A Discourse in Oblivion

A Discourse in Oblivion

I have been inspired by certain authors whom I have read over my lifetime, but the two major influences are, without question, Stephen King and Louis L’Amour. I went on to imitate King for decades and I learned a lot about writing as a result. As for the Western genre and L’Amour, not so much; I still love his stories, I just lean more toward the horror genre instead. Now, I am striving to strengthen my abilities and move more toward literary work. I have also enjoyed such authors as Hemingway, Faulkner, and Fitzgerald, among many others, and they have shown me a glimpse of literature that is above mere entertainment.

I picked five authors from 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories Edited by Lorrie Moore and Heidi Pitlor in order to study outside of my comfort zone. For this assignment, I chose Sherwood Anderson and his story “Brothers,” mostly because I have never read his work before, and secondly because he was a contemporary to the other literary authors I have already mentioned (he and Hemingway were friends, once upon a time, but they had a schism and parted ways forever after). The first thing I noticed about Anderson’s prose was that he is a great writer. Not a single word was wasted, although he did use repetition as a device. I was drawn in by his descriptions which were vivid and concise, much like Hemingway, and the tone was quite literary. Sometimes getting into a story is difficult and I have to force myself to pay attention. This was not the case with “Brothers” by Anderson. As soon as I read the first two paragraphs I was hooked, and the reading was easy. It was nothing like work—unlike some academic literary stories I have read.

I am inspired to write better prose after reading this story. It hit home with beauty and a poetic cadence that speaks of talent and greatness in writing that is rare and crucial. He dropped out of school at the age of fourteen and struggled to get an education. I am inspired by this because I used to skip school and attempt a Sawyeresque lifestyle down by the muddy banks of the river. I had no use for reading early on, but when I did discover books were valuable and entertaining I had a voracious appetite to learn more. Many years later, I am close to finishing a BA in English. If I can learn to write like Anderson it would be a great asset in my writer’s toolbox.

After this post, a critic chimed in and told me I should not “write like him” because that would be wrong, I would be a copycat, and Anderson’s words were already on paper so why would I want to commit plagiarism on his work. Although, there was a glimmer of hope, since this critic said it was never too late to get started. It was assumed, I think, that I was a blithering, oblivious idiot who had just discovered the English language and how to compose simple sentences into larger paragraphs. I was a, by gosh, wannabe writer and there was still hope for me yet. Really? I had mentioned spending my early youth skipping school down by the river, but I never claimed to be a simpleton. I was taken aback, wondering if I was still a novice, indeed. Touché! I replied thus:

The reading for this module specifically said “stealing” so I don’t have any issue with saying I would like to “write like Anderson.” I was just parroting the content. I was referring to the literary genre of fiction, writing in that field, and not so much writing exactly like Anderson. Furthermore, Pablo Picasso, the great painter from Spain, also allegedly said: “Bad artists copy. Good artists steal.” Yes, I know we should strive to be individuals as writers, however, we do get sucked into imitation easily and it shows in much of the self-published material presently congesting the internet. There are only so many plots, and it is nearly impossible to be unique. Also, we do take on the style and techniques of those authors we admire. I would never say I want to be Stephen King (or be Sherwood Anderson), but I would say I try to use the best of what I have learned from him/them/they without going overboard and becoming a stalker or parasite. Don’t do this, don’t do that, etc., etc., and on and on. I have been there and done that already, now I am just an old writer trying to stay relevant. I have been writing for over 35 years and have published 4 books, so yes, I write like myself. This is my second degree, and I am only earning a BA for the initials on my resume. Writing has been a lifelong endeavor for me. All the same, thank you, and good luck with your writing adventure.

As for the college class that encouraged “stealing” and learning to write like other great authors, it was so wonderful to be back in that creative writing class again. I was excited to finish my novel I had started a while back. This also brought about an end to a four month dry spell (writer’s block?) I had been experiencing since losing my 4.0 GPA to an 89% B+ in a Shakespeare course. I was distraught and wanted to stop writing altogether (I could have tried harder, I guess). Me, a writer, failed at Shakespeare? Perish the thought. I had a distinct feeling I was being scorned for not being a heavy hitter with The Bard and his repertoire (but maybe I’m just too sensitive). I love Shakespeare. Needless to say, I felt like a dunce after that; but now I am recovering. Thank goodness I landed back in that creative writing class.

As for the influences, how we absorb them, what residual effects it has on our writing, it is anybody’s guess. I think it is a lifelong process. Some of it is certainly immediately evident (I have said and wrote the silly word “Shit-fire!” ever since I read it in Stephen King’s novel, Firestarter, and still do to this very day). Other aspects of reading and writing inspired by our influences are surely more subtle and may not be obvious until much later, precisely when we are not expecting it. One can only hope that it is a pleasant surprise and not a disappointment, as we cannot blame it on the authors who influenced and inspired us.

P.S. Yes, Stephen King does write “tomes” and so do I, and that is what I like. Long, lengthy, heavy, wordy, painful reading.

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