Love & Literature

Monday, July 16, 2012

Photo Credit: Marcelino Rapayla Jr.
Flickr/Creative Commons

"Writers are great lovers. They fall in love with other writers. That's how they learn to write. They take on a writer, read everything by him or her, read it over and over again until they understand how the writer moves, pauses, and sees. That's what being a lover is: stepping out of yourself, stepping into someone else's skin." -- Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

When I first read the passage above in Natalie Goldberg's book Writing Down the Bones, I became the girl at the wedding fighting desperately to catch the bride's bouquet, the one taking off her heels so she can sprint to the front of the crowd, the one willing to take out any taffeta-clad bridesmaid who gets in her her way.

I want to fall in love again. No, not in the romantic way. I have no plans of dumping the Mister and setting off to win the heart of this guy:

I want to fall in love with a writer, a writer that I will love so much I will want to step into her skin and become her, as Goldberg muses.

I read all the time. I read blogs, magazines, compelling books on feminism, and the great works of classic American literature. But even though I love these writers, I'm not in love with them. Let me explain.

I love Edgar Allan Poe, but I don't want to write the next The Fall of the House of Usher or The Raven. I love Kate Chopin. I mean, I really, really love Kate Chopin. But I can't say I want to mimic the writing style of The Awakening, Story of an Hour, or Desiree's Baby. This early American literature teacher needs more contemporary creative non-fiction in her life.

I'm in search of a writer I can fall for head over heels. 

Perhaps you've already found your Mr. or Ms. Right (or should I say Mr. or Ms. Write), the scribe you read obsessively, the author whose craft you study like you're trying to pass a bar exam. And perhaps you're worried that instead of improving your skill that this love affair with this literary artist is going to turn you into knock-off version of your favorite writer. But here's why I'm now convinced that is not the case. 

The moment I realized I was completely and totally in love with the man who is now my husband had nothing to do with anything special he had done. In fact, he wasn't even around. I was alone in my apartment getting ready to apply eye shadow or maybe mascara and when I looked in the mirror I was shocked by a sudden epiphany -- my reflection reminded me of him.

Our beings, our lives had become so intertwined that when I looked in the mirror I thought not only of myself, but of him as well.

But wait, isn't this somehow anti-feminist? Aren't I the girl who's always preaching to her friends the importance of not losing your identity in a romantic relationship? But in no way was I lost. I was still there in that mirror. But so was he.

For too long I've believed that being truly in love with a writer would cause me to lose my voice, that the work I would produce would not be original, but just a cheap imitation of a greater scribe. But who am I kidding? Is anyone truly original?

Every word we write is somehow influenced by everything from history, literature and news to bad pop music and 140-character quote you saw on Twitter. It's all in there.

In a chapter titled "Writing Is a Communal Act" from the book Writing Down the Bones Golderg argues that falling for another writer will only make you better; "it won't make you a copy cat. The parts of another's writing that are natural to you will become you, and you will use some of those moves when you write." 

So I'm heading to the library to find the one.

Tell me about the writers you love, study and strive to become. 


  1. My Mr. Write is definitely Junot Diaz! I was taking a mental health day and having a quarterlife crisis in my studio in the Valley when I read an excerpt of "The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao." I was hooked. It inspired me to get serious about applying to VONA (ironically, he's one of its founders), and I actually met him at a bookshop a few weeks after that. I Google him so often that it's embarrassing, but it definitely helps me with the craft and the passion to keep going.

    I hope you find the one soon! Although she writes fiction, I'd suggest you check out Natsuo Kirino. Read her novel Out when you get a chance. If nothing else, it'll make you think.

    1. I'm glad you've found your Mr. Write! I've been considering Anne Lamott. Her book Bird by Bird is one of my favorites. I'll keep you posted. :)

  2. I have multiple Ms. Writes! If I could combine Zora Neale Hurston's ability to capture a culture, Alice Walker's emotional penchant, Joan Morgan's realism/research and Pearl Cleage's authenticity, MAN! I would be a beast. But I refuse to get so lost in their work that I lose sight of my own.

    1. I love Zora Neale Hurston and Joan Morgan, too! In fact, When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost is a book that helped me define my feminism. And Their Eyes Were Watching God is one of my favorite books of all time.