The Role of Angst and Creativity

The Words That Changed Your Life: Discovering What Made You a Writer

The Role of Angst and CreativityFor me, it’s almost become a cliché answer: “I write because stories have always been my language. I write because my very first memory is telling myself a story.”

“Why do you write?” and “What made you a writer?” are two questions I’m ubiquitously asked in interviews. I can respond to those questions in my sleep. I don’t even think about their answers anymore.

And that, as I’m now realizing, is a shame.

As artists, our early influences were more than just the first domino in our journeys. They were more than “just” formative. They were the experiences that shaped us into the people and writers we have become. Sometimes these influences are conscious: some writers can recall a specific book or movie that made them say, “I want to be a writer.” But even in these situations, the subconscious impact is often far deeper and more telling.

Last week, I talked about how inspired I was by the essay anthology Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process. In it, dozens of authors shared what they felt were formative passages in their own early reading, and then expounded on why and how they felt these influences had shaped their artistic journeys.

Editor Joe Fassler explained in his foreword:

I ask working artists (many of them writers) to choose a favorite passage from literature, the lines that have hit them hardest over the course of a lifetime’s reading. Each person looks closely at his or her selection, explains its personal impact, and makes a case for why it matters. Taken together, these pieces offer a rare glimpse into the creative mind at work—how artists learn to think, how they find inspiration, and how they get things done.

Needless to say, I recommend the book. In addition to inspiring last week’s post about the 4 Reasons We Write, it has also prompted me to take a closer look at my own early influences—and to try my hand at choosing and examining a formative passage of my own.

A Journey Through Yourself: The Difficulty in Discovering Your Influences

In Light the Dark, the gathered authors make it look so easy to find your influences. Most of them seemed to know immediately which passage had most impacted them—as if they carried it around in the warm space under their hearts and were overjoyed to carefully pull it out and share it.

During the evenings when I read this book, I often found myself sitting back in puzzlement. What were my early influences? I read Little WomenAnne of Green GablesThe Black StallionTrixie BeldenLittle House on the PrairieSmoky the Cowhorse, and lots and lots of terrible Star Wars novels. Were those my influences? If so, then how… cliché.

Or was the formative influence really something I’d read a little later on when my tastes started to mature? Was it perhaps a favorite author such as Patrick O’Brian? How about the bazillion classic authors I’ve read and loved—Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, Joseph Conrad? Or was that just brownnosing?

Maybe, as a product of my generation, I was actually more influenced by movies than books. After all, when I made up stories in my childhood, I would call them “my movies.” Maybe it was one of the many westerns I all but memorized—everything from The Magnificent Seven to True Grit to Red River to She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Or maybe it was Star Wars after all: I vividly remember the trash-compacter scene from my first viewing when I was ten or eleven. Maybe it was Robin Hood or Indiana Jones or The Great Escape.

Gah. Insanity! And then I was supposed to be able to narrow it down further to one passage that shaped the entirety of my artistic life? It was starting to make me feel less inspired, rather than more.

But then I reached the last essay, Neil Gaiman’s, in which he blithely subverted the whole premise of the book:

…you don’t even necessarily understand [when you’re  young] where all your influences are coming from, or what they can mean, nor should you. They compost down anyway, good influences, no matter how old you are. It’s like when you put the scraps onto your compost heap: eggshells, and it’s half-eaten turnips, and it’s apple cores, and the like. A year later, it’s black mulch that you can grow stuff in. And influences, good ones, are that too. Trying to figure out what’s influenced you is as difficult as taking the black mulch, and saying this used to be half an apple.

Of course.

Trying to make our artistic passion the result of a single influence is like trying to define our lives by a single experience.

Realizing that took the pressure off. I started thinking about the question from another angle. Instead of trying to identify the one single story that started me on my journey, I started thinking about what it is that defines me as a storyteller. What stories am I inevitably telling—and where did they come from? Why am I telling these stories?

So here’s what I came up with. If I have to choose one passage to encapsulate my “creativity, inspiration, and artistic process,” this is what it has to be…

The Light in My Dark: What My Formative Influences Tell Me About My Writing

“Oh my best brother that ever I had!” cried Wallace, in a sudden transport, and kissing his pale forehead; “my sincerest friend in my greatest need. In thee was truth, manhood, and nobleness; in thee was all man’s fidelity, with woman’s tenderness. My friend, my brother, oh would to God I had died for thee!”—Jane Porter, The Scottish Chiefs

When I was maybe six or seven, my dad brought home this big old copy of what some people consider to be the seminal historical novel: Jane Porter’s lushly romantic (and highly imaginative) ode to the roles of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce in the Scottish War for Independence.

