As a writer, can you trace your roots? Just like musicians, we are influenced by the works of others. How much of your mentors do you see in your own writing?
The following are 12 lessons in writing I learned from my favorite authors.
1. Victor Hugo
Writing was a different type of gig when Hugo was alive. Authors salaries were dependant on length, which may explain why some classics come in at over a 1,000 pages. This could be why Hugo meanders through “Les Miserables” — an excuse to add his personal thoughts on Waterloo, religion, and slang.
2. Sir Aurthur Conan Doyle
Doyle published several short Sherlock Holmes stories in Strand Magazine. The serials were then collected into novels. This approach feels very similar to what I do as a blogger every day. Publishing tid bits of knowledge that can later be collected into anthologies.
3. Judy Blume
Reading “Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great” was the first time I saw a tom boy in literature. Blume’s books spoke to young girls about their fears associated with being teenagers. The young adult market is a big deal and one of the most lucrative for new authors.
4. F. Scott Fitzgerald
I love and despise “The Great Gatsby.” The characters are deeply flawed but the story is well written. A good writer can craft an enduring tale that is not dependant on our attitudes towards the main characters or themes.
5. Langston Hughes
Hughes remains my favorite poet. I learned from him how to use rhythm and flow. Poems do not have to rhyme, but they have a heartbeat. My favorite example, “The Cat and The Saxophone, 2 a.m.” This poem captures the spirit of Jazz in words, but doesn’t rhyme.
6. Mary Shelley
“Frankenstein” was Shelley’s first novel. The idea came to her in a dream. Her friends encouraged her to publish the story and the rest is history. Write down all your ideas, they could be a best seller.
7. J.K. Rowling
Rowling is one of the few contemporary authors on this list. Rowling shrewdly retained the rights to digital publication of the Harry Potter books, leading to Pottermore. This is one reason why she is one of the wealthiest women authors in the world.
8. Philip K. Dick
All of Philip K. Dick’s books are surreal, filled with double identities. Prime examples of this are his stories “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” (the basis for “Total Recall”) and “Through a Scanner Darkly.” Strange as it may seem, many of Dick’s stories are based on real experiences. The richest place to start stories is from our own thoughts about the world around us.
9. Steve Martin
Martin was always a prolific writer, having begun his career working on staff for the Smothers Brothers. He brought his real life interests into his standup act. As an author he is much the same. Writer’s cannot necessarily separate their characters from themselves.
10. Nick Hornby
The first Hornby book I read was “High Fidelity.” I have yet to read another book that so accurately captures the sub-culture of record collectors. This could only be done by someone who is part of that scene. Write what you know.
11. Dave Eggers
I read, “A Hearbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” and noticed it had an air of pretentiousness.Yet, it is a self-reflective pretentiousness used as a framing mechanism,which adds humor. Some books have a limited audience and that is okay. You can still be successful.
I loved Les Miserables. As for Mary Shelley, I read Frankenstein to my oldest daughter when she was a senior in high school. Wow, is that a wordy story! There is a richness and depth to it, but it is exhausting to read out loud.