We've all heard the expression, "you are what you eat". I personally don't believe there's any credence to this. I do, however, fervently believe that what we read affects us profoundly.
Just this past summer, I stumbled upon a story I wrote in the sixth grade. Rereading it gave me perhaps one of the biggest laughs I've enjoyed in a very long time. Oh, the writing. Oh, the grammar. Oh, the spelling! (Yes, the self-professed "grammar nazi" wasn't always thus. And proof that even the worst grammar offenders can, indeed, change.) But it also reminded me of another story from sixth grade that, unfortunately, wasn't saved. My teacher at that time, Miss Kelley, a former nun, was the original grammar nazi. She always required us to ask to be excused by saying "may I" instead of "can I". One day in class, for example, a boy, bless him, needed to use the bathroom. However, he forgot the magic words, asking instead, "Can I use the bathroom?" Her response was a raised eyebrow and the words, "I certainly hope so", without granting permission. He tried again, once more forgetting the words. By that point, it was urgent, and the "potty dance" had commenced. The rest of us were trying to feed him the necessary words in frantic whispers, but he was too panicked to comprehend what we were saying. He looked at her one more time and bolted from the room. Anyway, this paragon of grammatical perfection posted several assorted illustrations on the classroom bulletin board, and asked us to write a story using at least one of the pictures. I came up with a fantasy story that used every single one. My antagonist was a dragon named "Smog". Sound familiar? If you're an avid Tolkien reader, it certainly should. I'll mention here that, at this point in my life, "The Hobbit" was my absolute favorite book, and I'd read it many, many times. After working very hard on this story for several weeks, I was shocked to discover she'd awarded my hard work with an A+. Let me say, Miss Kelley never gave students an A+ on anything! She believed that there was always room for improvement. Yet, she gave me one nonetheless. I regret deeply that I didn't save this story. I'm sure it would also hand me a big laugh, like the one that was kept. But the fact that she saw something in my sixth-grade writing worthy of such a high honor is very humbling to me. To date, it is by far my highest writing achievement.
Several years later, as a non-Christian teenager, I read a bunch of fluffy, sexy, romance novels (exactly the kind I can no longer read). While I've never in my life had an interest in writing sex scenes, the romantic fluff inspired me to write numerous short stories about teenage romance. I'm honestly quite thankful none of those were saved.
Even today, as I've read back through the parts of my novel that have been finished, I can detect traces of other various books in the writing. Bits of novels by Jane Austen, Karen Kingsbury, Jan Karon, and Francine Rivers, to name a few. I may not have gone many places in my life, seen many things, or met many people. But I've done all of that in the pages of books I've read. The descriptions of places have impacted me. Characters I've met in beloved books have become cherished friends.
All of these things have changed the way I perceive the world, as strange as it sounds. And they've certainly changed the way I write.