For many years, I would have said it was my favorite book. Looking back now, I can tell you it’s historically suspect, blatantly melodramatic, sometimes even silly. But even though I haven’t read it in years, thinking about this book still stirs me—especially the death scene quoted in that passage. I remember absolutely bawling over this scene, which was something I never did, even as a child.

In reading histories of Scotland a few years ago, I was surprised by how vividly it all came back to me. When I think of this war and envision the people who took part in it, the images I see are still those vivid iterations inspired by N.C. Wyeth’s gorgeous illustrations and Jane Porter’s words.

Today, when I decided to pull the book of my shelf to re-read this dimly remembered passage I had chosen, I surprised even myself. In some ways, my choice of this book was random—and my choice of this particular passage even more random. In reading it once again, I was blown away to see so much of myself there in those words.

When I look at the body of work I’ve created over the years—when I think about the stories still in my head waiting to be told—when I examine the stories of others I’m most drawn to and moved by—what I find is that they are inevitably the stories that share the deep archetypal weft of heroic symbolism.

They are stories about brotherhood. They are stories about sacrifice. They are stories about laying down your life for your friends and your cause. They are stories about haunted, scarred loner-leaders. They are stories about extraordinarily gifted people and the inevitability that from those who have much, much will be asked. They are stories about the redeeming worth of relationships.

I mean that’s it. And it’s all right there in that one single passage from one of the earliest stories I can remember.

Even though I went looking for my early influences, I honestly did not see that coming. It’s completely cool and, honestly, a little overwhelming.

It helps me bring into alignment all the many other influences that have marked the roadside of my artistic journey. It all makes a little more sense now: the definitive archetypalism in Star Wars, the loner heroes of John Ford’s idealistic westerns, the thematic depth of Robin Hood’s adventures. Disparate as they are, they are all part of an arrow-straight line pointing me to every story I’ve ever written or, I think, ever will write.

Writing Like You Will Be Someone’s Formative Influence

If you read this blog with any regularity, then you probably know I’m all about the subtext. I’m all about chasing down the hidden, often subconscious, meanings—in stories and also in life. No surprise then that I believe an exploration of your own formative influences is a vastly worthwhile venture. Certainly, my own experience with this little exercise has been not just fun, but enlightening. It’s provided me much food for thought in moving forward with a better understanding of why I’m drawn to write the kind of stories I write.

But here’s another thing it’s made me realize: our stories—yours and mine—have the potential to similarly impact other young readers. In his essay in Light the Dark, Jim Crace wrote:

We should never underestimate what it is that will turn a young person into someone who wants to love literature. Or the young person who wants to make music, or the young person who is attracted to lyric. How are these people formed? They’re not formed by being sent to do MFAs in creative writing. That’s too late. They’re formed by early encounters.

This week, my young niece had her first encounter with one of my own childhood favorites—Disney’s animated Robin Hood. When the film reached the part where Robin Hood apparently drowns, she started weeping and kept on until her mom hurried in to fast-forward to where it’s revealed Robin survives.

Think that’s “just” a story?

Whether she remembers it or not, she just had a formative experience. Will she write about Robin Hood someday? Will she shape her life around stories of self-sacrifice? (Or, I don’t know, maybe just be scared to ever go swimming?) Who knows? But she was shaped, just as our readers can’t help but be shaped whenever they encounter our stories.

Today, I find myself challenged and inspired to carry on the torch. The authors who inspired us gave to each of us a spark. Every time we dig deep and share honestly, every time we put in the due diligence to write with all the clarity and passion we can muster—we are using those sparks to build another fire. We have no idea who will see its light and maybe wander over to sit for a while. We have even less of an idea which of them will catch an ember, tuck it away in that special place beneath their hearts, and carry it with them for the rest of their lives.

But today when you sit down to write, I challenge you to remember: somebody will. Go light the dark.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! If you had to pick one author, who would you choose as the one that made you a writer? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Oh, I remember the moment so clearly it’s like I am reliving it every time I think of it. Ventura. 1982. I was reading “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” and a teacher in that book solved all my problems with the world when she told Francie, “Tell the truth. Write the story. I did a whole blog post about it once because it’s such a very clear moment for me.

    So that author? Betty Smith.

  2. Robert Billing says

    For me there were two completely separate threads of influences that came together to make a single experience. Firstly there were the complete realists, writers like John Blaine, who used physical reality as their backstory. They used rockets, factories and radio transmitters as the props to create the scenes. Their characters moved through a world that could be completely understood, in fact they played fair, if something was needed to resolve the plot it was introduced and explained in advance. Against this backdrop they could weave complex interactions of characters.

    In a completely different mood I read CS Lewis and JRRT, writers who introduced a deep spirituality to their work, and felt the call of something beyond and outside the merely physical.

