The Lightning-Strike, or, Sources of Inspiration

I am always curious about what inspired writers to become writers.  If there was a particular book or author that made someone say, “this is it, this is what I have to do with my life,” and if there was one or two books/authors, in particular, I love finding out which ones.

I can pinpoint my inspiration to three books/authors.  When I was 8 or 9 years old, my dad gave me one of the best presents he has ever given me, even to this day.  He wasn’t around much because my parents are divorced and had been since I was 3 yrs old, but these particular presents had a huge impact on me.  He gave me the Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe (his personal favorite) and the Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. To say I devoured them would be a gross understatement.  To say that my dad was the reason for my love of the written word would be hugely inaccurate, because it was my mother who bought me most of the books I owned, and it was mother’s enormous personal library that admired as a child, and it was my mother who read to me every chance she could.  That being said, Edgar Allen Poe and Emily Dickinson were revelations to me.  They both brought me wholly awake to poetry (still one of my loves, though my own poetry isn’t much worth mentioning), and Poe began my love for psychological horror (which, years later, brought me to Lovecraft).

Those two books from my dad nudged me persistently toward writing (especially, but not only, poetry).  However, the final and greatest push came from my mom’s personal library.  J.R.R. Tolkien.  In the fourth grade I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in quick succession.  And I was struck by lightning.  I knew, I KNEW, that THIS was it. This was what I had to do.  Period.  And I never looked back.

I would love to know if other writers have similar stories, and what particular books or authors made them feel as if they had been struck by lightning.  I would love to learn what got Tolkien started, or Roger Zelazny, or William Gibson, or Michael Crichton.    And what about the newbies like me?  And what about the people who are even younger than me, who have perhaps been raised on an entirely different group of authors than I was?

This question is related to the previous blog about the anxiety of influence, but it isn’t the exact same question.  Admittedly, Tolkien, who was my lightning-strike, is (as I already mentioned) one my greatest sources of influence-anxiety.  The topics, themes, characters, and settings I write about are all influenced by him, and even my stylistic choices have some echo of Tolkien.  But, while I definitely consider Poe and Dickinson as my other two original inspirations, I do not think they greatly influence my actual writing now.  Is this true for everyone?  Do we always/sometimes/never gather inspiration and anxiety from the some places?  What say you?

(Side Note: I had this scheduled to publish on Fri, Feb 25th at noon, but apparently I need to more carefully figure out how to do that, since it obviously didn’t ACTUALLY get posted.  *sigh* )

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2 thoughts on “The Lightning-Strike, or, Sources of Inspiration

  1. Amanda, what a lovely post. Thanks for sharing your lightening bolt moment. I don’t know that I have a defining moment. I really told people I was going to be a writer at 3. I wrote a lot of mystery stories. I read my mom’s collection of old school Jerry West Happy Hollister series. My biggest ah-ha writer to writer moment was finding an Adrienne Rich poetry book in the NYU bookstore. I copied her style and have pretty much used her book “The Fact of a Doorframe” as my writing bible since.

    • Ah, Adrienne Rich is one of my all-time favorites, but I didn’t discover her until high school. My poetry background was fairly limited to the “classics” as a child. Poetry is not my mother’s thing, and her library was my main source of reading material for a long time.

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