This post is alternatively titled, "Goddamnit, Garth." My favorite book in the entire world is “Sabriel” by Garth Nix.
Since I recently started and stopped reading a book because it was so awful it made me mad—I had to go back to an author and book I could rely on. Mason and I finished the audible audiobook version of Sabriel (narrated by Tim Curry!) last year, and so the natural choice was to seek out the sequel—Lirael. I can remember, a very long time ago, reading the book but I'd forgotten all of the details since then. I remember that the third book (Abhorsen) wasn't even published yet, and seem to recall that Lirael ends rather abruptly...
The good news is that Lirael, like Sabriel, is a ridiculously wonderful book. I've always been in love with how Garth Nix has built his world of magic and modern technology, of his raven-haired teenage girls as main characters, his shambling undead, his Necromancers, his Charter Magic. Mogget. The list goes on, and on and on. Garth Nix both inspires—and infuriates—me as a reader and an author.
The saying goes “Don't compare your first draft to someone else's 20th.” They really probably meant “200th” because writing a novel is damn hard work. So I know, as I listen to Lirael and Sabriel, that Nix has years and years and years of experience and knowledge and life under his literary belt. I can tell, trust me... I feel so insignificant next to it.
My own story concept of Transcendence and my blood mages have a fairly strong connection to the Abhorsen and Nix's own world, that's no coincidence. How could I not be inspired by my favorite author and story? Now, I just have to fight to make my story my own. As I'm listening to Lirael, even though the story has been locked away in my memory for more than a decade, I can't help but notice where his influence and crept into my own writing. I'm only on my second draft, it's quite possible that by the time my own story is over, there will remain very little of the origins that tie my childhood dreams of writing to my favorite author. And if anything does remain, I'll be proud of it (even if Mr. Nix himself may not be).
It's so hard to read a book that is so well crafted that it hurts. I look disdainfully at my own drafts, my own characters, my own hastily drawn world map—and realize: I'm not even close to being done. Now, my time spent feeling stupid and useless is over. I am not stupid or useless, and the writing I've done so far just gets me one draft closer to the final story.
My stress management class this summer defines “worry” as “something to motivate you, and then to lose.” Worry is meant to motivate you to do something, and then you're supposed to stop. If you worry about everything and anything, constantly, you'll make up a thousand possibilities that will never happen. Some that may. One that will or will not.
Reading a book that I love and respect has made me turn a critical, angry eye towards my own dreams and manuscript. Now, I just have to turn this worry, this imposter syndrome, into motivation to keep re-working my own story, my own characters, my own manuscript—until it is 100% mine.
I'm so pleased to experiencing the story of Lirael—even if it hurts me—because I know that, if I try hard enough, if I work hard enough, if I imagine and dream hard enough—I have a chance of making a book that will someday piss off another author enough to write their own. I will never be Garth Nix, I may never meet the man or tell him how his early website talking about his outline for Sabriel inspired me when I was just a teenager—but I will worship and respect him as an author from afar, and declare loudly and often that he is an inspiration to me.
As it goes, the more I read and absorb wonderful stories—the more inspired I am to remember my own story in the making. I've returned to outlining InGifted (formerly The Trials of Blood), and tried to take a more analytical look at it. I have to be able to look at a story such as Lirael and ask myself, “What about this story do I love? What am I doing with my own story that could be changed I love it too?” I know that Nix's attention to detail, the way the magic in his world works, has always been of great interest to me. And I realize that, within my own story, I'm lacking still. So back to the drawing board to ask myself, until my lips bleed: “How do I make this story my own? Undeniably Michelle Brumley? How can I inspire (or anger!) someone in the future that will make them want to write, too? (the poor bastards)”
Read good books to inspire you, read bad books to inspire you to not write that way—and read everything in between. Read, write, love, repeat.