Caffeine and Personal Inspiration

Note:  The two are not necessarily linked, but I find that I do most things better with a cup of coffee in my hand.

David Eddings, a personal favorite author of mine, once wrote that he never read anything in the fantasy field, because he did not want to corrupt his writing.  He felt that by reading other people’s work, he would find their ideas, style, and whatnot creeping into his own.

After 20 years of reading his books, I’ve decided he’s completely wrong.  Well, about the not reading other books in the genre, not about that blatant thievery.

The issue that Mister Eddings encountered, as far as I’m concerned, is that as he got older, his books got steadily more predictable, more stale, and ultimately did not remain worth reading.  His last series, ‘The Dreamers’ was so dreadfully boring that after investing dozens of hours in the first three and a half books, I could not bring myself to finish the last 150 pages of the concluding novel.

There is no such thing as a truly original story.  It’s not possible.  All stories must have some attachment to something recognizable to the audience or they will have no value at all.  And, while certainly I don’t endorse plagiarism, there is something to be said about reading something and thinking, ‘hey, I like what this author did here.’  If it ends up in your writing, great. If not, great.  But at least you’re not letting your own ideas stagnate in the pool of your own limited imagination.

I recommend taking notes while you read, either mentally or on a notepad.  Keep track of the things you like about your favorite authors, and also the things that set you on edge.  Chances are, you’re not the only one who feels that way.  And, while you are writing for yourself, writing a novel means you’re trying to reach an audience, also.  So try writing things that you would want to read.

And, if, bychance, in the middle  of writing your novel, you get stuck, it doesn’t hurt to think about how another author or two might have moved the story along.  Don’t copy, but don’t be afraid to shape their ideas into your own either.

Happy noveling!


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Ashley Harris on October 28, 2010 at 9:10 am

    Oh boy…The Dreamers…couldn’t finish it either! I don’t think there is anything wrong with constantly seeking inspiration; and if reading helps you do so, you should read to your heart’s content! 🙂


  2. Posted by Patrick Nathan on October 28, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    I find that my inspiration seeking comes in phases. Sometimes I can’t get enough inspiration. Sometimes I can’t stop reading everything I can get my hands on. I also find that when working on my novel I’ve sought out material outside of fiction: poetry, criticism, philosophy, essays. Although Eddings’ logic is false, he still has a valid point in that a young writer’s style is easily corrupted by admired influences. I can’t tell you how many Faulkner sentences I’ve had to go back and exorcise from my novel, all because I decided to read Absalom, Absalom! while writing the last third of the book. If I do read fiction, I find that I sometimes try to arrange it so what I’m reading is stylistically nothing like what I’m writing, if for no other reason than to vary my influences and mold my prose style into something stronger. Eventually you get to the point where your prose style is your own and is strong enough to resist those influences.


    • We all have heroes, of course. I think what I’ve started to realize, though, is that my literary heroes had to deal with the same struggles and processes and painful agony that I do. I think I’m less likely to steal their style and ideas, just because I now realize how much personal value it has to create your own. Maybe I’m an exception. I don’t know. My favorite books, though, were written by men, and not gods, and so I’ve learned to view them in that light.


      • Posted by Patrick Nathan on October 29, 2010 at 4:58 pm

        My favorite books, though, were written by men, and not gods, and so I’ve learned to view them in that light.

        I think this is an important distinction that most of us overlook. It’s very easy to worship everything Nabokov or Faulkner does, but when you start finding fault in their works, you learn a lot more. Sure they are some of the greatest writers we’ve had in history, but at the same time they must have started somewhere. Finding fault in the greatest authors, living or dead, has helped me put things in perspective. It has helped me realize that yes, what McCarthy has done is profound, but why can’t I push myself to the limit and one day write something even stronger? I think it’s too easy to resign oneself to mediocrity when you fall so easily in love with great books.

        Thanks for reminding me!

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