Essay

10 things writers are made of

If little boys are made of–

  • snakes;
  • snails;
  • puppy dog tails…

Then, what are writers made of? 

  • hope?
  • the visible and invisible creatures that traverse the woodlands’ borders?
  • creativity?
  • the fading spots of fawns?

Maybe. But I think what writers are actually made of is:

So what are writers made of? 

  1. ancestors,
  2. and atoms;
  3. events,
  4. and stories;
  5. rituals,
  6. and ideologies;
  7. flesh,
  8. and spirit;
  9. the places we’ve inhabited;
  10. and the persons whose ideas and words inhabit us.

We do not make ourselves. We are communal. We are influenced by people and place, especially by the words of writers, the teachers and in books.

We learn everything–how to talk, what to wear, where to sleep, when to speak and why to keep quiet–by imitation. We learn to write, too, by imitating others. Sure, good writers develop their own voices. But first we imitate, like children learning to talk.  Maybe we eventually become conscious of our influences and perhaps we don’t.

I want to acknowledge my literary genealogy–those who influenced me. I want to honor those who befriended, mentored, instructed and taught me. I can’t explain how or why these connections occurred, just as I can’t explain why I was born the oldest of four children in a particular family in southeastern Minnesota.

Connections happen.

I’m celebrating mine. This is my off-the-cuff, short-list of influences (of course there are many more, but those are for my biographers to discover, right?)

Mentors & Teachers (primary school through most recent):

Writing Friends and/or Writing Group Members:

Writers whose workshops, personal conversations, comments, correspondence have inspired/encouraged me:

Writers whose river (oevre) I’ve gone swimming in (from earliest to most recent)

And you, with your posts and comments, influence me, too.

Who influences you? 

Please share the names of writers you’re loving to read or learning from right now!

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37 thoughts on “10 things writers are made of”

  1. Adorable fawns. Who influenced me as a writer? All those who have gone before me, those who are with me now, and those who I will meet in the future. All have added something to my perspective and writing life.

  2. I had been thinking about this recently too, and your post here is just wonderful. We are a result of those who have influenced us, opened our eyes to the wider world and have set each of us on the road we now travel. I’ve mentioned my father before on my blog roll inspiring my love of art and books but I think his influences go deeper, which I’m only beginning to appreciate now I’m older (we had many disagreements as I was growing up!).
    Teachers all have played their part – the good and bad ones, I guess. I’m very inspired at the moment by our young contemporary writers – John McGregor is one to watch, I’m sure, he has a unique writing style. I could go on and on…but I may steal your idea and produce my own comprehensive list some day!
    Thanks for your inspiration, Tracy 🙂

    1. I’m glad it inspired you, Jenny. I myself was inspired by someone else.

      I wouldn’t consider it “stealing” if you borrowed my idea 🙂 I’m sure you’ll lend an idea back to me in return.

      1. I used to be very influenced by the old school establishment from when I was younger eg Margaret Drabble, AS Byatt, Julian Barnes. Still enjoy them. But the voice was too dated for me. Now I try not to be influenced by any particular one, but take something from whatever I read.

        I am also totally inspired by the extra writing I am doing now I have started blogging, not just my posts, but in discussion with people I have met here, exploring new ideas, new arguments, new relationships.

        Sorry not very literary!

        1. Thanks for weighing in, Denise. I had forgotten about Margaret Drabble–she read at a college where my friends taught (I went) and I found her fascinating, and then read all her books. So, I guess she belongs on my list too…

          And, I too, have found that blogging has changed not only the way I think about writing, but the way I think about my audience and what topics I write about. I’ve also been thinking lately a lot about the blog as a new/emerging genre. It will be interesting to see where it goes… It definitely is changing what “literature” is and perhaps even the notion of what is “literary.”

          1. Yes, it’s starting to change my attitude to connecting already.

            What I like is that this is like a big big writing group, with all sorts of different influences. I’ve never had the opportunity of joining a writing group, due to not having the free time. Also when you live in a rural area, finding the right people to connect to is hard. Whereas this is a global community!

            Good discussion.

            1. I, too, have been thinking that this is like a writing group or a book group. It gives people a focus to converse around, and I like that. And it definitely builds community–and I really love that it offers the opportunity to converse globally. It’s amazing, actually.

