What makes great writers great?
I’ve asked myself this question many times.
What is it about a writer’s voice, style, or story that leaves a deep mark in the souls of those who read their work? I think there are many different aspects in a writer’s life that play a role in the superiority of their work. However, lately I’ve been touched by a thought, so seemingly insignificant, that I had dismissed it in the past without notice.
When I look into the lives of writers I admire, and who’s stories have marked me the deepest, I come to realize that they all had a circle of influence that helped them grow as writers. Not just physical influences, as in people in their immediate circle: friends, family, or colleagues. They also had spiritual, literary, and psychological influences. Other writings they read, other people they listened, other materials they consumed, even experiences and trials they experienced, all shaped them and their writing in one way or another. This realization led me to ask another question:
What kinds of influences are shaping my writing?
Many people believe in some sort of cause-and-effect principle, be this called karma, positive energy, law of attraction, or plain old consequences. In a nutshell, this is the believe that the actions, thoughts, and energy that you put out there, will be the same types of actions, thoughts, and energy that you will receive in return.
With that concept in mind, consider this: If what goes out, comes back to you, could it be possible that what comes to you, will also go back out?
I believe it does. Everything we consume, in whichever form and from whatever source, shapes us, our world, and our writing. All that comes inside our minds, all that we allow to lodge itself into the inner most recesses of our thoughts, will go out as well, in whatever art form we create.
Think about that for a moment. When we let good influences feed our souls, whatever comes out of our souls can be nothing but good.
Many years ago I came across a newsletter for authors and artists called Root Notes, created by Keith Jennings, a writer, storyteller, and marketer. I decided I would sign up to receive the newsletter and if I didn’t like it, I would just unsubscribe; after all, that was my prerogative. To my surprise though, I discovered something completely unexpected.
Keith’s newsletters were unlike anything I had experienced so far. They didn’t flash me with suggestions about how to become a creative genius, or how to take advantage of his new promotional service. No, Root Notes did something different. It made me dig deep into my mind’s eye, removing layers of preconceptions and breaking through the notions I had as a writer. It influenced me for the better.
When I asked Keith what he hoped to achieve with his newsletter, he said, “I look for unresolved tensions that exist in our everyday and creative lives and I explore them in ways I hope gives readers little aha moments. The main thing I hope to achieve is to write narratives that linger in the mind, long after you’ve read them.”
We as writers browse through a vast number of websites, stumble upon countless amounts of books, and interact with lots of different people on a daily basis. How then can we choose which of those websites to follow, what books to read, and which people to connect with? A friend told me once, “that which influences you for good is what you should surround yourself with.”
I’ve come across different websites, books, and people in the last few years that have inspired me and changed the way I see myself, not only as a writer, but also as a creative being. These experiences have made me realize how important it is to fill my time and space with worthwhile influences.
One of my favorite messages from Keith’s newsletter, which he shared many years ago, talked about relationships. He said, “Everything in life is a relationship. Our creative life is a relationship. We live in relationships with ourselves, our families and friends, our neighbors, our natural and climatic surroundings, our work and co-workers, our faith, our interests.”
Each relationship in our lives influences us, for better or worse. What kinds of influences are you allowing inside of you?
I’ll admit I am much more careful with selecting worthwhile influences in my life than I used to be. To me, influences are in many ways the nourishment we give our creative root system. Overtime, these influences can help us shape and strengthen our roots to support exponential growth, or dwarf our progress beyond belief. The choice, as all things in life, comes down to us. Average is easy. Greatness takes work.
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