Reading like you write

Do you write like your favourite authors?

Over on Cam Roger’s* website, there’s a comment thread getting going on social groups and networking amongst your friends and someone raised an interesting idea; that we are the sum of a few people that we spend the most time with.

This is an idea popularised by motivational speaker Jim Rohn who argues that if you think about the five people you spend the most time with, you are probably the sum (or more accurately, the average) of those people.  Basically, you are who you know. It’s not a ground-breaking idea – we’ve all heard about the dangers of “getting in with a bad crowd” and seen many books for aspiring writers/artists/rich people that recommend surrounding yourself with successful writers/artists/rich people.

(Although, speaking as the struggling writer type myself, perhaps I should surround myself with rich people instead of writers? After all, my writer friends can come up with their own prose, but perhaps someone rich might be able to spare a few pennies for my writing. I reckon it might be beneficial for artists generally to meet less other starving artists over a bottle of homebrew and go out with more people who can shout them a bowl of soup.)

But it got me thinking – if we gravitate towards the people we want to be like, does this mean that we read the people that we most want to write like? It’s an interesting idea, that our favourite books are not so much guests on our bookshelves but a style guide to our thinking.

What about people with very varied tastes? What if you have some Jane Austen next to your copy of Mama Mia, like many women I know? I have friends who are equally at ease with easy-reading humor such as Freakonomics or wading through the thick prose of Tolkien. I enjoy the acerbic abstract brevity of Chuck Palahnuik every bit as much as the frothy levity of Bill Bryson, and I like to temper my taste in biographies with occasional forays into the fantasy worlds of Robin Hobb and George R. R. Martin.

And believe me, if I could write as well any one of them I would be a very happy – and also pretty rich. What do you think? Would you like to write like your favourite five authors? And would mixing their styles even be possible?


* For those of you thinking that name looks familiar, yes this is the same Cameron Rogers who I interviewed on this blog last year. He’s an Australian author and his blog, Wait Here for Further Instructions, is both a useful site full of information on writing and traveling and a repository of some of the strangest and funniest true stories I have ever heard. Don’t believe me? Read this one on coffin-bashing undertakers, the richest man who ever lived in a shed and the Cooktown cyclone.

A Life In Words – Cameron Rogers on writing on the road

We  both live in Australia but I end up interviewing Australian author Cameron Rogers on the other side of the world. We’re in Central Park, New York, where he is taking a break from working on his upcoming novel, Fateless.

He wrote the bulk of it in Melbourne where he lived for the last decade, but he’s doing the final edits while travelling around the world. He’s worked on the manuscript – which he calls, not entirely affectionately, “the brick” – in the States, on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, near an Icelandic glacier, in England, Germany and Graceland, all over Paris, while camping in the Dandenongs and in between checking out Muddy Waters’ shack and the Reichstag.

Sounds fun. So is writing all bumming around the world, scribbling a few words in exotic climes?

Cameron grins. “It’s a feast or a famine.” Mainly a famine. He’s been crashing on sofas and working on other things too, a travel article here, or a food piece there. They add a few welcome dollars to the travel fund. But, in the main, he’s financed this trip through royalties, selling almost everything he owns and renting out his room in Melbourne. It sounds spartan, but Cameron relishes the challenge of living in the moment.

“My friend subscribes to the idea of a two bag theory: that is, never own more than two bags worth of things you aren’t willing to part with. That way, if you need to, you can get up and go at a moment’s notice. I like that idea a lot, not only for the freedom it allows, but because it stops your possessions owning you. My father is a bushman to the bone, and so’s my brother. An appreciation of practical expediency is probably genetic.  And very William Gibson.”

Cameron is a fan of science fiction and fantasy writers such as William Gibson and Neil Gaiman, and his writing showcases his interest in the fantastical, bizarre and philosophical. Fateless and his previous novel, the Music of Razors, are both dark adult fantasy but Cameron’s first sales were to other avid Sci-Fi fans – his classmates in Cairns. “I had a Star Wars fixation as a kid. So I started a tiny business writing illustrated stories to order for classmates. I wrote them in exercise pads and sold them for about three dollars.”

His first work to be published was a young-adult novel entitled The Vampires and, in between working on Music of Razors and Fateless, in 2005 he released Nicholas and the Chronoporter under the name Rowley Monkfish. Writing for kids is a different experience again, and one Cameron enjoyed. “The upside of doing kids’ stuff though is that they’re more receptive to the fantastical, and you really can go nuts with those stories, so long as you don’t go offending any librarians. After all, they are the ones who actually buy the books.”

Cameron should know about being receptive to the fantastical. He’s lived a very varied life, with more jobs in a year than many people hold in decade. Many of them have more than a touch of the absurd. He’s been an itinerant theatre student, a stage director, a stand-up comic and had a question mark instead of a photo in his high school yearbook. He spent three months cutting up vegetables in the company of a defecting Soviet weightlifter and almost ended up working in what turned out to be a Yakuza-run all-gay bowling alley in Kyoto.

He wanted to be director, but after a brief stint studying drama, decided to try writing instead. “I abandoned theatre studies after second year when I realised that 95% of all actors are usually out of work anyway, and I didn’t need to study for that.”

His passion for showing the world the scenes he sees so clearly still burns strongly, even if he no longer wants to act. Halfway around the world and working on his manuscript, Cameron is using all his available time and money to get his story, Fateless, out there and into people’s hands and heads. His dedication to the manuscript is balanced by his determination to live in the moment and try everything the world can offer and his advice for aspiring writers is to do the same.

“Experience things. Explore your life.  Document it, either plainly or dressed up as a metaphor inside a novel. But be honest and observant about it. It’s what people look for in a book, even if they don’t consciously know it.  That means being honest with yourself, about yourself.  Readers can smell a fake a mile off.”