Writing With Influence

I don’t know quite what your process is, but here’s mine in a nutshell:

The more I read, the more I write. And–note how carefully I’m sidestepping the excretion metaphor–what I write tends to be influenced by what I’ve just read.

So, when I was slogging my way through ‘Richard Dawkins: The Greatest Show on Earth’ (quite frankly, that’s what the title looks like. It’s technically ‘The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence For Evolution’ but whoever designed the cover was thinking ‘publicity’ more than ‘accuracy’), I found myself writing drier and less tersely than usual. And, every time I pick up YA fiction, I end up writing shorter sentences with simpler language.

This is incredibly useful when it comes to editing other people’s work, as I don’t have to think too hard about stylistic elements and words unique and common to them. (Actually, this applies to my own work too–not as usefully, since it is my own work anyway, but it’s not hard for me to stay stylistically consistent even if I haven’t touched the thing for a few days.)

But….

Occasionally, I start worrying about what this means for my own style. Do I really have a style? Is it just a mishmash of whatever I’m into at the moment, or whatever I like best?

And then I realize: everyone’s style is influenced by someone else’s work. ‘There is no unique’ doesn’t just pertain to plot ideas; it pertains to everything. Maybe reading Charles Dickens has made you appreciate the value of not writing long descriptions; maybe reading ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ has got you inserting little tidbits of magical realism written without any benefit of skeptical eyes into everything you do.

Whatever it is, we are all cross sections of our influences. Amalgamations of other writers and writings that are themselves incorporations of a hundred thousand little quirks the original authors picked up from their own experiences. And there’s no reason to feel bad about it, or to push into a style that’s uncomfortable and unnatural to ourselves.

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