finding mufasa: on the need to read
TLDR: Reading widely across different genres exposes you to different styles of writing and helps you clarify your own voice.
In July I quit my job.
I was tired of the BS and no amount of money was going to keep me at a place that had my health deteriorating at an alarming rate.
I also decided to pursue my talent and passion as a writer, much to the facepalm of many a relative.
Fast forward to November, I wrote a first draft, submitted to a literary agent and pretty much did all the things they tell you not to do when you start out writing.
And I got rejected.
I feel like your missing a happy ending there Jael…
I’m not. This is my beginning point, a very humbling one I might add.
See in November I finally stopped being a pig headed brat and did what Stephen King recommended in his book On Writing which was astoundingly and humiliatingly simple.
Still waiting for the point Jael…
But first some backstory.
I don’t know when I stopped reading fiction exactly but I had. Prior to my desire to return to my first love, the last work of fiction I read was Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi and prior to that it was either Fifty shades of Grey by E.L. James or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling.
Wait you write fiction but don’t read it?
Up until about a month ago, yeah.
But how can you call yourself a writer?
I know right, which is why I changed the habit and opened back to fiction. Prior to this I was reading but it was all theory, fact and history based info which to me is the most exciting thing on the planet but I’m weird if you haven’t already guessed.
But falling into a book, into a world that took you on an adventure and then dropped you back off into your world slightly disturbed or elated is a completely different experience, and frankly a bit better.
Alright that makes sense, but still missing..
The point. Yes, the point is when I wrote my first draft it read an awful lot like the non-fiction books I was reading prior. Full of exposition, minimal dialogue and just page after page of me explaining what was happening rather than giving the reader a world to fall in love with. It was no wonder I got rejected.
So I followed my own advice and learned from those who came before me. I read Neil Gaiman, Ursula K Leguin, Nnedi Okorafor, N.K. Jemisin, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Octavia Butler, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Paulo Coehlo, R.A. Salvatore, Douglas Adams, James Patterson, Rivers, Solomon, Candice Carty Williams, Frank Hebert and Kwame Mbalia
Note: I have a Scribd account and I buy audiobooks to listen at 2x and I book jump a bit, I have few of these I still need to finish).
And in doing so I came away with a lot of information but the most important thing of all I found was my Mufasa
You found an animated talking dead lion?
Yes in Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison.
Ok , so you talk to dead people now?
In a manner of speaking, yes. Those two women were powerhouses that raised very important questions in their works that I had a chance to address in mine. Between them and Octavia Butler I got to ask myself a very important question. Did I want to continue in the tradition of unhappy endings that come from the result of exploring racially and oppression themed works or would I take a leap in the vein of what Leguin and Jemisin imagined and craft a world where the only choices were fight or walk away?
I choose neither.
Instead I reframed the problem and it is my hope that in doing so it may shift some things…or end up on the banned books list. I’m cool with either outcome.
But I would not have been able to come to rest confidently in that direction or my voice had I not explored the voices and worlds of others.
Why does this matter for you, you ask.
Because as storytellers we have to recognize the inherent power in our abilities to influence people’s imaginations and thereby their framework for problem solving. Knowing how you are going to impact and what imprint you want to leave on your readers is mission critical.
So read widely, ask questions and find your Mufasa to goad you into remembering who you are.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I got cuts to make and paragraphs of exposition to turn into dialogue.
My Reading List
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Leguin
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Kindred by Octavia Butler
Binti by Nnedi Okafor
100 years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Crystal Shard by R.A. Salvatore
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Along Came a Spider by James Patterson
Queenie by Candice Carty Williams
Direct Descent by Frank Hebert
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
The Deep by Rivers Solomon
Binti by Nnedi Okafor
Scythe by Neal Shusterman
The Black God’s Drum by P. Djeli Clark