“they’re the books that just jolted me”
I’ll put the caveat first: Becoming the writer you want to be is not about waking to write at the same hour as your idol or sharpening twenty pencils or paying legendary prices for the legendary notebook of Hemingway, Picasso, and Chatwin or dressing a certain way or welcoming certain books into your home. That said, novelist Jim Lynch seems like he’s on to something. Here’s Lynch at about the 52-minute mark of Brad Listi’s “Other People” podcast:
LYNCH: … I put together this bookcase up in my living room here where I’ve got like 75 of my books that have inspired me more than any other books over time. And they’re not the books that I consider necessarily the best books, but they’re the books that just jolted me. And a lot of it has to do with what age I was at when I ran into them. And the bookcase — about half of it — are books that I read between the ages of, say, 17 and 23. And that’s just kind of the most powerful, impressionable age, when you’re trying to figure out what exactly life is and what you’re going to do with it.
LISTI: Yeah. Are you sitting in front of that shelf right now?
LYNCH: Yeah. I am.
LISTI: Can you read some spines just so we can get a sense of the 17-year-old?
LYNCH: Robert Penn Warren, All The King’s Men; William Styron, Sophie’s Choice; One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; Raymond Chandler; The Color Purple; Fountainhead; Where the Red Fern Grows. That goes back way farther.
If you’re stuck in your writing, if you’re literally so stuck you can’t get started, try to give up entirely on any hope that your book will ever get to hang out on a shelf with literature’s immortal masterpieces. Think instead about “the books that just jolted” you — even if you’re embarrassed by them now, especially if you’re embarrassed by them now. You can write one of those books. You can start now. Grab the closest pen or pencil or crayon. Grab any scrap of paper. Just start. Don’t even wait to read this quote from Betsy Lerner’s The Forest for the Trees:
The more you indulge in any neurotic notions about a set of necessary conditions that will enable you to write, the colder the trail will get. The problem is, none of this is writing. It’s stalling.
And yes, blogging is stalling, and reading blogs is stalling. Fair point. Don’t get up. I’ll see myself out.