Before I begin, or rather as I procrastinate before writing, I like to read a book, short story, or some poems to help ease myself into the groove of writing. In this I find inspiration, the drive to do something different, to surprise myself and hopefully those who will read my work. While this process serves its function, at times the opposite occurs and I find myself in a state of self-conscious unease thinking look at that plot development, the fluidity of dialogue, the symbolism of the landscape, my god how have I considered myself a writer! After a moment’s time of huddling in the corner of my bedroom biting my nails an aha moment arrives whispering “Get yourself together.”
If you’ve ever attended a workshop or have scanned through the plethora of writing guidebooks on the market, then I’m sure you’ve heard the adage the best writers are the best thieves. They take the techniques of the greats and apply them strategically to his or her own work. With this insight I’ve found relief and a good few pointers.
One of my favorite Reads is Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski. Here the interpersonal relationships between family members is gruff and nuanced with misunderstandings among child and parent. Like all of his novels, Bukowski in unconcerned with establishing pleasantries of the slice of life variety. His characters are flawed and marvelous, tough and difficult to like, but the aim isn’t to achieve likable characters, but complex ones you come to understand. When I get caught up in uncertainties pertaining to my characters flaws and redeeming qualities, I remind myself that even the best of us are hard to love. Why would a fictional human being stray too far from that? It would be unbelievable, a fairy tale, or at the very least a parody on self-deception.
About a year ago I was in a reading rut. All that I read had a similar twinge of the familiar, primed with palpable plot twists and straight forward dialogues and desires. I was burnt out on realism. When discussing this with a friend, he suggested I pick up Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins, a love story like no other. Bizarre and wonderful, a rarity. This is a no holds barred kind of novel full of imaginative characters, circumstances, and philosophy. I felt like I was being swept up in some fantastic world where I was inclined to believe in everything that was happening could possibly exist. I wanted it to. Life tends to be a world wind. This is what makes Tom Robbins so great. He suspends disbelief and crafts basic human emotions, like love, into an otherworldly experience championing and encouraging that experience. What I take from his writing is the love of adventure, the quest to find authenticity, to free life of silly fears which keep us from gaining all that we can from it. That’s damn good writing.
More recently I discovered Jessica Keener, author of Women in Bed: Nine Stories. I’ve never read a collection of short stories such as this. They’re quiet and pensive, as if she had sat down with an invisibility cloak watching strangers, sketching their every move. Keener creates a closeness, while simultaneously relaying distance between the characters and actions, their motives and desires, how they go about getting them. Women in Bed tells stories of women who don’t find comfort in certainty, men, or sexuality. They come to understand themselves through trial and errors, grief, and reflection. Realizations don’t come easily and Keener doesn’t pretend they do.
For those who get stuck, I hope this helps a bit.