As writers, we often believe we were born to write.
I certainly have early memories of my writing life. My first “novel” – a masterpiece inspired by the cartoon Jem and the Holograms – was “published” in grade three. I haven’t really stopped writing since.
“It’s in my blood,” I’ve heard writers claim. “I couldn’t not do it.” And I find, for the most part, that I agree.
However, I’ve never been one to champion Nature as the sole determinant of anything. Especially after reading a recent blog post by literary marketing expert Dan Blank about an artist’s chain of influence, which led me to examine my own early writing influences.
But not just any writing influences; not specific artists whose work has inspired mine, which would be a chain of influence of near infinite length.
Rather, I’ve been thinking about those actual people in my life whose direct and indirect influence has helped make me the writer I am today – those who make up the anchor at the end of that chain.
A much more manageable list of three:
1) My sister, the proto-writer
I have a sister seven years my senior who is also a writer.
She’s a successful journalist and editor, but as a youth, she loved creative writing. She even won a contest once.
(For the record, so did I, but it’s not a competition between us, not anymore.)
When I was young, people used to attribute my own love of writing to me copying my sister. It always annoyed me to hear this (particularly when she herself said it), for I wanted to viewed as my own person with my own spontaneous interests, not some derivation of the people around me.
That is to say, I didn’t want to be viewed as a normal human being.
But looking back on those days with the clarity of age and maturity, I’m now absolutely convinced that my sister’s writing helped inspire my own.
As a kid, I blew though my library’s holdings like a cyclone, sucking up everything in my path. I always needed more to read. Plus, I always had ideas on how to make the stories I read and watched on TV even better.
How else would it have ever occurred to me that I could fill this void with stories of my own had I not observed firsthand someone else doing just that?
2) My father, the visionary disciplinarian
When I was young, my father, like many fathers and parents in general, had a fairly savvy sense of skills that would serve me well in the future.
One such skill was typing, which my father made me take in school in grade 11.
The class was actually pretty good: my friends were in it, the teacher was young and had lots of interesting stories about travelling, and really, typing isn’t all that difficult, particularly when you can only manage 20 words a minute (which I eventually overcame and went on to score the third highest mark of all three grade 11 classes).
But just taking the class wasn’t my father’s only directive; he also made me practice every day at home. Which it totally what a sixteen year old girl wants to do with her spare time.
The only way to make the chore even remotely bearable was thus for me to leave off with fff-space-jjj-space-style tying drills I performed in class and to start typing stories … at 20 words a minute.
(Although I now type like the wind, I’m not certain my writing typing speed has much changed.)
3) My BFF, the muse-maker
I’ve been trying to recall when it was I wrote my first original fiction. I wrote a lot of fan fiction as a kid because I didn’t really have original ideas.
Not until I befriended the new girl in grade 10.
She too was an avid reader, but read totally different books than I did. She introduced me to the fantasy genre, which still inspires me to this day even though I don’t write it anymore.
For three years, she and I also co-wrote a shared world, self-insert story via notes passed back and forth between (and during) classes.
This story had it all: fan fiction plotlines, original plotlines, poetry, artwork, humour, music. I’ve never much cared for writing exercises, but this work entailed following writing prompts on the grandest scale. We saved every page. By the end of high school, we were both able to fill a two-inch binder.
My high school bestie and I are still friends today although we now live at opposite ends of the country. I’ve always considered her my biggest fan as a writer. And as one of the very few who have read from my WIP, she’s still my biggest fan, which is a HUGE motivation to keep going and finish it.
BONUS: My mother and stepfather, the provisioners
It was them who bought me my very first computer – the computer on which I wrote my first (incomplete, shelved) fantasy novel.
(All 960 pages of it.)
Who (or what) who helped make you into a writer? If you don’t write, who helped you become the artist that you are? Let me know in the comments.
(Image source #1 and #2)
6 thoughts on “Who Anchors Your Artistic Chain of Influence?”
You’re lucky to have had such influences from a young age Janna. I’ve come to writing late and I simply can’t pinpoint any person or thing that led me too it. At my age there are MANY things which I wished I’d done at an earlier age then I might have got to be really good at something.
