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February 10, 2015

What’s Influenced Your Writing?

Paper scraps with text: What Experiences Have Influenced Your Writing?

We often talk about how reading is subjective. Just because we like X story doesn’t mean others will like it too or vice versa. We can probably all think of a bestseller that left us wondering why people liked it.

But we don’t usually talk about how writing is subjective as well. The genres I enjoy writing and the stories I like to tell aren’t the same that others enjoy or like to write.

I’m sure some would hear about how I write paranormal romance and think (to paraphrase The Princess Bride) “Eww, a kissing book.” *smile* In reverse, I can’t imagine writing a story without an exploration of love and relationships (in other words, at least a “love interest” character).

That’s a good thing. We need diversity in our writing preferences so there are sufficient books to appeal to the diversity of reader preferences. If everyone wrote the same genre, readers looking for something new and different would be left out.

However, this idea did get me wondering about the various reasons we write the stories we write. Or to put it another way, why do we write about the ideas, themes, worldviews, etc. we do?

I came up with a couple of different ways our experiences can influence us, but maybe you’ll be able to add to this list…

Focus #1: When We Start to Write

If we’ve had family, friends, or teachers encouraging us, maybe we started down the writing path earlier in life than we would have otherwise. On the other hand, if we’ve had others discouraging us, maybe we delayed our entrance to the writing world—or we might have been contrary and written anyway. *smile*

The when of the question for when we start to write might influence us in other ways as well. It can take years to learn the “rules” of writing, so a later start can delay our learning curve. Also, we might write the stories that interest us now and not the stories that would have interested us ten years ago.

I’ve mentioned before that discouragement in high school from those who didn’t understand that fiction means making things up (and didn’t necessarily indicate “a cry for help”) kept me from writing for far too many years. But encouragement later came in the form of Harry Potter, as the stories’ magic inspired me to take writing up again.

However, in the time that I wasn’t writing, I’d worked through my sci-fi reading phase and moved on to other genres. If I’d continued writing when I was younger, there’s a good chance I would be more interested in writing within the science fiction genre than I am currently.

Influencers for When We Start to Write Might Include:

  • Experiences with family, friends, teachers, etc.
  • Inspiring books or authors
  • Personality traits (perfectionism vs. experimentation, self-doubt vs. contrariness, etc.)
  • Knowledge of writing “rules” (do we feel “capable” of writing?)

Focus #2: What We Write

Our experiences will likely influence what we write in many ways. We might write in our favorite genre to read. Or we might write within trends with a goal of income because of our budget situation.

We might write in a genre that complements our worldview. Or we might write stories in a genre that doesn’t seem to match the themes we like to explore—because we want to bring a different viewpoint to the category.

My experiences and worldview (i.e., my “Pollyanna” nature) match the Happily Ever After of romance stories. Even my various story ideas for non-romance stories still focus on the question of what it means to be happy.

Back when I was in a far worse place than I am now, several experiences led me to question how to be happy. It took me several years to discover how much the maxim of choosing to be happy holds true for me. Because of that history, my stories often explore the importance of choices, whether that means free will vs. fate, the gray area between good and evil, or the potential for redemption.

Influencers for What We Write Might Include:

  • Our favorite genres or authors (especially at the time of starting to write)
  • Willingness to break writing “rules”
  • Genre trends (especially if our strategy includes writing to the market)
  • Experiences that form our worldview and themes we want to explore

Focus #3: Why We Write

We can also look at the question of why we write at all. We might write stories that explore tragedies of our life as a form of therapy. Or we might write stories that we wish existed for us but don’t yet.

We might write stories with characters we’d like to call friends. Or we might write stories that essentially “teach” our worldview to others.

My initial reason for writing and pursuing publication was that my characters demanded that I tell their story, and if I was going to have to write it down anyway, I may as well share what they have to say. Over the years, I’ve grown to appreciate the power of words, so my reasons now include wanting to bring happiness and enjoyment to others.

