For as long as I can remember, writing has been my passion. I even feel that being a “writer” is a part of my identity, and I’ve relentlessly prided myself upon this fact until I felt haunted by a philosophy I heard in a college creative writing class: to be a creative writer, you must be a reader first. The problem is, I haven’t read many novels, but I’ve seen those around me become inspired by reading. In the same way as them, I am inspired to write by immersing myself in utter silence under my favorite tree or listening to classical music for hours and feeling ways that only the finest parts of life can make me feel (like a giant piece of chocolate cake, for instance!).
Even though I’ve never been much of a reader, I carried around Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar every day for about three months when I was in college. I read it before each of my classes, on the grass in the middle of campus, and any time I found myself with a moment to spare. From that year, my memories are black and white, on page 243 mostly, along with my now all-time favorite quote. That book changed me in too many ways to name and although I’ve been told that, in order to excel as a writer, I must obtain a long list of novels I can recall and quote at various (albeit random and sporadic) moments that may come in my life, The Bell Jar remains the only novel that I’ve felt truly inspired by to this day. I don’t know who needs to hear this, but when it comes to creative writing, it is perfectly okay to feel inspired by what inspires you as a writer.
My favorite college creative writing professor once dedicated an entire class to teaching my classmates and me how to be “proper readers.” This meant perfectly parsing and interpreting a handful of novels we’d read, from murder-mystery to abstract fiction. I remember how humbled I felt while sitting in the front row of that classroom, unable to recall authors like I could recall the smell of the wind and book titles like lyrics from the blues. At most, I could remember how Sylvia Plath had spoken to me and I imagined that it was similar to how readers must feel about every single book in their collection. It seemed that everyone around me had been scholars in the world of the literary arts before the age of 19, and I was scared to the point of a near-existential crisis while I remembered only quotes by Plath in those moments, and some written by my own hands.
What if I hadn’t read enough? What if this means my dreams of becoming a writer have been purely in vain and are only distant, wishful hopes?
Looking back, I was inspired to develop my voice as a writer once I finished The Bell Jar. Reading Plath’s work was like reading a poeticized version of my thoughts. I was able to relate so closely with her; not through direct life experiences, but through a kindred spirit. I read this novel at a time when I felt so alone, and each time I turned to a new page, I felt as if she was reaching out her arm and patting me on the shoulder. I felt that I could read between the lines of the things she found worth mentioning and understand why she struggled. I was able to see that I was strapped to my very own metaphorical electric chair, and looking into my own blurry future where the world “lay ahead in question marks.” When asked in a classroom setting, I couldn’t draw from quotes in my mind or rattle off authors she competed within her time. Still, I could feel her creative energy teeming beneath the surface of my subconscious memory. In her timeless piece of literature, she told me that living things would take form in the fragility of my emotions and the state of my heart, and I carried this into my creative ventures. Most importantly, I allowed this to inspire me to create what can inspire others.
I want so desperately to achieve originality; but it’s not easy, especially with a human manifestation of inspiration like Plath, who causes me to wish that I could find half of the words she could find in her sleep. I live in a world where we are told that we must consume to produce. That fateful day in class, I wondered if it might be okay to remain careful that my words stay my own. I did not want to force myself to weed through countless works of authors and manuscripts I didn’t enjoy for the sole purpose of saying I had done so. I wanted to strike a balance. I wondered if it was acceptable to find inspiration by following where my heart leads.
At the beginning of our lives, each of us is a blank slate. Then, everything built up from there is our own doing. We should find the necessary creativity within us to build what we are proud to share with the world. At some point, I think it might be okay to feel confident in the nature of what has proven itself useful to you. For me, this is a personal experience, consumption of music, nature, and art. This happens to include The Bell Jar, a piece so beautiful that I never felt the need to search for its ideal predecessor. There is no question that it is infinitely important to push our creative boundaries. Still, we should be wary of living within another person’s imposed boundaries of our creative abilities. If you consider yourself to be a creative writer, you are.
There is no “checklist” or “perfect writer” stigma waiting to hold you back. In her unabridged journals, Plath said,
"...everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
So, what inspires you?
About Katie: Katie is a college senior with a passion for editing. She's majoring in Public Relations and minoring in English and Creative Writing. When she's not busy slaying the writing world, she's an editorial intern and part-time social media coordinator at Write and Day.