So when I saw someone trying to do what they thought was belly dancing, but getting it totally wrong, I had an interesting reaction. My muscles, without any conscious thought from me, started to twitch, in the correct order and the correct way to produce the move the girl on stage was trying to do.
I’m not saying I stood, did an Egyptian travel, followed by a lateral eight, a camel and finishing off with a shimmy in the middle of the Fortean Times convention. But my body knew what it would need to do, and without any conscious prompting from me, started to do it.
And when I see good belly dancing, the same happens – only this time, my body is trying to copy.
Now (and here’s where it makes sense) I know writers who refuse to read books in their own genre because they say they don’t want to be influenced by them. I see it differently. I think reading books, as a writer, is like learning to dance. When you read a badly written book, your writing muscles twitch, showing you subconsciously, how it should have been done, how you would have done it. If you read a book written well, your writing muscles strain to copy – not exactly, just as no-one dances exactly like someone else, but copy the moves, the tricks, how you can use that particular style – whether it be playing with the timeline, or switching narrator, or something else new – to improve and expand your repetoire.
And reading someone else’s writing is like watching someone else dance – you’re itching to get up and try it yourself.
And now that I’ve done my dance/writing analogy, I’d like to point you towards a speech about libraries and books that Barack Obama made before he was president. I found it pretty inspirational.