On some level, those reasons don’t feel like enough, as though I should have a grand vision for my work. But nah, happiness—for me and my readers—is grand enough. *smile*

Influencers for Why We Write Might Include:

  • Need for income or validation
  • Desire to share our stories with others
  • Pushing the boundaries for genres or diversity assumptions
  • Making sense of our lives and experiences

Because I didn’t write for so long, my decision to pursue writing is recent enough that I can point to specific experiences that led to this point. I know the exact circumstances that led me start writing again. I remember the conversation that made me question the nature of happiness. And every day, I’m reminded of the stories still in my head that demand to be written. *smile*

But maybe I’m unusual. Some writers knew from a young age that they would be authors when they grew up, so maybe they don’t have specific memories for the when. Some writers might be comfortable reading only one genre, so maybe there was never any question for the what. Some writers might never question the why and just follow their gut.

Let’s find out. Share your writing influences in the comments!

What influenced you to start writing? How did you decide what to write? What influenced that choice? Why do you write? Are your reasons internal, external, or a bit of both? Are there other focus areas of your writing that have been influenced by your experiences? How so?

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Melinda
Melinda

Hi Jami,
Another great thought provoking post. I was lucky to know I wanted to be a writer from a young age. The first thing I ever wrote was a “The Ousiders” by S.E. Hinton fan fic…way before the internet was common in every home. *smiles* I wrote all the time…until. I was a pen and paper first draft writer. I even managed to fit writing time in with a toddler at home. Back then, I thought I knew everything I needed to know about how to write a good story. I had lots of them lying around, just too scared to submit anywhere, or at least that’s what I told myself. But then, my vision went. I thought my writerly dreams were over! How could I write my first draft if I couldn’t see the paper and special pen I used to write? Sloooooooooowly, I’m getting over that *smiles* Writing with a screen reader is entirely different from with pen and paper. I can say now, it was all just another excuse not to put myself out in the world of fiction. I’m still scared mindless about that, but I’m getting there!
Thanks for a great trip down memory lane!
Melinda

Davonne Burns

I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who didn’t realize the need to write until later in life. ^_^ I’m fortunate in that I’ve always been an avid reader and a die-hard sci-fi fan since a young age. I had always been focused on my art and drawing though and writing was more just something I did randomly when an idea would need more than a drawing to do it justice. Then about ten years ago, I had my first child. The delivery was easy, what happened after was not. I ended up pretty much bed ridden for the next six weeks and had lots of time to think. I started writing on a story I’d first envisioned in high school. It went through dozens of iterations but is now with my agent. Along the way I learned I most enjoy stories with strong characters and deep themes. The stories that inspired me the most are ones I read growing up that showed me a new way to look at the world. Ray Bradbury’s short story The Black Box, still haunts me to this day. Nor Chrystal Tears by Alan Dean Foster was an epiphany. My ongoing struggle living with a major mental illness also heavily influences my writing. I am all too cognizant of how my illness is portrayed in the media as well as my gender identity and sexual orientation. These are topics a lot of writers shy away from, especially in genre fiction. I’m hopeful…  — Read More »

Carradee

I remember poking at storytelling a few times when I was young, and my mother said I told all sorts of (creepy) stories since the time I could talk, but…it was erratic and never went anywhere. Unless it was for a class—I know I wrote (& illustrated) a cute little story for one class because I still have it. But when I was age 8 or 9, I was introduced to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and to Star Wars and Star Trek: Voyager (newly started) shortly thereafter. The former in particular spawned an elaborate daydreamed fanfic that essentially predicted Section 31 and entire Undine thing showing up in the Star Trek Online game, which is set a few decades after Voyager. My fanfic daydreams didn’t use those terms, of course, and I connected things a bit differently, but it filled the same plot holes. (I find it amusing that I, as a child that young, had made an assumption that filled the huge plot hole in the first episode of Voyager…it took me a few years to realize that the show’s writers actually hadn’t meant or said that.) Anyway, that daydream continued for years. It got incredibly complex and convoluted, and I was forgetting more and more of the foundation, to the point that daydreaming was often upsetting. “X happened again! But who resolved it last time? How? Why do they have to contact Y? What’s important about her? Why can’t I remember?!” The summer after I turned 14…  — Read More »

Carradee

Note that “experimentation” is also one of my traits. That first novel in the Chronicles of Marsdenfel essentially started by looking at a fantasy trope list and figuring out how to tweak it.

