This is the fifth and final part of a series of entries discussing various books that deeply influenced my writing and outlook on stories. You can read the Introduction here, Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and Part 4 here. Please note that discussion of these books may contain spoilers.
I thought I’d close out this discussion of influential books with a genre that I don’t usually read: nonfiction. It’s only in the last three years or so that I’ve really started delving into nonfiction; before I just passed it by as something that I don’t dealt with for research, not read for fun. However, I started finding interesting books about internet culture, fandom, introverts, and writing. So, here I am to talk about three nonfiction books that helped influence me as a person as well as a writer.
This book saved my life. I’m only slightly exaggerating when I say that. I was deep in the grip of depression when my onii-san David let me borrow his copy of Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live by Martha Beck. I was in pain, confused, and trying desperately to claw my way out of a hole I had only recently realized I was in. I needed to make sense of what was happening to me, why I was so unhappy, and what to do about it. Listening to other people doesn’t help me much because I often find it hard to relate to someone else’s thought processes. But books…a book I can read. A book I can understand and apply to my own life and experiences. And Finding You Own North Star helped me do just that.
Finding Your Own North Star helps you make sense of your life and find sources of unhappiness and happiness around you through self-examination and gentle suggestions. Exercises are present throughout the book to help you along. Most of all, North Star tells you to listen to your own body. Too often we override our emotions, our instincts, our gut reactions in favor of cold, hard logic or doing what we have to do, regardless of the damage it may cause us. We each have an internal north star, a sensation that tells us when we are getting close to something that is good for us, and the deep-set sickness that comes when we are on a course counter to our inner star. Since I’ve been trained to delay or deny my own needs in favor of the needs of others, I’m still working on sorting out and pinpointing these feelings. But at least I pay much more attention to my body and reactions to people, situations, and choices in my life. If I’m aware of what’s making me happy or unhappy, I can take steps to change my external life to more closely match what Martha Beck calls, my “essential self.” If you suffer from depression, unhappiness, or dissatisfaction with your life, I highly recommend this book.
Party of One: The Loner’s Manifesto by Anneli Rufus gave me confidence and a sense of belonging that is hard for me to find. Is is a poetic tribute to the value of loners, the people who prefer daydreaming to club-hopping, and the various social misconceptions that make life for people like me rather trying. There are plenty of misconceptions about loners and introverts. Like it or not, unless they are also introverts, pretty much everyone you know is going to make you feel like there’s something wrong with you. Because our society is built around extroverts and caters to the social animal, people who are drained rather than energized by socializing get marginalized, snubbed, or face chronic exhaustion. And unless you can find other people like yourself, the loner can spend their life in a rather lonely state.
It’s sometimes hard for me to articulate how I see the world and how I feel living in it. Party of One articulates it for me. A loner surrounded by extroversion gets overwhelmed fast. I’ve learned to cope over the years, but I’m just a fake. I can get by with fake extroversion for a while, but I can’t sustain it. Knowing that there are other people out there who crave the same kind of solitude that I do, and reading a book written by one of them in such lovely prose, makes me feel less alone. Less like a freak. After all, the majority of creative types throughout history were loners to one degree or another. Party of One helped clarify and reinforce the idea that being a loner is a valid lifestyle, a valid life choice backed by my natural inclinations, and I don’t need to get farther away from my essential self by pretending to be something I’m not.
This last book is the only one specifically about writing, and it’s one that I only read recently, but the impact is huge. I have never copied so many quotes out of a book before. The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation Into the Writing Life by Julia Cameron not only inspired me, but also calmed and centered me. Ms. Cameron ascribes to the belief that everyone is a writer, that everyone is creative and has the right to express that creativity. They should not be discouraged from doing something they enjoy. Writers aren’t this special elite group set up high on an ivory tower with their jealous muses, but just people who work every day to create something. She talks about overcoming writers’ block, depression, discouragement, and many of the other evils that plague those in the arts. But most of all, she urges you to never give up and write every day.
I don’t agree with everything in The Right to Write. For example, while I do think anyone can write if they want to, that doesn’t mean they will write well or be publishable. You may have the right to write, but that doesn’t mean I want everything others written, no matter how poor, shoved in my face and expect nothing but praise. (I take the giving and receiving of constructive criticism very seriously.) I don’t think that everyone has the mind or imagination or drive of a writer. I’ve read the work of people who “get it” and I see the promise in their prose, even when it’s raw. I’ve read the polished-up work of people who have tried very, very hard but their words lacks a soul. The difference in me now is that I try not to break those latter writers. I’ve been faced with people who’ve tried to break my imagination. I know how it feels to have something I worked so hard on torn apart. And I never want to be the person responsible for the death of someone else’s dream. I want to encourage and advise, not demoralize or dismiss.
I want to be a Creator, not a Destroyer.