I had the pleasure and luck to hear Ray Bradbury speak in person a few years ago at the Venice Beach Library in Los Angeles. When his family moved to L.A. as a young man, he said he got most of his “education” at the library. He went there and read. And read and read and read some more. Then, inspired by such writers as Edgar Allan Poe, he began to write. I think it’s really that simple for a lot of writers, myself included.
I’ve always loved to read. This was in part instilled in me by both my parents. My mom would encourage me to read and also read to me when I was very young. My dad had a ton of books lying around the house and after he died it was with a sense of impeding excitement that I picked up books he owned and read them. I connected with him through these books more than I ever did while he was alive. He read the same words I did and that became a very special ritual to me.
Like most fantasy authors, I discovered The Hobbit and its legendary sequel The Lord of the Rings when I was young, twelve years old. I read The Hobbit and immediately devoured Lord of the Rings right after. It changed my life. I became, in that fell swoop, a complete and utter Fantasy Geek.
I continued my education by reading every single fantasy and science fiction novel I could get my hands on. Forgotten Realms, Robert E. Howard’s Conan tales, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Piers Anthony, I read and read and read some more. I filled my brain with creative content. I went to college for four years at Indiana University, graduating with a B.A. in English in ’99 but this formal education is a mere trifling compared to the countless hours I’ve spent devouring other people’s stories and learning from them. Edgar Allan Poe, combined with the grit and power of Howard’s tales of the mighty Conan the Commerian, were the biggest influences on my own style.
I never realized this until I finished my second novel, Exile. All those gothic undertones, twisted corridors, dark, dank hallways and madmen, the Undead come to haunt the living, themes of insanity and murder, all came from Poe while the action I invigorate my work with comes from the visceral punch of Howard. I have read much more from other writers but no two can be said to have inspired my sense of the macabre in a greater way.
What allowed me the discipline to write everyday? To crank out ten novels in a little less than eight years? A combination of a few things, turning thirty years old one of them. They sense of “what am I doing with my life?” came into play and motivated me to get serious about my writing. Like many writers, it began with spurts and false starts. Before I completed and published my first novel there were two that I never finished. In hindsight I am thankful I didn’t finish them because they were not very good. Full of clichés, mediocre writing and poor structure, they did allow me to get some of that nonsense out of my system. You can’t be afraid to be bad when you write. At first, most of us are crap. Work through it, get better, keep working. Hemingway said all beginning writers should toss away their early work and I agree with him. Use it as a testing ground to improve.
There were some books on writing that helped me educate myself further, most notably The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and On Writing by Stephen King. Cameron’s daily pages got me conditioned to write everyday and King’s tool box and structural coaching helped give me a way to do it all. Two thousand words a day until it’s done, that’s how I do it. I’ll go into greater detail in a later post about my routine for writing but suffice it to say you must read a lot and write a lot. That’s huge. Plus, reading books on writing and watching videos with other writers talking about their work or joining online writing communities, all these help and at the very least through osmosis you will gain something.
But nothing helps develop your craft more than the act of creating it.