I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes writers good…and what makes them not so good. Some writers may or may not have been commercial successes but their words have lasted decades or more. Other writers enjoy great commercial success but don’t seem to resonate at least not with me (more on those later).
One writer that I return to for inspiration time and time again is Jane Austen. I read my first Jane Austen book in high school, and I think her books changed my perspective on many things, not just writing. I had never really read, or at least recognized, such biting social commentary, such witty dialogue, such strong, smart female characters (particularly in books written hundreds of years ago). In her books, smart, thoughtful, capable women overcame limitations imposed on them by society to lead happy, successful lives. I’ve known some to roll their eyes and drop the word “sappy” when you mention Austen, but I think those that say that sell her short. There are many underlying “life lessons” and societal themes in her books if you look hard enough (love, honesty, loyalty, friendship, prejudice, etc.). The books are never simply romances for the sake of romance, and I think many modern adaptations of her books do her an injustice by boiling them down to “boy meets girl”.
As a writer, Austen teaches you about strong characters, layered narratives, and most of all, writing what you “know”. It’s so easy to be swayed by what’s popular, or by what and how others tell you to write. I think remembering Austen means remembering that she stuck to her guns to write what she wanted and maybe you should too. Jane Austen enjoyed neither fame nor fortune for her works during her lifetime, which is a tragedy. But none of that ever stopped her – she relentlessly tried to get her books published during a time when women just didn’t write, let alone publish. So despite the many things Austen teaches us, maybe the most important is perseverance.
What writer(s) has/have most inspired you and why? What about their works struck a chord with you and made them so memorable?