The World is You
Michael Connelley must have told us three times during his interview that while writing he “keeps his head down.” It was his way of reminding himself that he must keep his eyes on his own page, as it were. If he worried about trends and what other writers were writing, it would only serve to distract him. So he kept his head down. Every writer seems to have their own metaphor for this mindset. Dennis Lehane kept a 3 by 5 card with the words “nobody cares” written on it pinned above his desk. To him “nobody cares” meant it wasn’t anyone else’s business whether he succeeded or failed, nor, for that matter, was it his business whether anyone else succeeded or failed. Keep your head down and your eyes on your paper.
In the story of the grail, the knights are said to become lost if they follow in another knight’s footsteps. This seems in direct conflict with perhaps the most common piece of advice the writers I’ve interviewed have shared, which is to read as much and as often as possible. But this reading is not for imitation, but for inspiration, and to teach you the rhythm of story telling.
You are inspired both by what you love and don’t. The goal is not to recreate the exact experience, word for word, of reading, say, The Great Gatsby—rather, reading The Great Gatsby inspires a feeling in us we would like to recreate in our way, with our own words and stories. Likewise, when we read something we don’t like, we think, It should have been this way, and off we go again.
Keep your head down. All the world, the books, the movies, your marriage, your divorce, your job, your parents—all of it is fuel for what you might write. So you walk about, eyes and ears open for what is interesting, but when you arrive at your desk, put your head down. Now the world is you. Forget everything you’ve seen and heard and read, it’s already inside you. Put your head down, and let it through.