I’ve intentionally wrote things from second person POV, in present perfect tense, in future tense, etc. I enjoy that sort of thing. I have one short story that’s pretty much all monologue and description, because I was struggling to write setting and forced myself to do that so I wouldn’t write all dialogue interplay.

Robin
Robin

if you haven’t read them, you might want to check out the trilogy Glow, Spark, and Flame by Amy Kathleen Ryan. 🙂

Carradee

Thanks for the rec! I’ll check them out. 🙂

Lara Gallin
Lara Gallin

Interesting post, I’d never given much thought to the whys and the whatnots. I started writing when I was quite young, I’ve still got a few of my old school books which are as amusing as they are cringe inducing! I would say the oldest thing I’ve found is from when I was six or seven (at least that’s what state of the handwriting and the drawing of a squirrel suggests!). It’s a poem about autumn leaves that I’d written on a piece of note paper and put in my dad’s packed lunch. Apparently I used to do that quite a lot 🙂 I loved ghost stories and would find any opportunity to write one in class. The most concerning one is about a girl who was clubbed to death by a ghost wielding a spiked club. All good healthy stuff for an eight year old! I trailed off with reading and writing in my teens, it was all about listening to music at that age. My best friend and I had been split up by the bureaucracy of the school catchment area but we still wrote to each other for years. Sometimes we would write little series where one of us would write a part of it, and then send it to the other who would write the next part and so on. I still have all of her letters, she has mine and as she’s also a writer herself, our teenage scribblings could be worth something one day!…  — Read More »

Nena Clements

I know exactly the moment I decided write and why I had to write. I had read Twilight and was discussing it with a coworker. She remarked why everyone liked the story… If we all had someone treat us like Edward doted on Bella we wouldn’t need to read stories like this. But a lot of people read this book. A lot of people read books like this.

In my head I had created stories like this since I was 9 years old. Twilight wasn’t a literary masterpiece. I could surely write a story if that was all it took to be published. At the age of 50 and careening through menopause and unhappy in my marriage I thought it was the perfect means of getting a tiny slice of recognition out of this world before I no longer existed.

I put the story in my head at the time into WORD and came up with 100,000 words! I had no idea I that much inside of me. I’ve written five books since. I haven’t published a book yet, but I’m learning the craft and enjoying it. I do this in spite of the opposition I get from my spouse. Just wait and see. All those feelings roiling around inside of me will be read!

Sara L.

Wow. Absolutely loved this, Jami. It made me think more deeply about my roots as a writer and see how I’ve become the writer I am today. I’ve loved writing for as long as I can remember. My parents told me I learned how to write not long after I learned how to read, and from there it took off. I even recall sitting at the kitchen table with book-making kits, making up stories about talking animals, visiting far-off places, and doing all kinds of outrageous things. I was maybe 7 or 8 years old then. Because I was so young when I started, it’s hard to say what might have triggered it… other than having a vivid imagination and expressing it best through words. Maybe the “little kiddish” way of saying this would be, “It was fun!” The only real discouragement from writing I received came in my 20s, mostly from my mother. It hurt that someone so close to me wasn’t supportive of my passions and dreams. But by then, writing had become such an integral part of my life that I was able to let go of the negativity. Being contrary to discouragement came naturally to me. Plus, my friends and teachers were encouraging me to continue writing at the same time, so the positive vibes quickly cancelled out the only negative vibe. 🙂 In terms of what I write… I’m not surprised I’m writing a YA fantasy novel because fantasy is my favorite genre to read.…  — Read More »

dolorah

I have certainly changed my writing preference with advancing age. I write to entertain, but also to explore important issues in the world (well, women mostly). If I had encouragement when I was younger, I would likely be writing fantasy and happily ever afters. Now I prefer “satisfactory” endings, and stories that make me question motives, and eternity. It is interesting to think life experiences change our reading and writing goals.

