Deb Kelly uses other writers.

It’s been a busy week in my house. BLB is walking and I am editing. Not at the same time. So when I saw that today’s post was going to be on inspiration, I got pretty excited about finding this great article I read about Nora Roberts about five years ago. Maybe ten. I’d post the article and add a few thoughts and boom, post ready, millions of blog readers entertained and informed, and I still have time to linger over the Non-Endangered Fish Tacos (Madison!) I’m about to order from Burrito Drive.

But I can’t find the darn article. Figures. It was such brilliance. She talked in her very frank and sometimes unsympathetic way about how writer’s block is something she doesn’t have time to fiddle with, nor inspiration something she particularly needs to get work done. But I read it so long ago and Nora is such an incredibly popular search term that it’s almost as though you need more than just the words “Nora Roberts” and “Inspiration” to make the right article pop up. After about twenty minutes of searching I realized I was better off just doing my job and writing this post if I ever wanted to taste those tacos. Sorry. Luckily you can get a pretty good idea of the jist by scrolling down to read Deb Dana’s post from yesterday which is on the same bent. Inspiration is great. But time spent writing (‘butt in chair’ is how I refer to it when I’m not in such fancy company) is better.

The nice thing about this whole fool’s errand of googling the world’s most popular writer (after King James), is that the process made me think of how I actually do get inspiration, which I, like a chump, often need. I get it from it from Nora. Nora and many other writers, whose gloriously full wells of inspiration often seem to uncover aquifers in my own mind. When I get stuck, I set down the laptop and go read.

Sometimes for a long, long time.

I like to read outlier books for inspiration. I sometimes look at the Times list and then go download the book whose presence on said list is most surprising (this did backfire once, when a certain book about several different tints of charcoal first swept the nation). I try not to read the books of the authors I hero-worship when I’m looking for inspiration–no Lorrie Moore or Jane Hamilton allowed in such straits. That would make me stop in my tracks, reconsider this career I’ve chosen, think about becoming a dental hygenist, or a pilot. No one wants that. So I save those favorite hero/authors for when I’m cruising along, feeling confident, or at least capable.

Still, I get so much from seeing other writers successfully break the ‘rules’ of my genre or of their own. And, though I am quite hesitant to admit it, I also get a little inspiration from seeing less successful authors hew too closely to genre convention for my tastes. It’s all about contrast. Just as watching a genius ballerina dance the same Ballanchine sugarplum fairy I’ve seen years over years makes my heart race, watching a less-inspired dancer perform the same moves helps me to see the mechanics that made the first one so special. I can’t always pull off the stuff the sui generis writers are doing. (Or as a music teacher once explained to me: you’ll have to be much better at this piece before you can start playing it wrong.) But watching them do it makes my mind soar with the possibilities.

This is probably why I ascribe to the sometimes unpopular belief that no reading is ‘unworthy’ reading. There is no book, (well, maybe a couple books, but not very many) from which one cannot learn about storytelling. There’s no graphic novel or comic strip or young adult serial that won’t teach me anything about timing, or word choice, or tension, if I read it looking for such information. If you’re looking for inspiration, try it yourself. Find something you wouldn’t normally read. (My book, for example.) It certainly can’t hurt.

And with that, leave me to my tacos. And this bestselling outlier thriller (you all know which one) I can’t seem to stop reading. For inspiration, of course.

5 Replies to “Deb Kelly uses other writers.”

  1. I completely agree that no reading is wasted. Heck, even the absolute dreck is useful for showing us what not to do. A kind of “negative inspiration,” I guess.

  2. Oh yes – reading is one of the ultimate sources of inspiration. Except, as you say, when it is so soul crushingly brilliant that I’m certain I can never write a single sentence worth anybody’s time. Great post!

  3. Love this! I do the same thing! I read widely and in many genres, and I love the thrill of discovery when I enjoy a book I didn’t even know I wanted to read. It’s definitely inspiring, and a great way to recharge the batteries (not that I wait for that to do it, as my teetering bedside TBR pile indicates!)

  4. Ha, yes, when I’m feeling the blahs, I shy away from my idols as well, who only make me feel as if I’m on a fool’s errand. But picking up a book by someone I’ve never read can be helpful — and even, as you say, inspirational!

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