They say that all the great writers were readers first. To me, that makes a lot of sense in the chronological order of things. But as a writer, I often ponder about contemplating upon the musings of others. If I read too much, I fear that I shall subconsciously soak up the style of those that I favour. Umberto Eco, prime example. I love his style, his dry wit and observational delicacies. I couldn’t imitate him yet somehow, despite our styles being sort of similar (in my mind, at least), I feel that I could be accused of such a felony.
Over the past few months, in preparation for this final assault of mine on education, I have obtained a small number of his works. These range from an oversized printout to an actual book, via a handful of PDFs that I have been lucky enough to track down. I also have a few of his novels, be they published or Kindled. I haven’t read them all; more a splattering of paragraphs before the bigger task of sitting down and notetaking takes place.
So, if I don’t read the works of others, then what? What empirical defeatist attitude awaits me? Why must writers read, first? Why must they take in what others are saying in order to plot their own literary course, to manoeuvre their made-up meanderings? I refuse to be told how the Earnshaws of Bethnal Green exact their revenge on the MacBeth family of Fulham. This is my story and I’ll tell it my way, regardless of having had a different version of each book rammed down my throat thirty years ago. I don’t want to be the next Zadie Smith or even Dick King-Smith. I want to be the first me. And actually, the only me. Yes, I can be idolising authors, but I don’t want to be influenced by them. This goes against my own nature of creativity.
And yet, I find myself having been drawn to numerous websites with interesting articles that I read several pieces of a day. I read from The Paris Review, Medium, The New Yorker and for some reason, The Economist. I don’t feel influenced by these influential works, yet I’m inspired by them. They make me want to take to my keyboard and simply hit letter after letter until I reach my two-thousand-word goal for my latest assignment. Of which, at the moment, I am now at only 444. For editorial peace of mind, I wrote down 400 originally but that has since changed to the correct total that you see.
I know my weaknesses are to be found in the lack of metaphors and similes I use. Do creative nonfictional authors actually need to use such evocative methods? Regardless, I feel that I don’t use enough in my writing. Which is strange. I know I should and yet I don’t. One reason is the fear of using clichés to death. Grizzly like a bear, tall as a giant. Soft as a baby’s bum. I know I can do better yet I am stopped before I even attempt them. I think one reason is my nonfictional prose. I don’t actually line myself up to provide a space to have them inserted. I don’t walk down Boulevard Haussmann like a gallant knight, each stride taken bringing me closer to the guillotine of desire that is Atelier Cologne. I simply walked to the perfume shop. I may not even do that. I may quite literally start there.
By reading before writing, I fear that any metaphors and similes could entertain themselves and remain in my thoughts so that I can replicate them in my own work. To avoid this, I try to read without soaking up the words. An empty read. Which makes reading pointless. And that leads me to not reading. However, on one of my runs the other week, a strange epiphany fell before my eyes, like the lowering sun on an Ibizan beach, the sky blending into the sea. Music. More specifically, songs. They use metaphors and similes. And double entendres, too. And here I am, for three miles at a time having a variant of a short-story compilation audio book literally pumped into my ears at a pace of 155 beats per minute. I’m surrounded by it. The background noise is isolated and all I’m left with are the metaphors, similes, double entendres, rhymes, poems, story-telling prose and dialogue.
Likewise, trying to research without reading is like playing the bagpipes whilst scuba diving. Yes, this is another reason I don’t do many metaphors, similes or analogies. But it’s true, if I choose to research, let alone having the need for such activity through my studies, I will be needing to read. And this will involve more than simply books. It will, and has, required articles and blogs. What is the difference? I guess it depends on the who, why and where of each piece. My continual ramblings are, to my mind a blog. However, if they were to be published on a regular occurrence, in a national newspaper, then they would suddenly become articles. And I’d be earning a nice side income.
The research for my writing is very much like an evening on YouTube. I start with the main topic and end up looking at things with no logical connection. I can be writing about mechanical keyboards and then begin to search about where they were first made. This could lead me to the female typist in the workplace and how they began to gain independence through industry. A step on would lead me to feminism and then onto the decline of the social behaviour of today’s youth followed by knife crime and the blame being put on video games. Each little branch of the tree providing more and more reason to look deeper into not only those topics but any subjects that spring to mind from a thought whilst reading.
So yes, for me, I have now decided that I should read before writing. Not f or influence, but for inspiration.
And now it’s hit one thousand and forty-three words.