Writer Inspiration through Vicarious Creation

Hildegard reading and writing

If I’m ghosting for a week, writing articles about the side effects of antiquated amitriptyline or the evolution of human teeth, I find it nearly impossible to settle into writing a short story or even a simple journal entry. Conversely, if I’m on a sleepless reading jag, chest-deep in poetic prose and an old, revered story, I have difficulty resurfacing in the cognitive vicinity of my day job (nonfiction ghostwriting). Somehow, the latter feels like that tight pair of jeans I keep in the bottom drawer (just in case I’m ever sixteen again).

It took years for me to realize where I was going wrong. I put myself on a Ginkgo and B-12 regimen. I meditated. I pondered the possibility that I might be losing my mind; that my mo-jo was no-go. So I took myself from first person to third person point of view. Like an allergy sufferer on the verge of a diagnosis, I chronicled everything I ingested, both physical and psychological. The ah-ah soon followed.

I wasn’t reading what I was writing (or wanted to write). My two loves were rolling down a steep slope, in a death grip, too busy clawing at each other to grasp onto anything solid.

Writers are readers. We imitate. We emulate. We are inspired by those who have gone before us as much as athletes, actors, and anthropologists are. Basketball players don’t study the locomotion of cross-country runners; they memorize the techniques and chew on the stats of their personal hoop heroes. In the same way, it benefits writers to read the type of prose that they aspire to (or that they’re currently working on).

Read what you want to write and you’ll learn to write what they want to read. Allow your favorite authors to speak to you. The material will seep into your soul, boil and bubble, and finally find its way out…through your pen.

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7 responses to “Writer Inspiration through Vicarious Creation

  1. Writers are readers.

    This got me thinking about my own freelance writing dream. My tendency is to spend enormous amounts of time reading, then fail to write for fear my word will be meaningless. Part of that, I’m sure, stems from comparing myself to those who are far better writers than myself.

    Perhaps I’m expecting too much, too soon. I appreciate the last two paragraphs of your post. I just need to remember, as you say, what I learn will eventually find its way from my pen.

    Thanks for your words of wisdom.

  2. Shelley -

    I can identify with what you’re feeling. I used to avoid reading the greats because I feared that I would either lose sight of my own convictions or that I would inadvertently pick up their style and feel like a copycat. During that time, I found myself floundering — lost and without a direction for my writing. Now I can read something and say, “I want to do that,” or “I will never write like that,” and my goals are brought into focus. You have a nice, natural style. I think you’ll do great things.

    I recently read that readers will not remember most of what they read. However, the things they read will change them forever. This is true, at least for me.

    Thanks for sharing. This whole writing thing is a journey unlike any other. Keep me updated on how you’re doing. Drop me a line anytime.

  3. “If I’m ghosting for a week, writing articles about the side effects of antiquated amitriptyline or the evolution of human teeth, I find it nearly impossible to settle into writing a short story or even a simple journal entry.”

    For me, in my so-called line of work, the mental shift I must make to go from the relatively introverted act of writing (during the day), to bartending for 12 hours at night is gigantic, staggering, sometimes crushing.

    Speaking of which, I must be off. Wish me luck.

  4. Yeah, gives new meaning to night “shift.” Break a leg…or a glass.

    I hear you — up until last year, I waitressed to pay the bills. I have to believe that multiple personality disorder comes easier when it’s not obligatory.

  5. I had to smile at the last two posts; I also waited tables to support myself and my kids. Think about it: how many artists, musicians and writers are also working in the restaurant business either because the odd hours suit their schedules or the whacky and unique night life inspires their art somehow? (Lots of character studies in my case).

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