    Then came a warm, clear summer night. I had been reading a textbook on astronomy, which described Arcturus as having a “lovely orange red colour”. (It may have been David Lindsay’s “A voyage to Arcturus” that prompted me to look this up.) I found Arcturus in the sky, then borrowed my father’s binoculars to get a better look. Suddenly I saw the warm Titianesque light that shows up under magnification. I realised that Arcturus was only a few dozen light years away, effectively the next street in cosmic terms, and began to wonder what it would look like close up.

    Then I howled. There was no way I could get there in my lifetime.

    Or was there? I gave back the binoculars and borrowed the typewriter. And there began a story that is still going on, a story in which I have tried to combine realism with a sense of the spiritual.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I love this! And I love how you can quote the passage–and that it wasn’t even fiction. 🙂

  3. For me, there is no one moment, I’ve always wanted to write since I was a child. But what I love about writing is that a reader can be encouraged or inspired in some way. that can be through stories or non fiction. I know many line, more from movies, which I love, and contextualising important truths in story gives their meaning a particular depth.

    ‘There’s some good left in this world and its worth fighting for’

    ‘All you have to do is to decide what to do with the time that is given to you’

    In the context of Lord of the Rings, these two short quotes are very powerful and full of depth.

    Its not that these inspire me to write, but they are there as a constant reminder of the power of writing to bless others in some way.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Tolkien’s legacy is incredible, when you stop and think about it–the sheer number of people he’s impacted in one way or another.

      • I read that CS Lewis was often encouraging him to keep going which is why its so important to encourage writers, even the greats needed encouragement at some point.

  4. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t love words. My favorite childhood memory is of sitting at my mother’s feet with my brothers as she read “The Garden Under the Sea” by George Seldon. I remember my mom loving books–she always had one in her hand–and I remember sitting in church at 3 years old, copying words from the Bible and asking my mom what they said. I’m pretty sure that’s how I learned to read.

    I don’t have a particular passage or book that made me want to become a writer, but instead I had a neighbor who told me I COULD be a writer. I’d written a poem when I was 6 years old and, after my brothers teased me about it and I decided I would never write again, my elderly neighbor happened to need a cup of sugar from my mom. While she waited, she noticed I was sad and asked if I would read my poem to her. Trembling, I complied, for it was rude to say no to an adult, and when I was finished she said, “If I buy you a notebook, will you come visit me and write for me?”

    For me, that was my moment. For the first time, someone thought what I had to say mattered; someone was proud of me; someone took notice of me and encouraged me–I was on top of the world. So, at 6 years old, I began writing stories and I spent the next few months reading them to my neighbor, solidifying my love for writing, and building my confidence. Now, 34 years later, I’ve self-published my life story and I am getting ready to query agents for my fantasy novel. My only regret is that my neighbor is no longer alive to see what a difference her kindness made for me.

  5. There are so many books that made me want to be a writer. The very earliest is `The Princess and the Goblins’ by George McDonald. I read it in second or third grade when I was very lonely. Somewhere around the time Curdie was being threatened with being fed alive to goblin creatures and Princess Irene was being bathed by her great-great-grandmother in the pool of stars, I felt… I suppose the word is yearning. It was like a string in my heart being pulled with the realization that `I want this.’ It made me cry because I knew I couldn’t make something that beautiful and suspenseful for myself.

    I forgot about it then for a number of years. I didn’t want to be a writer again until I read `The Hobbit’ where my beloved goblins made a return appearance (and I nearly threw the book across the room where Tolkien mentioned the goblin-folk singing. Since then I’ve learned that different authors equal different world rules.) `The Hobbit’ won me over completely with Bilbo’s willingness to sacrifice the Archenstone to make peace, then Taran of Caer Dalben won me again, and again with his willingness to sacrifice all that was dearest to him. Then, when my grandfather was in the hospital I had Stephen Lawhead’s `The Silver Hand’ with the image of Llew’s hand rising out of the blackened lake…

    What really speaks to me -and it probably does go back to `The Princess and the Goblins’- is the juxtaposition of light and dark, hope and despair. Too little darkness and the story seems shallow. Too much dark and it’s a slog to read. I call that balance chiaroscuro writing, where the darkness is terrifying and the light sublime.

  6. Eric Troyer says

    I totally relate to Gaimin’s compost analogy. Especially because my first attempts smell like rotting compost! But then it’s start getting better.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yeah, I was reading that and I was like, This is *so* Gaiman–so offbeat and totally spot on!

  7. DirectorNoah says

    I find I am more emotionally moved or inspired by movies, rather than books for some reason, although there’s no denying the power books have on me.

    As a child, I was a total bookworm, quite content to spend entire days reading. From those early years, I felt the calling to write and replicate in some way, the magic I experienced with stories and share that with others. I’ve read so many books since then, I cannot remember the individual authors or novels from that time, but their influence still remains with me today.

    The author that undoubtedly inspired me the greatest was Tolkien, ever since I watched the Lord of the Rings at the age of nine. It had such a huge impact on me and still does, something I’m unable to fully explain to this day. Maybe it’s the themes of love, courage, faith and spirituality, I don’t know. The whole story just connected with me on a deeper level and meaning, and it’s probably the one thing that truly shaped me as a writer, perhaps more than anything else.

    Since then, I’ve read the books over and over, and seen the movies about eighty times! It’s definitely a spark that still inspires and motivates me today, and one that I don’t think will ever die.

  8. Wow… I had actually never consciously thought about this. Thank you for a long, engaging morning of very deep and concentrated thought. 😛

    I knew the movie that set me off, but I hadn’t considered why. It was an A&E miniseries— Horatio Hornblower. I had just turned fourteen. The episode that really did it centered around the MC’s service as a ship’s officer beneath a renowned and beloved war hero who was slowly but surely going mad. The man had been a hero, but was becoming a monster.
    The conflict of the story is built on the MC’s struggle to decide whether to look the other way and let it happen, or risk committing perceived mutiny to relieve the captain of his command and take over the ship himself (for which he will most certainly hang, if the captain cannot be proven mad).
    One would expect the villain of such a story to be the captain of some enemy ship, or a traitor in the ranks, but no. It was the leader; the hero. In many ways, it was the other officers, and random characters with different loyalties who were just trying to do what they thought was right in a difficult and dangerous situation.
    That story… it was so alive. I didn’t know why at the time; didn’t understand the reason it touched me so deeply. Deeply enough to drive me (a professed hater of words) to pick up a stubby pencil and a college-ruled notebook and fill the whole thing in the span of a month.

    But now that you’ve asked me this question, I think I’ve discovered why. That story showed me that the world was not as simple as ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. Looking back, my entire writing journey and drive has been built on the realization that there are thousands of stories hidden in the world that nobody sees because their minds are stuck in black and white. Thousands of truths that have been glossed over and forgotten because no one wants to remember that the villain loved someone, or that the hero was consumed with hatred.
    Though my own first stories were ridiculously simplistic and guilty ten times over of that same mistake, I think they were practice runs as I slowly, slowly processed what it was about that first story that had made it so alive.

    Thanks so much for this post. It’s made me think, and now I know a bit more about myself, which is always a good thing. 😉

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Nice. Very well though out–and thought-provoking! Horatio Hornblower himself is a great study as a character who decidedly neither black or white: brilliant but tortured by inferiority, cruel but empathetic, forward-thinking but bound by tradition, courageous but always afraid.

      • Yep. He’s not my favorite character in the story, but he’s certainly complex. Forward-thinking but bound by tradition… if that isn’t the most accurate description of an ISTJ ever. 😛

        Oh also I meant to tell you, I have nearly identical childhood memories of Scottish Chiefs. Edwin’s death scene in particular, and Marion’s, and Wallace’s first rescue of Helen… Bruce and Wallace meeting in the moonlight on opposite sides of the river… so many memories, even if I can barely read the book without laughing now. That story, I think, planted the seeds for the eventual medieval (and then fantasy) turn I took, and haven’t looked back from since. 😀

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          That’s interesting! Yeah, I still have vivid memories of that first scene with Helen and Wallace. She’s the stereotypical damsel-in-distress, poor thing. :p

  9. morganHazelwood says

    I agree with you! I don’t know how I’d pick a favorite book. If pressed, I could do favorite authors, likely Lois Bujold and Seanan McGuire.

    But I know my favorite quote.

    “Adulthood isn’t an award they’ll give you for being a good child. You can waste . . . years, trying to get someone to give that respect to you, as though it were a sort of promotion or raise in pay. If only you do enough, if only you are good enough. No. You have to just . . . take it. Give it to yourself, I suppose. Say, I’m sorry you feel like that, and walk away. But that’s hard.” – Bujold (A Civil Campaign)

  10. I want to be a writer from reading Lord of the rings and Narnia books and also seeing the movie called the magic of belle isle and movies about writes. I plan on self-publishing my novella that I writing when I am done.

  11. I’m currently reading Light The Dark, and it’s great.

    As soon as I learned to read, I devoured books, essays, magazines, poetry, plays, encyclopedias, anything I could get my hands on. I wrote poetry before I wrote fiction. I wrote an article for a small music magazine at around 19. After reading Stephen King’s The Stand, I began to write fiction. I can’t say exactly why that book motivated me into writing a novel, perhaps it was the characters or the theme, or maybe it just came along at the right time in my life. I’ve always had a strong motivation to bring hidden truths to the surface, so the dystopian genre works for me. In addition to literary and film influences, life experiences have found their way onto the page, and they’ve definitely motivated me. I’ve lived an incredibly chaotic and ever-changing life thus far, and my experiences and the people I’ve met along the way have influenced my writing as well.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Writers have the opportunity to live very aware lives. It’s not even so much what we live as the fact that we’re always looking for the meaning in it.

  12. For me, there is no one author.

    Probably in Kindergarten or First Grade, I fell in love with Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. At the time, I was so proud of myself that I could read it on my own with no help. As I got older, it was Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary that stole my heart and ignited the flame of the love of story. I used to camp away in the Young Adult section of the library on a near daily basis as a child. I claimed the entire section as my own for the fact that it was labeled “YA”; coincidentally, my initials. 🙂 I read countless books there, lying on my back in the library aisles. (I also fell in love with encyclopedias during my childhood. But, that’s a whole other topic, lol).

    I eventually graduated to other favorites such as the tales by Edgar Allan Poe, Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, Daphne du Maurie’s “Rebecca”, and most novels by Stephen King and Dean Koontz (before I became to chicken). Terry McMillan’s novel are a must own/must read because few people tackle family relationships and friendships like she does. Toni Morrison is the epitome of greatness and is such an inspiration to me.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Oh, yes, Black Beauty was a big one for me too. I still remember almost all of it vividly, especially Ginger’s death.

  13. It’s hard for me to say what exactly made me want to write. I began writing stories when I was 8 or 9. Then, it was just for fun; I look back on my scribbles and drawings on lined paper, stapled on one side to make a book. I filled binders with little stories.
    But during the summer of 2017, I got really serious about the craft. I typed this in the search engine, what started it all, “how to write a book.” You can image the many articles and resources that were at my disposal. This website was one of the first I found. I actually went back to all your past posts and printed them off. Lol, it was a lot! But since I’m beginning to understand the art of the craft, it means so much more to me. I’m not just doodling and rambling anymore. I’m creating worlds, people, plots. Emotions, witty dialogue, and more.
    It’s beautiful! I feel I’ll be a writer forever!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Hah! It *is* a lot of posts. :p I admit I gave up on printing them all myself after I filled one huge D-ring binder. Now I just trust the cloud and pray. 😉 Great to hear you’re enjoying the site!

  14. I’d say the very first book that really impacted me strangely enough was Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. My dad used to read to me at night and that was the book I always wanted for the longest time. Poor dad must have had it memorized by the time I moved on. Another was Old Yeller, I cried buckets every time I read it; and definitely Tolkien was a strong inspiration to write my own stories.

  15. I’m not sure what has drawn me to writing . . . My mom would read to me every night before bed. I’d always beg for another book. When I was learning to read, I wouldn’t leave her alone. Then . . . well, pretty much everyone here went through the long stage of picking up books, reading them in a day, and continuing on to the next book. It was a blur of stories, so many it’s hard to remember them all.

    My love to write was slowly cultivated. Just a small seed that started way back when my mom was still reading to me. I didn’t notice how big the love had grown until I was about eleven years old. But before that I was always making up stories and storylines while playing with my sisters. We didn’t play ‘house’: we played Being Somebody Else, and often that ‘somebody else’ was an elf of forest, cave, or valley. We would play battles, ride dragons, shape-shift into different people. The hardest part was coming up with the antagonist (it still is the hardest part in some cases).

    The original seed was probably was old Russian tale called the Firebird and the Secret of the Stones, retold by Robert D. San Souci (and even now I still like it). Or maybe the seed started with Dr. Seuss, or any of the traditional fairy tales.

    It’s hard to say what started me on this road, but I sure do like it.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      There’s a quote by somebody (Gaiman again?) about how being an author allows you keep on playing make-believe right on through adulthood.

  16. As an “MG” and “YA” reader, 1961 to 1971, I was deeply moved by everything I read by Ray Bradbury. Coincidentally, I’m reading his “Zen in the Art of Writing” (dated title, but wonderful book). Just today, I read the part where he credits the things that influenced his stories – including a variety of literature. Coincidentally, he reinforces Gaiman’s comment about MULCH:

    “… I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows, or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room. For you see, it is all MULCH (my emphasis). If I hadn’t stuffed my eyes and stuffed my head with all of the above for a lifetime, when it came round to word-associating myself into story ideas, I would have brought up a ton of ciphers and a half-ton of zeros.”

  17. I had the oddest inspiration when I was about….four?
    Has anyone here seen Muzzy, the children’s French learning videos? Well I hated the ending with Bob and Sylvia’s wedding, I admit I had a soft spot for poor Corvax, yeah he was a villain, but he really did love Sylvia. Anyway, I was fed up with movies ending how I didn’t want them to, so my first book I wrote was an entirely picture book of an alternative ending with Corvax and Sylvia getting wed and having children, I still have it in my portfolio and cherish it XD it’s funny to look back on.
    But as many others here, the first serious written manuscript came from our dear professor Tolkien. I had written countless other short weird books and had started this little fantasy novel. I was going through hard times and the entry of The Lord Of The Ring into my life not only got rid of a terrible tween depression but also made me realise how fun it is to take my writing seriously. I admit it was my first book without pictures I had read till the end, I didn’t do that then; and my first book to include deaths of main protagonists. I was forever hooked.
    I also admit to being a naughty copier at first and it makes me cringe to think about it, until I created two characters it wasn’t my style at all.
    Now I can happily say that I have found my own style and am currently writing three books.
    Tolkien seems to be a great inspirer, huh? Well his book will always be cherished with a personal love from me, it saved me from being stuck in “end of the world” depression.

  18. K.M., thanks for this encouragement to explore our literary roots. And so fun that Disney’s Robin Hood is one of your favorites! It is my favorite Disney flick of all time. I saw it in the theater all those years ago, and my mom got it for us on LP album. Perhaps that’s where I started to dig story telling. Or maybe it was Charlotte’s Web, or the Chronicles of Narnia. There’s some rich mulch there, as Mr. Gaiman noted.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, I think it has to my all-time favorite as well. And my all-time favorite line: “Storm the castle walls! Sweep her off her feet!” :p

  19. I remember being completely struck by Where the Wild Things Are. That was where my love of fantasy was born. As a 48-year-old woman, I still can’t resist a fairy tale.

    One of my elementary school teachers once told my mom that she was worried because I “didn’t know the difference between fantasy and reality” – and I hope I never do. 😉

  20. I’ll skip the trivia and go right to A E van Vogt’s “World of Null-A,” which my sister recommended. It seemed labyrinthine and numinous, then. When recently re-read, the magic had evaporated, never to be found anywhere but in my mind. Gaiman severs the navel-gazing Gordian Knot in a stroke. We are the product of many influences, impossible to analyze.

  21. My favorite author is Masashi Kishimoto. He created the manga Naruto. There is no single passage for the series but a theme. The Will of Fire, a life philosophy which the founder of a major ninja clan and the main City of the manga lived by, which has since been passed on to many ninjas from the city as a part of their spiritual heritage. It states that the entire village is like a large family unit and every ninja with the Will of Fire loves, believes, cherishes, and fights to protect the village and those who cannot protect themselves, as previous generations had done before them. There are also two passages both said from one of the antagonist “However strong you become, never seek to bear everything alone. If you do, failure is certain.” The other “You don’t become the Hokage to be acknowledged by everyone. The one who is acknowledged by everyone becomes the Hokage.” Hokage is the title for the leader of the city that the main character wants to become since he shunned by the most of the people of the city because he has a Nine-tailed demon fox sealed inside of him that attcked the city on the same day he was born and see him as the cause of the attack.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Nice. And do you find these themes surfacing in your own work as well?

      • Not so far because I have not written much of my own work. It is mostly with what I read and watch. You should read Naruto. It inspired me to write my own Japanese mythology-based series.

  22. Lisa (L.J.) Capehart says

    I feel in love with reading first. In the third grade, my teacher would give each student a fancy achievement award (basically just a paper that said you’d read the required number of books, but still…) for reading so many books during that year. I wanted that award badly! I still have it tucked away somewhere after all these years, I think.
    The love of reading that developed from that led me to find some truly amazing books. In high school I discovered my first Andre Norton book. She wasn’t the first Sci Fi/Fantasy author I’d read. “The Door Into Summer” began my love for that particular genre, but her books clenched the deal!
    I’ve always made up stories in my head for as long as I can remember. I may not be an ‘Andre Norton’, but my writing transforms MY world, allowing me to explore, create, and dream. It enriches my life and brings me great pleasure and satisfaction. If my books extend even a part of that to someone else, then they’re worth the time to put my imaginings to paper (or computer screen, as the case may be!).
    Thank you for your writing, Katie! You’re the only blogger I actually care to follow. I’m learning so much to improve my writing, as well as thoroughly enjoying your fiction works. I’m eagerly awaiting the Dreamlander sequel right now.

  23. Alright already, I’ll go get Light the Dark! Once I finish Bird by Bird 😉
    Disney’s Robin Hood was a long time favorite childhood movie for me. It’s always held a special place in my heart, even when Aladdin became the new favorite late in my elementary school years.
    This has certainly got me rethinking my early influences and why I write what I do today, thanks!

