anske: "Burned by the late afternoon sun, the fog gave way to the reddish glow of the garden, an uncomfortable shade of brewing danger."
SIREN SUICIDES, by Ksenia Anske: " Peace restored, hands clasped, we stagger forward like two divers, parting the feeble spider-silk instead of water, slicing into the ticket of green underbrush and bramble, under the watchful eye of the rare September sun."
Of course, this is but a meager sample in the vast literary ocean of books out there, but I wanted to give you a sample of what is happening in my brain the more I read. I start picking up patterns, comparing my writing to the writing of others, and I can see how my way of seeing things is very visual, elaborate, colorful, and, as my boyfriend says, euphoric, and that's okay. It's me, and it's okay to be me, to write like me. And the reason my metaphors, or whatever the hell you call these things, are not as strong as those by others is simply because I'm unsure of myself, still, and am afraid to let go and write something like: "The sun has pierced her gut with double-edged rays so that it did't simply warm her from inside out, it made her boil with lava, melt and drop in a puddle of hot blood, then rise, and look him in the eyes, and say: "I died for you, just now, because I love you." Or some shit like that. I just made this up. But this is what is bursting out of me, and I'm still, still, afraid to let it go. The more I read, the bolder I become as a writer, the better my metaphors will get. Same thing applies to you. If anyone ever tells you, you should read this, you should read that, don't listen. Read only, I repeat, only, those books that inspire you to write, until you know who you are as a writer and can stomach anything, because nothing can deter you.
Writing is like music. There is this awesome post Hugh Howey wrote on the rhythm of your writing. It's from reading a lot that you pick it up, let it ring through you, and then suddenly see it in your own stories. Hear it. Sense it. The more you read, the more you recognize where and how in your own writing you need to cut stray twigs, to let the whole of the tree grow into some magnificent oak. You will know when to insert the dialogue, when to skip it, when your descriptions are too long, when they are too short, when the chapter is ending too fast, when you have to switch between characters. And you will know how to do it your own way, because you will feel the beat. It's like hearing a song and knowing who sings it, because you recognize the first notes of the voice. It's a magnificent feeling, really. I bet you sensed it in that book you loved, then read more of them. Listen to them, listen to their voice, compare it to your voice, see how both are beautiful and their own. Again, surround yourself with books that allow you to hear that music, and soak it in. You have your own rhythm, but it's plagued by fear, uncertainties, insecurities, desire to please people, when none of it is needed. You write for yourself, because you love cooking in your own stories, like you would love sitting and listening to a certain song over and over and over again. There are so many ways of saying the same thing. If you read a ton of books, by different authors, you will see all those different ways, and in a way they will help you build your own whole. Because you see life your own way, and it's beautiful, you simply don't know sometimes how to put it on paper, so that others would hear the same melody you're hearing. Reading a ton of books will help you see the million ways you can do it, and find your own.
We write to process life, we read to process life. Life is this thing that gives us headaches when we try to understand it, and gives us joy when we stop and simply let ourselves live. I think we think too much, but therein lies our ability to create art, it's something animals don't do, and we, strangely, are capable of. We can remember things, we can communicate things, we want to share those things with others, it's our way of spreading love. All books ever written are those little pieces of life, and when you read them, you live those lives, lives of others, and you get inspired to share yours too. That rigmarole inside you, that roly-poly nonsense, that detritus of your own life that you thought nobody would give a flying fuck about, wants out. Without reading that impulse is there, yes, but it's dampened by that infernal helplessness, something someone dropped on your head when you were little acts up and start telling yourself, Oh no, I can't write, nobody would want to read my boring story, it's no good, it will perish amidst the brilliance out there, so the fuck even try? But a good book will wallop the piss out of your self-deprecating thoughts, it will pummel you silly, it will make you rise above your own head and want to write, and that is what you want. Write. Write a lot. And to write a lot, to be kicked in the ass to produce a lot of books, you have to read a lot of books, end of story.