Dear awesome and favorite authors of mine, you have no idea what I do to your books behind closed doors. How I devour and ravish them and love the hell out of them. But is that enough for me? No. I always go back for more. I scribble in the margins and circle things and deface the pages and examine how you do everything, studying the secrets of your amazingness.
You will have no secrets from me! I take your most sublime moments and pull them apart, inspect every bit, just to see how you achieved such drama. I assign descriptions to your brilliant moves. But that’s not all. I assimilate your tricks into myself best I can. The way you plant information, the way you build a relationship, the special mechanics of how you hook parts together, the sly way you tease out details, the way you characterize, build tension, everything, it’s all grist for my idea mill. I take what I can learn from and discard the rest.
This week, needless to say, we’re talking about close reading of other authors’ work. Something that I just love to do.
One of the big events in my life lately is my getting a kindle – with a keyboard! I’m really excited about this thing. It had to have a keyboard because, as you might expect from reading above, I’m a massive highlighter of excellent passages and I make lots of notes and say why this or that works. With this new kindle, I love being able to look over all my favorite passages from many of authors at once and the notes I have made. I only wish there was a way to categorize them.
I never worry about being influenced because I like being influenced. Everything influences me—TV, music, walks in the park, books, conversations, torn letters I find on the street, the way people's living rooms look when I walk by their houses at night, I like to jumble a lot of stuff in.
Sometimes when I find a passage or scene in a book that I really want to crack the code of, I copy it longhand. Sometimes I copy it longhand several times. This is not my own invention - a lot of writers have done it over the years. There’s something about the motion of writing it that lets you understand something more deeply and fully. When I physically write out a paragraph word by word, I always see and understand new things that I would never in a billion years learn from reading it over and over.
It’s not like I want to reproduce the stuff in my own work. I actually think the copy exercise promotes just the opposite—when you understand the internal mechanism of how another author puts something together, it makes you stronger, shows you new keys to the mystery, puts new secret tools in your toolbox.