Sharla Rae

This blog made me think back – way back. I grew up on old TV westerns and when I started writing American set westerns were very popular so it seemed very natural for me start by writing those. I also have grown to love sci fi though so I’m dipping my toes into those waters. As to why I write or what influenced me — I had run my own businesses and when we moved out of state I sold them. I was a busy stay at home mom then but I was used to being lots busier so I got board. My husband told me I’d read so many romances that I could write one. Well, we all know it’s not that easy but I’d written humorous poetry as a kid and the idea of writing a full length story appealed to me. Of course the 1st book didn’t publish but the second one did. I was always a straight A student in history and I loved the research so I’ve never grown tired of historicals. That said, I’m dipping my toes in to the Sci fi genre. I’m a huge Treckie fan.

Joe Kovacs

Wow, it’s amazing to see how people’s writing interests have changed over the years, especially depending on where they are in life. It also sounds as though not everyone has been supported in their writing journey (sorry, Sara L. to hear about the lack of support from your mother when you were in your 20s.) My primary writing interests are literary and horror. At one point in time, I considered becoming an English professor. I have my MA English and so my interest in literary fiction probably shouldn’t be a surprise. But I also have loved Stephen King ever since I started reading him in the early 1980s. (That went over not-so-well in the hallowed halls of graduate school, let me tell you). But so, I guess what I’ve written largely reflects what I enjoy reading. I will say though, that the academic-that-could-have-been still wonders about my interest in horror literature. But as H.P. Lovecraft once wrote, fear is the most primal of human emotions and there’s nothing I enjoy more than being scared to death by a good movie or a story. At the end of the day, I am now old enough not to wonder or worry about whether my writing interests seem natural or understandable. If I write one day about a conflict between a father and son, and then the next about some subterranean creature ripping a soldier into bloody pieces with his merciless tentacles, well, that’s just the way I roll. LOL! Intriguing post, Jami.…  — Read More »

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

My writing influences were both internal and external. External from reading inspiring books, hearing what some authors or readers said, etc. etc. Internal from my change of personality, beliefs, and interests as I grew up. And here I’ll go into a lot more detail, haha. Hmm I think I started writing shortly after I learned how to write? And I never really stopped writing completely ; I just wrote less frequently during busier times, but yeah I don’t think I ever “stopped”. Despite starting young, I can see some writing preferences that have stayed (action-adventure, fantasy) but most of my writing preferences have changed as I grew older, e.g. more into romance, writing about philosophical themes, lately even exploring social issues (e.g. gender equality, homosexuality but I don’t do the latter openly because I know some people will hate me if I do, haha). Guess I got more into romance cuz I was getting older, and realized that loving romance isn’t something to be ashamed of. For those philosophical and social issues, I hear them around me and became very interested in some of them. Especially the gender issues; maybe my psych courses had a hand in this cuz they talk about so-called “gender differences” so often. My being a psych major also made me EVEN MORE obsessed with character personalities and relationships… Oh also I think I started off writing in an earnest, innocent tone when I was a kid, though there was some room left for comedy. When…  — Read More »

chemistken

One look at my blog will tell you what influenced me to write. 🙂 Trying to capture the feel of the books that I like most is what drives me forward. Whether I’ll get there or not is another story.

Glynis Jolly

I started writing as soon as I learned to print in the 1st grade. I wasn’t happy with ‘See Spot run.’ I wanted the reason why he was running. When I finally got past Spot, Dick, and Jane, I wanted to write about what I dreamed of experiencing. For instance, I’ve always wanted to go to the UK. I’ve never had the money for that so I write about it. And this also explains the why of my writing.

