Learning From the Masters, A.K.A. Your Favorite Authors
Let's go back in time for a second to the first thing you ever wrote as a writer. No, I'm not talking about your first publication and don't worry, I don't remember my first attempt at writing either. Let's think for a second about how we started out.
I, like a vast amount of others, did not have any acquaintances who were super into writing fanfiction or had already discovered a need to write when I started becoming interested in the craft. All I knew at the time was that, when I read a book I really enjoyed, I'd read it three times in a row. Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan was the first book I ever reread.
Even before that, shameful in reputation or not, I was a great liar. I was good at getting out of trouble by inventing excuses or reasons that simply sounded reasonable enough to be believable. Now, I wasn't the best liar out there, but I did have a knack for being able to come up with something when the occasion called for it.
Looking back, I've come to believe that I was born to be a storyteller. I was always telling stories orally, like the little delinquent bard I was, and loved hearing or reading other stories in turn.
This delinquency of mine continued until I met a friend in my freshman year of high school (I wish I remembered her name because she may very well have set off my writing career) who ultimately introduced me to the existence of fanfiction.net.
Gasp! Yes I know, I'm one of the ones who started out this way. I don't regret investing my time rewriting the plots of The Legend of Zelda games among many other video games I targeted in teenage obsession. I regret this even less when writing fanfiction taught me how to analyze a text of my liking with the idea in mind that there was an invitation to change what I saw.
There wasn't an actual invitation to change licensed content, I'm speaking strictly towards my own need to expand my creativity. Once that envelope was pushed, there wasn't a single thing I saw, played or read that I didn't want to rewrite--just to see if I could.
Well, this is all fine and good but what does this have to do with the title of this post? I'm glad you're wondering this (or are at least humoring me). I've come to learn that part of establishing yourself as a writer is not only developing your own voice or assigning yourself to whatever genre, but also to being able to look back on the journey that brought you here.
Ok, looking back on the journey is always fun but why does that matter? Well, this isn't me just wanting to brag about a relatively mediocre achievement of writing fanfiction but to analyze how doing so inspired me to learn from my favorite authors.
We all have that one author we were so smitten with, that their books were the ones who inspired us to try writing for ourselves. For me it was Libba Bray and her book, A Great and Terrible Beauty. I remember how deeply her writing made me feel, and more importantly, how confidently I thought "I can write like this. I want to write like this."
I naturally bought the rest of her trilogy but was amazed by how much I obsessed over learning to structure my sentences like her, write tension like she did. Libba Bray, I had decided, had become my ultimate teacher. To this day, I still buy her books and review the master.
What's more, looking back, I realize how this study lead to my no longer needing the training wheels these books provided. I began to try my own vocabulary and evolved from imitating Bray's sentence structure and flair for horror and developed my own voice.
Now life after high school's saga of fanfiction writing became a gateway to time to write for real. At U of H (University of Houston), the English department was chock full of writing classes in their Creative Writing department. The excitement in me passed a little when I learned what Literary Fiction was and realized stories from previous University of Houston graduates dominated my studies but I stuck with it for the necessary skills that I inevitably learned.
Don't get me wrong, if you delve in literary fiction, cheers to you. Just picture for a moment someone super into genre fiction spending a little more than three years in classrooms full of literary fiction writers only.
I know, enough with the life story. The point of my rambling this morning, is that I learned to write through the observation of other writer's craft. Even in genres that did not captivate my attention. Maybe its my ADHD or pure common sense, but I've always learned best from the authors I loved to read. I always set aside my favorite authors' books as textbooks in their own right, rather than simply a fun book to read.
So let's get to the point, finally, and address learning from your favorite authors. Even to this day, I've kept up with my habit of compiling novels I use as reference material for my own writing. I love to flip through one of Bray's books for a refresher on how to write tension correctly. Peter V. Brett, author of The Warded Man, is my go-to when I'm lacking in inspiration to write conflict between multiple protagonists. You get my drift.
It probably doesn't need to be said, but I'll say it anyway: this reference tool to hone your own voice of writing in no way is simply a game of imitating what you see in other books. Don't rewrite Martin's Game of Thrones, but draw inspiration from it.
What does your favorite author do that you just love? Want to try it for yourself? Make it your own. Most importantly, learn how your favorite authors did it and learn how to do it on your own.