Where shall I start? Euripides, Marie de France, Shakespeare, Jane Austin, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ellis Peters? Actually, I could fill volumes with writers I admire, in whole or in part, and quotes I find memorable from the ancient to modern, poets to cartoonist dialogue balloons. Such is the joy of being a reader: the “wow” moment that makes me stop and wonder at what creativity can do to expand understanding and with such delight.
But I am also a writer. What does all that read and reread brilliance do to me when I face the blank page? Make me jealous? Discourage? Does it inspire?
The answer is simple. All of the above.
Being more human than it is wise to admit, I confess that I have been jealous of a fine turn of phrase. This qualifies as (oh do picture, if you will!) author, jumping up and down, throwing a two-year-old’s tantrum, and turning a lovely shade of puce. I finally stopped doing this when I discovered that geriatric knees do not absorb the impact of jumping well and that I do not look good in puce. The tantrum I could live with. The cats beg to differ, and they always win.
Does it discourage me? Yep. There is no way on god’s green earth I am going to be as clever as Jose Saramajo, as compelling as Simenon, as witty as Donna Leon… You get the picture. I certainly do. So why bother? Because I can’t help myself. I have reached the point in life where I cannot imagine not writing. Not only is it good for my own mental health, it is good for the sanity of everyone I care about. When I recently went on what promised to be a record-breaking rant (that might impress any filibustering Senator) on the State of the World, I was sweetly reminded that it was time for me to go kill something digitally. I did and felt ever so much better. So I write. So I will never be in the Canon of Classics. So I care?
Inspiration is so much easier. When I am working on the editing of any book, I try to read authors I consider to be classic. This is not the time to try a new writer, even if I suspect (s)he may be brilliant. This is the time I want to drown my sub-conscious in known brilliance. The argument is that, if I do, I have half a chance at writing something competent enough to give pleasure to a reader.
And isn’t that really the goal of any story-teller? To give pleasure to another reader as a way to say thank you to all the writers who have given me enjoyment? Maybe I’ll keep that idea close when I look at someone else’s clever book or phrase or image and wish I had written that.