Under the Influence

Earlier today, I was thinking about writing, which is something I still think about on occasion, even though I don’t even pretend to do it anymore. While there are many aspects of writing that I could’ve been mulling over, today I was thinking about things like inspiration and influence. For writers, I think inspiration can come from just about anywhere, but in the case of influence — what shapes the way the writing flows into lines, sentences and paragraphs — something deeper happens. It’s more than liking something, at least I think so. There’s something, a connection I suppose, that comes about, something that clicks, that makes sense, that helps us as we work at gathering disparate thoughts, images, sounds and smells into written form.

In thinking about this, I did a little digging to find out more about writers who influence other writers. I wasn’t surprised to learn that Alice Walker calls Zora Neale Hurston a major influence, nor was I shocked to find that Mark Z. Danielewski (the writer of the twisting and bizarre House of Leaves) and Umberto Eco were both influenced by Jorge Luis Borges. Gabriel Garc

7 Responses

  1. ghost writersI’m disappointed
    ghost writers

    I’m disappointed you don’t write anymore – what happened to the novel in 30 days project from last year? As for influences, here’s something that’s right up your alley. I think when we are in the manic-like high – that all conquering, all positive, creative burst – we are flooded by the actual spirits of like-minded beings. Which is to say, the ghosts or spirits of Shakespeare, Kerouac, Dostoyevsky, whoever; actually come to us and work through us; as similarly happened to them when they were alive. Others may not believe that, but I do.

  2. Under the InfluenceCamus’ The
    Under the Influence

    Camus’ The Fall made me consider society differently and my response isn’t finished. Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers made me consider a career as a seaman, but it turned out only to be an intermin career on the way to yet another intermin career. I used to carry a quote from Stone’s A Flag for Sunrise in my wallet until my pocket got picked.

    Ray Carver showed me the essentials and Catch-22 what they are. Russo’s Empire Falls is a good tale which I just read last winter along with Tobias Wolfe’s In Pharoh’s Army, DeLillo’s Cosmopolis, and Doctorow’s The March, Cosmopolis last; and then, I knew: “This is THE shit. This is where the bar is set. And this is where I have to get up to.” It’d be easier to give up breathing than to give up writing.
    I don’t order books but just buy what I find on the bookshelves because it makes book shopping an adventure although I do keep track of books I hear about.

    Trimble’s Writing with Style was the first style book I read. I bought Gardner’s 1997 Dictionary of Modern American Usage, followed by Strunk and White’s 4th Ed. and lastly Stephen King’s On Writing, the last correcting many minor but fundamental personal errors.
    The biggest is to write about writing rather than write and the second is to not write enough.
    Orwell’s Politics and the English Language is an indispensable concise guide and I wish I could follow Kerouac’s Belief and Technique for Modern Prose, i.e.,

    1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for your own joy
    2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
    3. Try never get drunk outside yr [sic] own house
    4. Be in love with yr [sic] life
    5. Something that you feel will find its own form
    6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
    7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
    8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
    9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
    10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
    11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
    12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
    13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
    14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
    15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
    16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
    17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
    18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
    19. Accept loss forever
    20. Believe in the holy contour of life
    21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
    22. Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better
    23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
    24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
    25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
    26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
    27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
    28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
    29. You’re a Genius all the time
    30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

    I remember Montgomery Clift talk about writing in O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night: I’m a smoker who lacks the makings of a cigarette. I got the habit but nothing to show.

    That quote is what I fight every day. I just wish I could’ve started writing sooner and wonder if there is any way to learn to tell a tale and against my doubts, if I will prevail. I figure I need to write about a million more words in my apprenticeship.

  3. Writers’ EffectOn
    Writers’ Effect

    On reflection: so many writers, so much reading, over so many years – it’s hard to say how all the styles influenced me. It’s a big pungent stew.

    Much more explicit is the effect certain writers have had on my *life* — i’d cite Burroughs, Kerouac, and of course Henry Miller as showing me early on that a life other than the standard American dream was possible. Having grown up in a strict Lutheran family in a small town in the late 50s, this was a revelation and affected everything that came later.

  4. On Being Too Pissed OffI am
    On Being Too Pissed Off

    I am way too angry, too pissed off to let anyone — let alone a piece of writing — get through that to me.

    Let alone to what I write.

    The walls are thick and there are a lot of them. I approach other writers suspiciously. I don’t want them or their voices to have a say in what I do which is mainly fail.

