Imitation Writing

A long long time ago, really just a few years, I knew a writer. She gave me some words of wisdom that for a long time I held, it was that while writing I should abstain from reading other authors. The crux of the theory is that other authors will cloud your own voice and simply produce imitation writing.

I disagree.

To start with, I believe that all writing owes some credit to another author. And this isn’t a sort of credit that one gives that one puts in an inspiration section, this is credit to shaping how we see our own writing. Who we read helps to mould us into the writers that we are. For me it’s the writing of Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace. Wallace has influenced me to such an extent that when I use writing analysis I routinely come up as writing like him. These writers shaped my writing and how I perceive things and I owe them all the credit for elevating my writing from relatively normal writing that reeks of amateurish words and phrases into something that is enjoyable and, in my opinion, slightly unique. I owe them credit for making me into the writer that I am.

But that is not necessarily what is argued. The argument is that reading while writing clouds one’s voice. I disagree with this in the strongest fashion. When writing I find myself drifting in my voice. It wanders here and there between writing sessions and the result is a hodge podge of writing styles composing the final product. This produces problems in editing as I have to rewrite large portions of my original draft. Reading my favorite authors, the ones that influence my voice, standardizes the final product. My voice is still there. I still write the way that I write and I do not find myself copying what I read. Instead, I find that my voice is amplified since I do not wander. It is a far cry from copying or drowning, it is amplifying.

It also amplifies my own writing to have an influencing voice persist in my head. It does not crowd out my originality, it keeps me pushing against my influence resulting in creating new styles of writing that counter the influences that I have.

The main thrust of this is that reading influencing writers when reading is beneficial. My originality will always be there and it will never go away just because I read someone else.

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3 responses to “Imitation Writing

  1. I find that having some meaty writing at hand always raises the bar when I’m drafting or revising. Stretches of flat writing on my end are revealed in the contrast. As is pretension.
    The trick, as you note, is to steer clear of imitation. Let me suggest having a work by someone far from your own brand is advisable.

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