There is something acutely personal in talking about your favourite writer.
For me at least, I often hesitate to name my favourite writer because I feel like it reveals a part of me I’m not sure I want to share. I somehow feel that by saying his name out loud, my soul is been sliced open by a knife with an edge so sharp I can hardly feel it. I can be peeled back in layers so fine they are practically transparent, and somehow their name, like an incantation, allows whoever hears it to leaf through my innermost thoughts as if they are flicking through a book.
I don’t know why this is. It’s only a name, after all. The writing doesn’t reflect my life experiences, or expose any dark secrets I might harbour. All I know is that anytime I say his name, I feel like I’m divulging some confidential information that cuts right to my core. In some ways, I feel that – ludicrously – just knowing the name tells you everything you need to know about my likes and dislikes, hopes and fears.
I can still remember the sentence that cemented my obsession with his writing. I remember reading through a book and reaching a metaphor that made me double back and start the sentence over. It bounced around in my head, and that night as I lay in bed I said it out loud. Softly. Just to myself. Just to hear what the syllables sounded like in the darkness.
I fell in love.
I don’t always agree with the subject of his writing, but I always enjoy reading it. I love the way he constructs a sentence like nobody else. I get an actual, physical thrill out of some of his descriptions, where the words seem to crawl up the back of my neck and tickle my mind. I see through his eyes, and even if I don’t agree, I understand.
Any time I start to read something of his, I can feel a low hum inside me as my creativity stirs. When his words make me laugh or cry, feel anger or dismay, I can feel it stretching, as if after a long nap, and it nudges me gently, saying, ‘Look what words can do. Look. Look how they can make you feel. Look how you go from tearful eyes to unwitting giggle in a single paragraph. Don’t you want to sit down and write? Don’t you want to try?‘
If I fear I’m losing myself, or losing my way, or losing my words, I read a few pages from his book and I remember why I love writing. It makes me feel, even when I’m not feeling much of anything else. Tripping my fingers across the keys lifts my mood. Usually by writing about certain thoughts or experiences, I get a clearer, more honest look at how I feel about them. Sometimes I even surprise myself with the words that appear on the screen.
Of course, this can and sometimes does stop me from writing about certain topics.
I avoid the painful, the awkward, and the inconvenient. I skirt around them as if even the merest mention might prove agonising. I hate confrontation of any kind, and I know that writing about certain things will mean confronting myself, in a way. I will spill out – and spell out – thoughts that were previously only a nebulous, amorphous fog. When they stay in my head I don’t have to examine them too closely. I am aware of them, but they exist as old, dusty books in the attic of my mind. ‘I’ll get to them in time,’ I tell myself, and carefully sidestep the ladder that leads up to where I’d rather not go.
And sometimes, when my mind is all fog and I can’t see my way out, I know I should write.
And sometimes, when this happens, I reach for his book.
Guided by his vivid, powerful imagery and a healthy sense of humour, I reignite my sputtering love of words. I feel it again, the tingle of carefully, precisely placed consonants and vowels stacked against each other. Like building blocks, they allow my imagination to get to work building landscapes and concepts I might otherwise struggle to see.
Later, I sit down, and I write.