Julie Musil

I started writing poetry when I was ten! I even scored the front page of the local newspaper with my Christmas poem. My family has always been so supportive of my writing.

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[…] reject that idea. It’s damn hard work to be happy. It’s a choice that often takes digging deep into ourselves and figuring out what we value, what makes us tick. Nothing easy or shallow about […]

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[…] Gold suggests that knowing what has influenced our writing might be helpful, Ilana Johnson thinks that writing is the best medicine, and Amanda Patterson […]

Killion Slade

I’ll do the form submit answering – LOL

What influenced you to start writing?
I was also one of those folks who used words to express myself and it wasn’t always positive. When I lost a baby at 5 months it was the darkest, scariest thing that ever happened to me. I decided to write through it and it eventually morphed into stories. It was the best therapy I could have done for myself.

How did you decide what to write?
I decided to write horror stories with a comic edge because that was my coping mechanism.

What influenced that choice?
Authors Christopher Moore and Molly Harper helped me through an awful depression with laughter therapy! 🙂

Why do you write?
I write for several reasons. One is the personality trait characteristic where I learned that my personality needs the attention of conversations in my head to keep me sane. LOL The other is for fun, networking, and ultimately one day to hopefully enjoy some money from ideas and characters that were born in my head.

Thanks for another awesome post 🙂

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[…] Fantastic post from Jami Gold: What’s Influenced Your Writing? […]

Bella ardila
Bella ardila

I started to writing at early 16 years. I al already finished my first fantasy book and writing the second one. I am writing about fantasy story, because I love magic and s***. I am writing my first gay love story in the sex scene in it. Can you give me some advice into writing my first sex scene in 5 part short story?

William
William

In no particular order: I love The Catcher in the Rye, the Southern Family on The Carol Brunett Show, the Hardy Boys, and the whole “water trickling over the pebbles thing” of Ernest Hemingway. I imagine myself strolling along the sidewalks of Sherlock Holmes England, lounging in the offices of Sam Spade (revolving fan, feet on the desk, near the open window), and standing astounded before the “ancient dusky rivers” of Langston Hughes. When driving alone in the car with the windows rolled up, I cannot resist transforming into Robert Plant, Bono, AC/DC, Gordon Lightfoot – and alarmingly, Tori Amos. I tell people I don’t listen to the Carpenters – but I’m lying. I like to examine things to see how they work. A line from the sappy TV movie Lace: “Which one of you b****** is my mother?” I love it when people are redeemed. The reason why Vincent Van Gogh painted, as observed by Brenda Ueland, (paraphrasing) “The question is – what should I do? I must be good for something…here, Theo, is a little drawing of the sky.” I’ve failed so many times that translating its essence might add up to about 90,000 words. The Beatles, especially Revolver. I have a responsible job, but there’s a big part of me, still, that would be right at home in the treehouse with the kids in Stand by Me. And finally, not really having an answer for the question, “Why do you love her?” I don’t know. I just…  — Read More »

Sophie
Sophie

My influences… Well, I started writing pretty young (I had a diary–that I’ve now thrown out–from 2007/8 that used so many different characters from different shows/books/films, plus a few OCs in there somewhere.), and I guess it went from there. I found my mother’s medical books, which introduced me to the world of medicine and sickness.

Somewhere around 2010, the show I write most for comes out, and that starts the process of me learning and writing more and improving my craft. Cue experiments and crappy characterisation galore.

Fast-forward to 2012, when I meet my best friend and fellow writer. She’s been very helpful for me, and is very handy to bounce ideas off (and to provide a reality-check). She’s helping edit a fanfic I’m writing, because romance is her strong point (and is my weak point) and it has proved helpful. Sure, I might drive her up the wall sometimes, but I’m getting there!

I’m still young, I guess, but I know writing’s been a passion of mine for some time. I just hope it will stay that way! My family are supportive about me writing, and recognise it is a passion that won’t go away.

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