There is nothing like admiring a writer so much that you emulate them.
And you should, for a bit, until you figure out who you are as a writer. It’s like copying your big brother or sister when you were you young–you admire them and want to be just like them when you grow up but you end up growing into your own person.
Those writers you emulate are actually your teachers. If you read them and analyze them, you can break down their writing, figure out how they do the things they do, then you can try it out in your own writing.
For me, these “teachers” have much to teach me about writing and I am so ready to learn. So, here you have six of my favorite teachers in no particular order.
A.k.a Gabo. By far this man has taught me more about writing than any other writer. His novel, “Life in the Time of Cholera”, and his novella, “Chronicle of a Death Foretold”, are my go to art pieces when I need to remind myself of why I do this. He has been able to create stories and worlds that bypass my imagination and make me delight in the joy of storytelling.
I read a biography about him by Gerald Martin to know more about him. Gabo is a journalist like I am and he wanted nothing more than to be a storyteller. I understand him. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to be, too.
However, the biggest lesson she’s taught me is to respect my characters enough to let them become who they need to become, even if they do things you don’t like or understand. There is a discovery process in writing and you need to let it happen. It’s the character’s ride as much as it’s yours so let them do evil things if that is who they are. You don’t have to love your characters but you do have to respect them enough to allow them to exist in their own skin.
This dude right here woke me up. The “Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” breathed air into me at a time when I was dying from the inside. Reading that book was like reading life, it brought me out of my slump and shook me to my core. If there was any book that brought me back to the writing life, it was that one. And if there is any writer who inspires me to work harder, it’s this cat.
Does this choice surprise you? It shouldn’t. From this writer I learned the art of discipline. He writes for an hour and a half every day, even on vacation. That’s dedication, folks!
He also taught me that it’s okay to straddle the line between genre writing and literary writing. Not only is it okay, but you should play hopscotch with that line whenever possible. It’s not about literary or genre, it’s about telling a good story with depth and soul and meat to keep you reading from page to page.
My favorite saying is from one of her books: “I only achieve simplicity with enormous effort.”
That quote is engraved into my laptop! From her I learned simplicity and effortlessness. No, not to write simply but to work hard and make it look simple. Make people say, “I don’t know how you did it but it seems so easy.” The secret is that it is not, but you shouldn’t be able to tell by the prose.
Edwidge Danticat taught me that it’s okay to be exactly who I was. I didn’t have to apologize for it or explain it. She taught me that I was who I was and that what I had to say, my experiences and my world view, deserved to be heard.
This was a powerful lesson to someone who spent a lot of time explaining how she was the way she was. Reading Danticat was my liberation.
Who are the writers you admire? What lessons did they teach you?