On Influence

All quiet on the running front. I actually remembered the correct time splits for my workout and things went swimmingly, albeit I still don't have an elegant solution to changing my run speeds, having to plug them in manually mid-run can get to be a bit of an adventure when I'm fatigued. Other than my clumsiness, there's not much to say about my running experience so far. I envy anyone who lives in an area that that is warm enough to run in, especially if you have a gorgeous, scenic view. For the next couple of months I will be cranking away on this routine while staring at a green wall, or if I'm luck and have my own choice of treadmill, I may be able to look out a window that has a magnificent view of a parking lot. There's a TV hanging up on the wall, but the idea of watching daytime television while trying to do anything constructive is painful to me.

Alright - I'm rambling. What I'm trying to say is that, basically, there's not a whole lot to say right now. Next week should be pretty interesting because the intervals I have to run go from 90 seconds to three minutes. I guess we'll find out then if these first two weeks have been enough buildup for what lies ahead.

How's everyone else's 2014 treating them running-wise? What are your big goals for the year?  How do you plan on attacking them?


A few days ago I got into an interesting conversation with a friend who is also into creative work. She wanted to know how much my work is influenced by whatever it is I was watching, listening to, or reading at the time. It took me awhile to think of a response. I said I suppose all young writers are probably influenced quite a lot while they are trying to find their own, unique voice. But when push came to shove, I couldn't name any writers who are a direct influence on me.

I know what writers I'd like to emulate: Hemingway, Vonnegut, Saunders, writers who are concise, poignant, and - in the case of the latter two - extremely funny. There's a difference, however, in wanting to write like a famous author and actually doing so. You can spend hundreds of hours trying to imitate a certain style and wind up with prose that are lifeless and not terribly interesting. I remember all the movies that came out in the late 90's/early 2000's, where directors where trying to make movies in the same vain as Quentin Tarantino, and they were all terrible!I can only imagine a parallel universe where I'd spent the last ten years trying to write the sequel to Pulp Fiction.

While free-writing, I'll sometimes write a scene that is basically a bad forgery of a Vonnegut or Saunders scene. It's not something that I ever think about doing ahead of time, but it's easy enough to spot when rereading. I remember writing a scene a couple of months after Pacific Rim came out that was basically word-for-word the same as what happened in the movie. I think these moments can be constructive. You take what you write and separate what is coming from you and what is coming form the outside source. Take the bits that our yours and expand on them.

Reading as broadly as possible is  something I would suggest to all young writers. There are so many things that I've been exposed to in the last year that have completely changed the way I think about writing. I remember being so blown away by what Murakami was doing in 1Q84, how serene and dreamlike his prose were. I'd never read a novel that captured that surreal boundary between conscious world and the dream world so vividly. Coming back to Murakami has only deepened my appreciation of his talent. His work has inspired me to write some pretty far-out dreamscapes of my own. It's a whole different style of writing that, until last year, I would have never thought to work with.

The way I write makes it hard to pinpoint what is influencing me at the time. It's rare that I will start a story with any idea of what is going to happen, much less what I want to happen. For instance I may write about a couple getting into a fight, or a two people meeting for the first time, but where the characters end up is completely up to what they have to say to each other and what they decide to do. This all comes down to feel. If I feel a character wants to jump out of the window, or throw a frozen pizza in the oven, then I'll let them do it. It's when I try to bend a story to my own will that the characters end up reading as flat or robotic. Some writers like to be in complete control, they like to lead their story by the leash. I'm one of those writers who likes to have the story lead me.

So I didn't really have an answer for my lady friend. On a conscious level I have absolutely no idea what is influencing me on a sentence-to-sentence basis. The characters are going to do and say what they want. It's only when I go back and edit that I really feel like I'm in complete control of the creative process. That's sort of the magic of writing for me. When i'm really putting good work in, it feels like it's all coming from a different place, and I'm just a conduit. In that way I think I'm influenced in the same way that all of us are, with the same creative spirit that's guided us for centuries.

Or - here - I'll let Vonnegut put it better than I ever could: