Erin Morgenstern wrote a blog post the other day on how her writing isn’t just influenced by other writing, but by a varied array of sources. This really hit home with me because for a long time, I felt a little weird that my poetry and prose wasn’t entirely influenced by other poetry and prose. In fact, my writing is often influenced more by things other than writing.
Music has always been important to me, and my writing is very influenced by musicians and bands that I love. Sometimes it’s the lyrics, the way words are put together or repeated. Sometimes it’s the structure of a song, influencing the structure of a poem or story.. Sometimes it’s the way the music is sparse or how it becomes a wall of sound. Sometimes it’s the idea behind the music, the way an artist or group of artists take bits from different forms of music and put them together into something amazing. When I was a freshman at the University of Iowa, I told a fellow student and poet that my poetry was at least as influenced and informed by my favorite postpunk music as it was poems. He said that was terrible. I just shrugged. (A little over 10 years ago, my poetry–and the way I performed it–also became heavily influenced by stand-up comedy and vaudeville, as well as the Beats.)
Later in college, I started regularly reading Art in America and other art magazines. Reading about different painters, printmakers, sculptors, photographers, collagists and mixed media artists was very inspiring to me in my prose and poetry. The images they came up with, the way they worked, the ideas they were trying to convey influenced the stories and poems I came up with. And thanks to Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol and a girlfriend majoring in Art History, I became very, very influenced by Dada and Surrealist poetry, painting, collage, and performance. Greil Marcus’ Lipstick Traces tied in punk, Dada, and Situationist ideas for me, further influencing my writing. (This all also influenced my academic work, which not all of my professors appreciated.)
I’ve been a monstrous consumer of TV shows and movies all of my life, and these clearly influence my prose and poetry. Same goes for comics. Sometimes, an idea for a story will sit in my head with an imaginary cover that looks like a movie poster or a Golden Age comic book. I often think of plotlines in terms of TV show seasons or serialized comic books. I’ve also become more and more influenced by video games, which probably started with Myst. Lately, the plot threads and high-level imagination of Wizard101 and Pirate101 have been very inspirational to me. I’m influenced by the visual design, the world building, and the story lines. I also think about the fun of game play and ponder how that can be infused in the writing and reading of short stories and novels. And I tend to approach the world- and character-building of fiction in the same way I approach it when playing tabletop role-playing games.
I’m leaving many more influences out. Honestly, it would take many blog posts to really go into all of my influences, and I’m probably not entirely aware of all of them. Who knows all the magic and madness that lurks in the minds of writers?
Reality and art seep into us in a colorful variety of ways, from a colorful variety of sources. To say that the art we create and the influences in our lives come from only one kind of source is severely limiting. And anyone who says it is almost certainly lying. Or incredibly un-self-aware. I think the best art is a collage of stolen ideas, images, sounds, sensations, memories. Get excited by things, copy them, mix and mash them up, and share what you make with others. Is there any other way to do it?