  24. I still don’t really consider myself a writer/author. I’m a computer programmer who tells stories to make a point. But if I had to pick a text that resonates most with me and the kind of stories that mean most to me, I’d go back to The Hobbit:

    Even as they left the valley the sky darkened in the West before them, and wind and rain came up to meet them.

    “Merry is May-time!” said Bilbo, as the rain beat into his face. “But our back is to legends and we are coming home. I suppose this is a first taste of it.”

    “There is a long road yet,” said Gandalf.

    “But it is the last road,” said Bilbo.

    Stories, to me, are about being away from home, away from truth, away from self, and finally coming back and realizing (to quote Gandalf) “Something is the matter with you! You are not the hobbit that you were.”

    • By the way: I read and re-read The Hobbit a lot of times, and I guess the passage lost its power. Then, the year the first Hobbit movie came out, my wife bought me the Latin translation, “Hobbitus Ille”. I came across the passage in Latin and I had to stop and catch my breath.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “Our back is to legends and we are coming home.” Love that so much.

  25. C.S.Lewis.
    I was so swept away, it was like I was IN THE ROOM with Lucy and Mr. Tumnus as they sipped tea.
    And I really despised Turkish Delight–so much so, all these years later, living in Turkey, I REFUSED to taste any! (Yes, they really do have Turkish Delight)

    Gone With The Wind.
    I was beyond furious over the complex story ending, basically, in one sentence.

    So, between making fantasy so real coupled with the determination of a 14 year old, I set out to rewrite the ending of Gone With The Wind…oh, how naive I was.

    Fantasy Romance is my genre now, though I still hold a grudge against Scarlett for her stupidity, and I always make sure to enjoy an annual cup of tea with Mr. Tumnus.

  26. Joseph Merboth says

    K., ever since your September 25th post “6 Lifestyle Changes,” you’ve gotten so real. I’ve read one after another of your blog posts in the last several months that reach new depths of humility and honesty. I’m learning more about the personhood of being a writer instead of just the process. It’s inspiring and moving at the same time.

  27. Saja bo storm says

    Katie, I just wrote a long post about Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market. My tablet went offline before I could post it. So, here’s a condensed version. I just wanted to say that the powerful words terrified me as a young college student fresh out of high school. The poem scarred me as I related to the virginal sisters Laura and Lizzie forced to resist the luscious and tempting fruit of the goblins. It’s a wonderful poem of heroism and sisterhood. Also, a deeper critique about the admonishment of women during the Victorian period.
    I never had the courage to read it again until your post. One of the most memorable lines is “One can lead a horse to water. Twenty can not make him drink.”
    Thank you, Katie. I enjoyed reading it again.

  28. Elizabeth Richards says

    Rosemary Sutcliffe Warrior Scarlet–I read the first chapter in my brother’s literature reader (I must have been desperate) and wanted more. A few months later we moved to a small Army ammunition depot in Germany that was situated in the middle of Celtic archeological sites–from the same time period as Warrior Scarlet. It’s so hard to capture that feeling of looking over a landscape and feeling the generations of stories that were layered there. Other people might see an abandoned pasture, I saw a boy fighting a wolf to defend his flock.

    Other stories came before Warrior Scarlet and thousands after but Rosemary Sutcliffe will always be the standard I yearn to achieve–where a story can pick you up and move you to another time and place. What an amazing experience.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’ve felt that way standing on cliffs out here in western Nebraska and feeling the presence of all the history that crossed these plains.

  29. I appreciate this post a lot. My initial motivations were not terribly pure — I think I wanted to be some kind of artist, in a pretentious sort of way, and I could tell I wasn’t talented enough at painting or music to be really good, in the way I wanted to be really good (and in a way I now believe doesn’t actually matter). Was that really why I got into writing, or was it a real affinity for words and stories and ideas? How much was real passion, and how much vanity? As you point out, it doesn’t matter. All the silly motivations and silly influences have gone into the compost and been transformed into something else. (Kind of like life, generally, and the mysterious workings of grace.)

    Tolkien has been a major influence on my life and my faith, but oddly enough, I’m not sure how much he has directly influenced my writing and stories. My basic feeling of wanting to be inside a story, of seeing how stories could reveal the enchantedness of real life, probably goes back to Anne of Green Gables. But I do believe Tolkien’s commitment to the purity of his work has inspired me.

    And of course Jane Austen. People are funny — life is funny. And her literary descendant Barbara Pym. We are all bundles of infinite dignity and temporary goofiness and folly and sorrow. They saw it and showed it, and I want to do so, too.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      If I were to bet, I’d say the affinity for stories and words was under it all. Pretension has a way of muddying things up (ask me: I know 😉 ), but the bottom line is always there.