I think we all experience regrets in life as well get older, but with age also comes the ability to accept ourselves as we are regardless. It may have been hundreds of little influences that led you to start writing; tiny nudges and pivots this way and that rather than a huge, insistent shove.
You ask hard questions.
I can’t think of a conscious reason I ever took up the pen, My father is a classically trained pianist and composer. My brother and sisters were all good illustrators. We’re all creative types by nature. I started out making comics, pretending they were scenes from movies I wished existed, but my art skills never developed (you can’t develop nothing). Somewhere along the line I switched to writing fiction. I wrote because I found it fun. That’s really it. No one encouraged me to do it. No one rewarded me or praised me for it. Other than one miserable 5th-grade teacher, no one discouraged me to do it. I was very quiet and reserved as a child (if you knew me offline you would find that hard to believe), yet I grew up in a bit of a madhouse with siblings and fosters siblings and exchange students and animals. The fact that I was not bothering anyone led them to leave me alone, which led to more writing. I’m beginning to realize why I am uncomfortable with praise.
I write for the same reason Paris Hilton got famous: Because.
“How did you become a writer?” is a hard question? Oh dear.
Even in only knowing you online I find you being a quiet and reserved child hard to believe. But then you’d probably find it equally unbelievable that I was an outgoing, boisterous kid who always got in trouble for talking in class. Funny how we all end up becoming what we were meant to be in the end. Including becoming writers.
“Funny how we all end up becoming what we were meant to be in the end. Including becoming writers.” Yup, Janna.
I spent my childhood with my nose in a book. It is still told at family gatherings that I had a book buried in each of the three bathrooms – so there was somewhere I could go to read where my mother wasn’t. She, understandably, wanted me to do something useful with my time – such as practice the piano or help take care of my four younger sisters. I wrote the first time-travel romance when I was 14 (as far as I know).
Then I did hard science – all the way to the PhD – and married a fellow scientist. But I always planned to write when I retired (it’s hard to do hard science as a hobby in retirement), so I figured I had time. Then I had 2 kids, contracted CFS and lost the ability to do science, had my daughter, and ended up homeschooling the three of them because, hey, I knew math and science, and I was stuck at home anyway. (Homeschooling three bookworms is not that hard if you know math.)
Somewhere in there, when they were old enough (1995, IIRC), I decided I needed to do something for ME, enrolled in an 8 week class the the local community college, ‘Writing the Mystery Novel,’ and my first ambition was started.
I used – until they left the nest – very small bits of spare energy, and completed that first novel – which may be resurrected some day (it has a lot of nice hard science in the mystery). I shopped it around – no dice. Ah, well.
I started the sequel, got half-way through, and this IDEA fell in my lap – and I’ve been working on Pride’s Children ever since. I hope to publish Book 1 in October – because I think that a novelist is what I’m meant to be. Not just a writer, but someone who tells long-form stories. As you can see from this, I’m long-winded – I just knew that I would join the people whose books I loved. My mother told stories, my dad is an engineer – that plus Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and every writer I could get my little paws on. Many readers never do the next step, writing. I somehow knew I someday would.
I’m so very grateful self-publishing is a great option now – I don’t think I have the fortitude for the agent-rejection process any more (once was enough, even with nice comments). I can’t wait to get more readers (PC is serialized on my blog every Tuesday already), and the process has been amazingly described by those whose blogs I follow, so I feel I have mentors at every step, and people I can ask when I need just the right tiny nugget to figure something out. SP makes me smile.
Alicia, this is a great comment. You’ve had many twists and turns and delays in your writing journey, but have indeed become what you were meant to be in the end, and at just the right time in the long history of publishing. I am happy for you!
It’s funny how IDEAS often descend upon us while we’re at work on other projects. The same happened to me as well: I was working on my first (incomplete, shelved) novel when the IDEA for my WIP asserted it upon me. Luckily, it’s remained mostly unmolested by other muses for the 2.5 years I’ve worked on the three books (and the 6 years I didn’t work on them – or anything). But now, as I approach the final stretch of my WIP, I do find myself inspired to go back and completely rewrite that first dead novel. Which I will do, but not until AFTER my WIP is done. I am meant to be a finisher, and come hell or high water, I will be!
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