It’s a bit of an obsession of mine, and has been since I was a kid. When my friends were off riding bikes or playing sports, I was content to stay at home, curled up with a book. I read voraciously then, and I still do. I read several books at once, depending on my mood. I read the same book over and over again. I’ve even been known to turn the last page of a book only to turn back to the first and start it all over again.
At university, I never took any creative writing classes. Sure, I was an English major, and that did involve writing of sorts: critiques and compositions and analyzing. But it was never creating characters of my own, telling a story of my own. So when people ask me, “why did you become a writer?” my answer is always the same: because I love to read.
As a writer, I have a different relationship with books than I did solely as a reader. I still read them for the story – but I also read them for structure. For character. For dialogue and for plot. For inspiration. But most importantly, I read them for rejuvenation. Because sometimes, when I’m stuck in my own story and just can’t seem to move forward, the best thing for me to do is put my computer down and pick up a book instead. To read someone else’s words instead of my own. I’ve heard some people say they can’t read while they write – that it’s distracting to have someone else’s voice in your head. I respect that – but I also respectfully disagree.
I don’t think it’s ever harmful to let someone else’s words, someone else’s story, come into your head while you’re creating one of your own. Presumably you’ve got a book – or two or three – that made you say, “wow. I really want to be a writer.” I have many, but for me, the book that really tipped the scales from “I want to do this” to “I am going to do this” was THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL.
Odd choice? Maybe. Perhaps you were expecting JANE EYRE. Or ANNA KARENINA. Or heck, even TWILIGHT. But for me, THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL was all the things I love most, combined into one novel. History. Scandal. Betrayal. Boys and dresses and unrequited love and oh yes, blood and beheadings. (Hey. I like it dark and twisty.) And while that book told me the same story I already knew, it was the author’s voice – modern and witty – that made me see it in a new light.
So whenever I’m having trouble with my own story – if I’m stuck or frustrated or just tired of hearing my own voice – I go back and pick up THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL. Reread my favorite passages. It never fails to rejuvenate me, to make me eager to go back to my own story. But most importantly, it helps me remember why I started writing in the first place: the desire to write something that someone else would love reading.
I’d love to hear what book inspired you to become a writer – and what book you turn to when you need help getting back into your own. Leave a comment below, or tweet me @virgboecker.