Monday, August 8, 2011

Mentor Texts and their Uses

"Some books are dangerous to read while you're writing, because you'll start to sound like them."
~Alexander Chee

I have definitely had this happen to me before, where the things I write down can echo the latest things I read if I'm not careful. However, I also believe in the power of a mentor text.

Right now I am editing the manuscript of my first novel, and at the same time have been reading The Shipping News by Annie Proulx. She has this uncommon mastery over creating her sentences with absolutely no extra words. There are several sentences in her writing with only one or two words to them, usually barely more than a verb. Her writing has revealed to me exactly how wordy I can be, which is perfect while I'm in editing mode. Many sentences in my paper copy are squiggled-through as I'm realizing how redundant they are.

Being aware of the voice in what you're reading is clearly important to note while you are writing. Some habits if you were to pick them up may not be compatible with the way you write, while other writing may be useful to keep on your nightstand if one writer has a strength you were/are looking to incorporate.

Which writers do you use as mentor-texts? Which take you over, that you try to avoid?


  1. Terry Pratchett is a huge influence on me, mostly in that it's possible to make a funny comment about anything.

    And, this might sound bad, but I'm trying to avoid sounding like Margaret Atwood. They made us read a lot of Atwood in school, so that left an impression on me. I find her sentences to be too long. Also, she always seems to be passive-aggressively complaining. She is the literary equivalent of the old aunt who says "Oh, so you're drying your hands on THAT towel?"

  2. I actually agree about her, Tamara. She's one of those people who is important for what she's done for women, Canadians, writers, etc, but I find that writers kept around for those reasons, tend to lose their other reasons for being kept around with time..
    She has a good essay about how she became a writer, though. Not to slap you after what you just told me, but if you haven't read "A Path Taken, with All the Certainty of Youth," I think that you would like it. =) Her explanation about writing and explaining that she's a writer to others, actually reminds me of us. =)