  30. Adrienne Nesiba says

    I don’t know the author, but I believe my earliest influence was the children’s book called,”The Little Matchbook Girl.” It was a tearjerker of a story, but so meaningful to me then.

  31. Max Woldhek says

    I’ve always had stories in my head – part of my Asperger’s – and I used to run around enacting them as a little boy. I guess what pushed me to actually write some of them down was boredom, a vacation where I had nothing to do, and years later, unemployment after graduation: I had to occupy myself with something. Now I get this itching sensation in my skull if I don’t write for a longer period, so I guess there’s no going back. 😛

    As for influences, I rightly can’t tell what had the greatest impact. I read the Lord of the Rings when I was about 11, but it didn’t impress me that much. Other authors who got me really hooked on their work included David Eddings and Susan Cooper, and Wendy and Richard Pini’s Elfquest comic had a huge impact on me. Then there’s the computer RPGs I played as a kid, like the Baldur’s Gate series and Planescape: Torment (still possibly the single greatest video game story ever). Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms setting grabbed me by the throat and showed no mercy too. You’ve also got the…less child-friendly animated movies I watched when I was little (The Secret of NIMH and Watership Down are not for the faint-hearted seven year old).

    TL, DR: There’s so much that I have no idea which work of fiction was The Big One for me.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I ran around telling and acting stories full-time as a child. But I never ever thought I’d be a writer. I only started writing because I wanted to record some of my favorite stories before I forgot them. But once I started, I was hooked.

      • Max Woldhek says

        I’d been fantasising about writing down the stories in my head for a long time, but the goblin of discouragement, sneaky **** that he is, sat on my shoulder whispering defeatism, and I couldn’t dislodge him. That is, until I finished my Bachelor’s Thesis. It was the first time I’d written something that long, and it made me think I might actually be able to finish a whole book.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          The thing I’ve discovered about experience is that we can’t have it without first experiencing the inexperience. :p Things get easier and the perspective gets clearer the more we do it.

  32. “Light the Dark” is on my wish list now. 🙂 But yesterday my dear writing buddy gave me a wonderful gift: “Daemon Voices. Essays on Storytelling” by Philip Pullman. Have you read it yet? I have only read the preface and skipped through the contents pages, but I already love it.

  33. Chris Rogers says

    This may sound silly, but the first influential book that i can remember is harold and the purple crayon. I started off drawing before trying my hand at storytelling (but a picture is worth a thousand words. I had that down..) After that the novels when worlds collide, after worlds collide, and hyperion stick out predominantly in my mind. The underlying themes that tie those together for me is something i need to think on and may be completely obvious to anyone that has read them but i’m drawing a blank. To then narrow an influence down to a single passage from any one work seems almost impossible.
    Definitely something i need to make time to do..

  34. Forty years ago, I rescued a copy of The Scottish Chiefs from a neglected English classroom library. The teacher encouraged us to take and keep what we wanted, and I can see that treasured copy from where I now sit. But for me, it was the death of beautiful Marion and faithful Halbert that broke my teenage heart. Truly, I pledged when Wallace pledged! Before that though, when I was seven years old, my mother and I used to sit on our horse-hide sofa while I read to her. The book?…chosen by myself from a variety of classics: Le Morte D’Arthur. How I remember the struggle to pronounce the words, to make sense of the syntax, to understand all that had happened in the brevity of Malory’s prose. I cannot express how deep an impression his work made and the life-long love affair I’ve had with “The Matter of Britain” ever since. I read my first Tolkien but a few years afterwards and was ensnared by its Beowulfian depth and yearned to write of my own “secondary world.” From the Professor, I gained inspiration to try my hand at world-building and mythologizing–the story of Beren and Luthien resonated strongly with me. But by far, and fittingly so, it was the words of Malory’s King Arthur and his knights that called me to to take up errantry and become a writer. Maybe one day, with the help of your resources, I’ll become an author too 🙂

  35. Katie Briggs says

    Thank you for exploring and writing this! It sparked the same healthy exercise in my own life, and it is rewarding to consider what has shaped me, too :).


  1. […] “As artists, our early influences were more than just the first domino in our journeys. They were more than “just” formative. They were the experiences that shaped us into the people and writers we have become. Sometimes these influences are conscious: some writers can recall a specific book or movie that made them say, “I want to be a writer.” But even in these situations, the subconscious impact is often far deeper and more telling.” I tend to write stories about Outsiders. Friendship. Family. Going the distance. Self-sacrifice. And probably a whole lot more I can’t think of at the moment. Like Neil Gaiman says in the post, who can say where all our influences come from? Life? Books? Movies? Songs? Stories our parents told us over the years? It all mixes together and comes out on the page. What do you think? […]

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