I watched The Words last week. It's a decent film, and it all gets a bit meta. Story of a story of a story (of a story) kind of thing, but it had, at its heart a writer trying to be someone else. He was a struggling writer, I suppose, and he was slowly trying to become un-struggling, but what struck me - more than the pretty good representation of how publishing works, or the twists, or the layers of the film - was how much the writer had chosen to define his career through other writers.
A lot of the film is based in 1920s Paris and, like Midnight in Paris, hearkens back to the glory, the loss, and the artistic explosion of the "Lost Generation" of artists, writers and generally funky people who lived there at that time. And for writers, both in-film and in real life, the master and hero of that city and that time was Ernest Hemingway.
I'd never read any Hemingway before. I know, I know - and me, a writer. So, yesterday I read The Sun Also Rises, and today I worked on The Old Man and the Sea. This isn't about what I thought of his work, though.
All writers have heroes - people they wish they could have met, could have learned from. We steal our style and our inspiration with absolutely no shame because that is how it's always been. People write books because they read books, and no course in writing, no tutorials or degree or classes will ever teach you more than just reading other books and seeing how they work. And in The Words, of course, our writer protagonist has a dream - to be a Great Writer. Not good. Not OK.
He wants, in fact, to be Hemingway. He idolizes the work and life of other writers and it's that idolization, rather than admiration, which seems to paralyze him.
There's probably a warning there.
Who do writers look up to? Let them read those books and take joy in the words. Share them, preach about them, and copy them.
As long as you also remember to be yourself. The books you write have to, in the end, be for you, to be something you enjoy, and to be your own work. Copying someone else just makes a weird hybrid book that's not Great or Memorably Bad. It's just ... meh.
Writers love writers, and love reading their books - but when it comes to writing our own, I think it's important to make sure we leave off on aping, and get right down to creating, creating, creating.
Creating's where the magic happens. Go. Write. Make worlds.