Often people talk of the regrets of their past. I think there are things you can validly regret such as poor decisions that lead to consequences later on. But many regrets are fairly pointless. I think these regrets are much more of an envy. “If only I had been richer,” “If only I had the courage back then to go after that job.” I say all this as I admit one of my own, “If only I had been a more well-rounded reader.” I shouldn’t be regretful of that, but I am. I look back at the limited books I read in my childhood, and worry that my writing is influenced by too few books. But the fact is, I can’t change that. And I am grateful for who I am today. Part of who I am is what influences me from my past. If I had not been who I was then the book reading binge I went on in my mid-twenties would not have occurred at the point in time that it did, and I wouldn’t have those particular influences to draw from. If I had not gone on that particular reading binge the winter of 2009, I would not have been situated to start the path of reading Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy in 2010, which provided me the “hope” I needed that Fantasy had not taken a turn for the worst. (It was an incorrect assumption I had made at the time. But one I had made, nonetheless.)
There are most certainly influences of my own reading life that have gone into the writing of Thrice. My two biggest influences from the 90s were the reading of David Eddings and Robin Hobb. From Eddings I learned about characters who can, while remaining fairly unchanged, be endearing, and from Hobb, characters who are real, and grow, and live, and die. As I looked back at my influences and examined “where I came from” at a writer, I also had to look critically as those influences. I was a pretty big fan of the Belgariad and its respective sequels and prequels, but I was never able to get into the other books by Eddings? Why? I felt he was repeating himself and reusing the same characters. To wit, there was a statement he made about his work, in which he avoided reading other books in the Fantasy Genre, in fear that they would influence his writing. I believe this is why he repeated his characters. He was running the same circle over and over again, and never allowing his own writing to develop. It was a lesson I learned about what not to to do in my own writing. (Perhaps someday I’ll write a post going into this in more detail, as I strongly disagree with Eddings on this philosophy.)
Don’t get me wrong. There are reasons not to read some authors for the fear of what it might do to your writing. I very much want to read books by Terry Prachett. But the one book I did start was while I was drafting a book, and the influence Prachett suddenly had on my work was jarring. My characters began speaking in witty repartee that wasn’t true to form. I had to scrap an entire day’s worth of work. There are other authors I intentionally read in order to gain their influence. When I am editing, I try to listen to PG Wodehouse. His elevated English vocabulary starts bleeding into mine, and my edits improve in quality. And because he’s writing in an entirely different genre, I don’t have to worry about it influencing my character’s and their interactions. (No worries here that Jovan will start looking at the stars and describing them as “God’s daisy chains.”)
Who are your influences? Which ones do you happy accept as part of your past? Which pieces of writing do you find you need to “outgrow?” I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.