  3. Wonderful post! It’s true. It all starts as imitation…..then becomes second nature and part of life when nurtured. I’m not religious, but like to think God has entrusted me with a gift of writing to nurture and make the most of it. For me it’s mostly a type of therapy, as I’ve started A Motherhood memoir on my blog – But then I have my romantic fiction where I often see a reflection of some of my favorite authors I’ve read while I weave my heart in the fictional characters in my stories. I also love to write poetry – but need to read more of it. I enjoy romantic poetry. What would you suggest, Tracy, for romantic poetry? A fundamental way to develop as a writer is to read, I believe. Some of my influences: As a child: Murphy’s Oil Soap, My Mom ~ As a teen, books: F. Scott Fitzgerald, V.C. Andrews, Jane Austin, Tom Sawyer….and many others – Traditional Christian Hymns, A wide array of music and lyrics (yes some with profanity and sexual content 🙂 ) – Movies: Anne of Green Gables/Pretty Woman/Steel Magnolias…..and so many more ~ As an adult: The Bible, John and Staci Eldredge, Charlene Harris, Catherine Anderson, Robyn Carr, J.R. Ward, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King (His On Writing Memoir bk)….and many more – Writing friends: Selena Robins, Marin Thomas, Ann Roth, Michael John Sullivan and Kristan Lamb.

    1. I firmly believe that everyone who feels called to write should become the best writer she can be… (and that does, as you mentioned, involve nurturing the gift–which is largely done by reading, contemplating and writing).

      As for romantic poets, Wordsworth is often considered the granddaddy of them all. You could study him for a whole lifetime, but if you want a quick introduction, I’d start with the Lucy poems: http://www.poetry-archive.com/w/lucy.html

      and spend some time reading and re-reading “Lines Composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey.” It’s best read aloud while sitting under the shade of a gorgeous tree on a sunny day, overlooking a lovely distant view, with the head of your beloved resting in your lap. http://www.bartleby.com/145/ww138.html

  4. So, Rilke? (Sorry, to just pick this one….but it struck me). I never warmed up to Rilke, actually I felt repulsed (maybe too strong a word) by his what I deemed “over sensitivity” and over the top way of phrasing….it has been a long time since I read some of his work, but maybe I should look into it again…

    Beautiful post…

    1. Actually, I never warmed up to Rilke in German. I preferred Robert Bly’s translations of him which is so out-of-character for me that it’s incredible, but, as you know, I never do let myself be cast into a single character-mold anyway. As soon as I’m cast, I break the mold.

      I thought Rilke’s language was too contrived and sentimental. Bly manages to capture the thought and imagery, but updates the sound to something a late 20th-century ear won’t find too smarmy. http://www.amazon.com/Selected-Poems-Rainer-Maria-Rilke/dp/0060907274

      1. You have no idea how much this post made me smile. It just seemed too much out of character, for exactly the reasons that you state so well which mirror my impression of Rilke, that I could not understand what you would see in it.

        Will need to check out Bly’s translations.

        And yes, don’t let anyone or anything cast you. Molds are there to be broken.

          1. Well, I believe all translations are interpretations. I, for example, love, love, love what the theater director Frank Guenther did in his completely new translation of Shakespeare. It’s definitely been adapted and interpreted, but finally there is a modern language to this that actually transports the meaning for our times…and shows Shakespeare as naughty as he can be (Schlegel and Tieck pretty much erased all of that side in their “interpretation”)…

            1. It would be quite a trip for me, to see Midsummer Night’s Dream in German; even more disorienting would be to see one of the tragedies–King Lear or Othello, for example, in German, would probably make me think I’d died and gone to another planet. I’m going to have to try to experience it some day.

              1. Well, if you visit Germany not in June, July and August chances are pretty high you will find a theater playing some Shakespeare…just sayin’. Could be a great time for Federweisser, Zwiebelkuchen and Shakespeare…

  5. Love this post – and the photo! I think it’s wonderful to remember to take a look back and see how your writing style evolved. I’ve never really thought about how I came to the writing style I have…something I’ll be thinking about now…

  6. I’m influenced by everything I’ve read, all that I know, those who whisper during my dreams, and all the colors, sounds, scents and feelings around me. Plus energy levels, nags of frustration, tinges of hope…and freshly sharpened pencils.
    See what you started!

    1. I few years ago I tried to make a practice of this–especially with teachers, who often never hear of the good effect of their influence. I’ve written quite a few personal thank-you notes to them.

  7. Nerves and anxiety. I think those are two items writers are made up of. At least this writer is. Take my last post, for example, I thought it sucked and only posted it at my wife’s behest. It has quickly become one of my most commented.

    As of now, my writing influence circle is small but growing as I branch out and meet more writers. It all started with a writers group at my church though.

    1. Oh, yes. I forgot to mention nerves and anxiety. But, that diminished for me when I got older and developed a thicker skin, and more confidence (due to more acquired knowledge).

      I didn’t know that churches had writers’ groups. That’s a great idea.

    1. Thank you, Violet.

      And I’m going to be working on a post about the influence of technology, and how that has changed the nature of “influence” and relationships. You’re definitely one of my biggest influences in that realm. But I’m still functioning in a quasi-shocked state of “is this real?” To “converse” with people and never see them or hear their voices–it’s just so strange for me, that I have difficulty realizing that it is, in fact, real, and not just a dream.

  8. I’ve met so many people along this journey who have influenced me, offered critical advice and have just taken the time to pass along something they learned early on. The writing community is a generous bunch.

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