How great writing inspires more great writing
4 writers share a proven technique for improving your work—reading the work of others
February 15, 2012
A beautifully composed sentence can leave readers in awe, but it can also have a motivating effect on other writers. In the 1997 movie As Good as It Gets, Jack Nicholson’s character says, “You make me want to be a better man.” Good writing can have that same effect—inspiring writers to be better.
Writer/editor Dina Santorelli, for example, finds inspiration in the beauty of a well-written sentence, whether it’s from watching the television series House or reading The Submission by Amy Waldman. She says good writing “inspires me to reach deep down into my own bag of tricks—or perhaps my soul—and try to touch someone else in the way I have been [moved].”
Becky Levine, author of The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide, derives inspiration purely from books. It’s not perfectly polished or flawless prose, but a well-crafted sentence, character or scene that can be her biggest motivator. “When an author is working on her manuscript, when she digs in and makes deep, strong changes, and I get to see the power of revision and the place to which she’s pushed herself as a writer—that inspires me. That sends me back to my computer to move forward on my own stories,” she says.
Other writers take comfort in knowing that writers before them also struggled. For example, Jessica McCann, author of the novel All Different Kinds of Free, appreciates Stephen King’s On Writing, in which he recounts his painful journey from addiction and a tragic car accident to recovery. “[It] reminds me how lucky I am to have writing in my life,” she says. “Somehow, after I’ve read the final few paragraphs, the problems causing my lack of motivation usually seem miniscule, and I’m ready to get back at it.”
Margarita Tartakovsky, a writer and blogger, says that when writing gets hard she remembers the big picture and doesn’t worry about creating an award-winning masterpiece. “Perfection doesn’t exist, and the good stuff resides in the truth,” she says, adding that the truth can be messy. Sometimes reading Bird by Bird author Anne Lamott’s wise words are enough to help her persevere. Other times Tartakovsky’s own writing inspires her. “When I’ve created a great metaphor or when I’ve told my truth, I seriously feel a surge of excitement and, honestly, that’s worth every excruciating moment of writer’s block, doubt and fear.”
The process of writing is fraught with bumps and blocks, the path seldom easy. Time-related and psychological obstacles can leave even the most experienced writers frustrated and wanting to give up. Next time you feel that way, set aside your writing and spend time reading a favorite work. Whether formulating a scene, fixing a sentence or finalizing an article, the answers you seek may just rest in the words written by a fellow writer.
Brandi-Ann Uyemura is an associate editor for Psych Central and a freelance copywriter, blogger and features writer.