Many of us bloggers are also voracious readers, and noticing special combinations of nouns, verbs, and adjectives that inspire or challenge us is a fun and, I think, worthwhile exercise. It has also been enjoyable to comb my bookshelves, triggering memories of certain periods in my life when these books struck a chord. Here are four more passages that have had an impact on me as a reader, writer, and/or person:
1. E.B. White’s Here is New York:
In the candid light from unshaded bulbs gleam watermelons and lingerie. Families have fled the hot rooms upstairs and have found relief on the pavement. They sit on orange crates, smoking, relaxed, congenial. This is the nightly garden party of the vast Lower East Side–and on the whole they are more agreeable-looking-hot-weather groups than some you see in bright canvas deck chairs on green lawns in country circumstances. It is folksy here with the smell of warm flesh and squashed fruit and fly-bitten filth in the gutter, and cooking.
I remember reading White’s Here is New York during a creative non-fiction course during sophomore year at Middlebury College. This course served up a series of moments when I realized it could be as enjoyable to read well-written non-fiction as it is to devour a wonderful novel.
2. Stephen King, On Writing:
One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little ashamed of the short ones. This is like dressing up a pet in evening clothes…Make yourself a solemn promise right now that you’ll never use “emolument” when you mean “tip” and you’ll never say Josh stopped long enough to perform as act of excretion when you mean John stopped long enough to take a shit.
I think my vocabulary is fairly strong, but when I write I take King’s words to heart. Flowery adjectives and complicated “show-offy” language does not get the point across as effectively as simpler word choices. Concrete nouns and strong verbs are always, in his opinion, more useful to effective writing than adjectives and adverbs. I concur.
3. Anne Lamott’s bird by bird:
You get your confidence and intuition back by trusting yourself, by being militantly on your own side. You need to trust yourself, especially on a first draft, where amid the anxiety and self-doubt, there should be a real sense of your imagination and your memories walking and woolgathering, romping all over the place. Trust them. Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.
When you write, you put yourself out there, especially if you are attempting to write for publication or any other audience. This is a great reminder that you need to trust yourself and take risks as a writer. I remember my high school prom–I was on crutches from a recent knee injury–but I decided to get out there and attempt to dance on one leg. Had a blast. Within the realm of writing, nothing good comes from standing on the edge of the dance floor leaning against your crutches.
4. Pat Conroy’s The Great Santini:
He dressed in fatigue pants, a military issue T-shirt, and combat boots. High on his left arm, a tattoo of a red cobra, fanged, coiled, and ready to strike, stood in stark relief to his pale, freckled skin. His hair was cut short in a military burr….Quickly, he did fifty pushups and twenty situps. Then, he jumped up from the floor and began to run in place. He pulled a rosary from the pocket of his fatigues and began to say the first decade of the rosary. The drumming of his feet on the floor echoed throughout the darkened house.
Power of character. Like The cult classic movie The Big Lebowski, The Great Santini is driven by the character. Most specifically the disturbing and unforgettable Bull Meecham, described above early on in the novel. I’ve always been drawn to writing and film that creates or portrays amazing, larger-than-life characters, and The Great Santini is no exception.
Again I ask, what words have had an impact on you? Are there any books on your shelf that take you back to “ah-ha” moments or other periods of inspiration?