50 Shades of Inspiration

by thomasibenton

Everything I write is inspired by the first chapter of 50 Shades of Grey.

Let me explain what I mean there. Back when I was just a dude writing things in my spare time, things that I figured no one would much like, E L James made a big splash with her “provocative romance” series. I thought to myself, “here is an author who went from obscurity to spectacular success. I’ve got to read her book and see what I can learn.” In the back of my head, I think I kind of figured that I could write me up some erotica and hit the big time. [spoiler: I most definitely cannot]

I downloaded the free first chapter from Amazon. I read the first chapter eagerly.

Did I like the first chapter? No, I did not.

Did I buy the book? Nope.

Did I read a free copy? Not at all.

Was I inspired anyway? Yep.

Look, I can’t speak for the entire book, but the first chapter of 50 Shades is not exactly, in the parlance of my high school English teachers, “good.” Beyond not being the prose I was taught to appreciate and craft, there was nothing in the opening that resonated with me, nothing at all.

Yet there it was, out there in the world being read and read. Snicker all you want, you Guardians of Decency and you Protectors of Literature, but that book connected with people. I’m pretty sure it has changed lives, and for the better.

If a previously unknown person could write a book that first went unnoticed by the fancy writing people of the world, and then when the fancy writing people noticed the book it was promptly derided as only marginally literate tripe, but then that book could could become positively beloved by a small army of readers– well, I figured I should at least be willing to give my own work a chance.

A few years on, here I am, blogging but officially unpublished as I work through the processes of writing and editing and submitting work. I’m even having some success there, so I should be able to shed the “unpublished” moniker soon. Thanks to E L James, really.

I don’t mean to bag on an author who has sold (according to Wikipedia, the Repository of All Knowledge and Wisdom) over 100 million books. Compared to me, she has sold . . . wait, let me do the calculations . . . carry the one . . . over 100 million more books than I have. She clearly has done something right. I suspect that the most important thing she has done right was to put her work out there, to let snobs and even people like my decidedly non-snobby self dislike it. Only by risking the bad reviews could she connect with readers, readers she couldn’t know about until she shared her work.

The stories living on my hard drive could never find success if I kept them away from derision. I started to share my work.

50 Shades of Grey has made all the difference.

PS: I owe a special thanks to my friend TKent for helping me sort out my thoughts on this topic. She’s an up and coming romance writer working on a serial novel called Last Chapter Rewrite. She’s also a real fun follow on Twitter under the handle @TKentWrites.