It struck me, as I was tossing from side to side struggling to sleep after eating an ill-advised spicy burrito, that my favourite authors have a lot to answer for in the way I’ve developed my writing style. Feverishly confused about why I wasn’t sleeping, I startled to rattle off single sentences that summarised exactly what I felt I’d got from reading the works of those marvellous writers. Not the specific points of English you could learn in style guides, but the special inspiration that only a successful demonstration can drive home. And, lo, here’s the result of that sleep-deprived thought process:
Joseph Heller (pictured above) taught me how far you can go in effectively manipulating storytelling with clever structure.
George Eliot taught me that plot plays second fiddle to meaningful characterisation.
Kurt Vonnegut taught me that world class literature doesn’t have to be formal – and any subject can be made to be enjoyable.
Joseph Conrad taught me how richly poetic the English language can be in prose.
Mark Twain taught me that even insignificant made up nonsense can be exciting or enjoyable if worded the right way.
George Orwell taught me that fiction can have far-reaching real-world importance.
Terry Pratchett, early in my life, taught me to embrace the furthest reaches of my imagination.
Neil Gaiman taught me that with enough attention and detail even freshly invented mythologies and ideas can be given a timeless weight.
Neal Stephenson taught me that research has a very important place in fiction, and needn’t get in the way of a good story.
Stephen King taught me that popular, genre-fiction can still reach high standards of literature.
Russel Hoban taught me just how far into creating a new world a piece of dedicated writing can take you.
Sir Richard F. Burton taught me that one of the most effective starting points for interesting topics is to lead an interesting life.
Vera Brittain taught me the old cliché that real life is stranger than fiction.
Charles Bukowski taught me that writing about being a drunk waster can be as entertaining as the wildest of epic fantasies.
And most recently, Hugh Howey taught me that writing success comes, above all, from satisfying an audience.
Oh and of course, Shakespeare taught me that if you master your craft and are inventive enough it’s possible to get school kids to study your writing centuries in the future.
If you’ve got any inspirational lessons from writers you’d like to share, please add them to the comments below. Otherwise, if you’re interested in learning the lessons I took from the above authors in more detail, I’ve got some reviews of their work on this site.