    The LIVES of writers though, do make it through my somewhat toughened skin and penetrate down to bone.

    That Genet could write and still survive going to prison speaks to me. He took big chances, he risked everything all the time, he wasn’t nice, and he never felt compelled to kiss Miss Manners’ ass.

    My inspiration.

    It’s almost a cliche to say Bukowski influenced me. I don’t think Buk influenced my work but he influenced my life. If he could survive the bars and the bowery and the whores and the booze and the vomit and the single room occupancy hotels then so could I. Having lived in those rat-infested hotels I would frequently grow suicidal. I am still hopeless but I am not suicidal. I would hold Bukowski (literally) to my heart under my Salvation Army coat and pretend that if he could get through this and still write, so could I.

    Without his words pressed against me tight, I would have gladly slit my wrists a long time ago.

    He saved me not that he would have in any way been pleased about it; nor am I. The reality is that I think I would be better off dead (don’t send me email, and don’t ask Levi for my email address because he won’t give it to you) and I’m not sure Buk did me any favors and if he were here he would definitely share that sentiment.

    Filmmakers like Pasolini and especially Fellini made a dramatic impact on not just writing but writing vis-a-vis the lens they told me one might dare see through.

    I would say them more than other writers. Pasolini with his Romanesque sadomasochistic hopelessness and Fellini with his steadfast optimism and humor.

    Faulkner with his tobacco spit. Hemingway only for his self-consciousness.

    But mainly I see the written word as having given in. Sold out (like I have a thousand times).

    To them.

    And I spit on them with more acidic-tongue than Faulkner ever did. And I piss on them for their owning us so lock, stock, and barrel. And I despise them which is the only thing that keeps me going.


    They die like the rest of us. Dead meat. I dance on their graves.

    They know who they are.

  5. off the top of my
    off the top of my head…

    There are people who inspired me to want to write, and then there is a style I strive for.

    Forrest J. Ackerman was the editor of Famous Monsters magazine, which I started reading in the early sixties. While his writing was often corny and juvenile, his enthusiasm was contagious. I realized that he was doing this for a living and I wanted to do it, too! It was my pleasure to meet Mr. Ackerman a few years ago and he was still sharp.

    Other childhood heroes of mine were Henry David Thoreau, Edgar Allen Poe, and humorist Robert Benchley. Maybe that’s why I’m naturally, disturbingly funny.

    My interest in writing was rekindled by Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Hunter S. Thompson, Philip K. Dick, and Kurt Vonnegut, but I don’t try to imitate any of them, at least not too much. A lot of young writers I meet try to write like Kerouac, but it just comes across as, “My friends and I partied all night and it was so profound that I have no time for punctuation or editing.”

    If there is one writer whose style I try to emulate, it’s Hemingway. Not that I fill Papa’s shoes. I’m just saying, I try.

  6. Painting the Lion”Painting
    Painting the Lion

    “Painting the Lion” a brilliant turn of phrase I only recently have come across. Who is painting the lion? Are we explioting our influences so that we may aspire to greatness in our literary creativty? Perhaps, or perhaps it works the other way around: our influences working divinely through us (as mentioned in Stokey’s comment). As to these questions I believe the answer is everything that you have ever come across influences you somehow, cause and effect theory. Example, my boyfriend introduced me to the most kick-ass collection of poetry compiled to date “The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry” and I don’t feel unpariotic saying that it is the best (though I wouldn’t mind reading an Australian version). Since reading that book I have tried and tried to emulate these writers, if only by stringing words together in my head, Lenore Kendel, Sapphire (Thank god for Sapphire!), including an incredibly funny poem titled “disappointment” (can’t remember who by though). Even songwriters influence us, those phrases we cant get out of our heads, rhythms to base poetic meter on. I’d like to say in particular that Ani Difranco is a particular culprit and I would like to thank her immensely. Thank you to everyone’s influences, without these people that we admire our writing wouldn’t be what it is, and the world is all the better for it.

  7. boxed ini’ve enjoyed and am a
    boxed in

    i’ve enjoyed and am a fan of particular authors and books however i feel that dropping names of writers who have influenced you and/or wearing influences on your sleeve limits both who you are as an individual and what you produce as an artist…e.g. if i constantly compared myself to my father i would always live under his shadow…my father and i as far as i am concerned are two completely different human beings with our own set of values our own ideas…

    i think i’d rather consider myself an artist than place myself in a box…

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