I hate being asked about a favorite writer or book because it is like singling out a favorite child or family member. I like many different writers, many different books and have been an omnivorous reader for so long that I love certain books but prefer reading other, new works rather than circle back and keep re-reading the same ones.
Also, as I have grown up and have called upon all my reading to perform various tasks, from writing fiction to teaching in the classroom, different authors and works come to mind. I envy those who can conjure up beloved passages of fiction and poetry, especially their own works. My mind just doesn’t work that way.
So, this month, as the Crazy 8 Press writers discuss the one piece of writing that most inspires us, I am drawing a blank. The answer really is: it depends. Much as I put on different music for different tasks, different works come to mind.
For example, when I’m feeling really stuck, I read West Wing scripts by Aaron Sorkin to look at not only structure but how dialogue can reveal character. In a lot of my later Star Trek fiction, I found those works particularly useful.
Now that I am in the classroom, I realize different works about the writing and reading process, such as Stephen King’s On Writing come to mind and can be used with greater effectiveness than pure academic texts on the subject. Heck, whenever I get a chance to teach a creative writing course that may be the one book they read cover to cover. Beyond that, I’ve worked my way through various texts on the writing process such as Donald Maas’ Writing the Breakout Novel or Peter David’s Writing for Comics.
Other times, I study how certain prime time shows are structured. I’ve made little secret that I think Shonda Rhimes’ structure on Grey’s Anatomy is pretty strong and it’s testament to the foundation that it’s endured for a decade. I’m studying shorter run series, such as House of Cards to see how to gain stronger impact when you’re limited in duration.
I’ve recently read the eighth and nine novels in Jim Butcher’s wonder Dresden Files series and have admired how he continues to advance the meta story while putting his protagonist through the wringer and that despite surviving each escapade, still doesn’t realize how powerful and successful he has been. All he sees are the flaws which in its own way is a strength and something I can learn from.
So really, it depends upon time and circumstance but the sheer breadth and depth of the writing I’ve exposed myself to really has made me a better reader and, hopefully, a stronger writer.