Back when I started writing my first novel, Bernd (my husband) bought a book by Sheri S. Tepper titled “The Family Tree.” He read it and said that it was very good and that I should read it; with one caveat. He said I should not read it until I had finished my book. He had read enough of what I had written so far to decide that it might not be a good thing for me to read Tepper’s book.
I found myself several years down the road and not yet having finished my novel due to being busy with other parts of my life. I’d read all the new books on hand and didn’t really want to reread something and I remembered “The Family Tree.” I took it from the shelf, sat down and started reading. It only took me a few chapters to realize why Bernd had said what he said to me. I seriously thought about giving up on my book.
I think that very often, writers find inspiration in the works of others. But I imagine that, like me, they sometimes feel there’s no point to what they were writing because someone else has done it already and much better than they could ever do it. Or I’m just making that up to feel good and all the other authors out there are way more confident than I am.
The reality is that while my book shares a few concepts with Tepper’s, they are still very different. My story is not her story. In her book, she seemed intent upon delivering an ecological message as well as entertaining. I’m mostly concerned with entertaining. There might be a larger message in my novel, but I’m at a loss to see what it might be. Forest for the trees and all that. Or man’s face for the coffee beans, if you prefer.
Do not ask me why, but at the same time I started writing “Millie’s Adventures in Time,” I had what I thought was another great idea so I also started another novel I had tentatively titled, “Charisma Dirge and the Golden Locket.” Enter my erstwhile husband once again. He’d begun reading the Stephanie Plum novels by Janet Evanovich and recommended them highly to me as being a load of fun; with one caveat. Do not read them until you have finished writing Charisma Dirge. Golly.
Well, that didn’t happen either. I’ve read a quite a number of the Stephanie Plum books and haven’t worked on Charisma since the first. I might one day finish it. You never know. I still think it’s a good story and I love the Charisma character. Right now, though, it seems doubtful.
For the most part, however, reading the works of other authors inspires me. I would love to be as facile with the descriptive phrase as Dean Koontz. I wish I could be as good at building an entire world from scratch as Anne McCaffrey. And she has built so many. For looking at the effects of technology on the human condition, Isaac Asimov can’t be beat. And for sheer gruesome inventiveness, we have Stephen King.
The list of authors that have inspired me to write and to better my skills is enormous. Too huge to list them all here.
So what’s an aspiring writer to do in the face of all those good books out there? Jim Butcher’s (The Dresden Files) advice is to just keep writing no matter what.