Most people learn to write by emulating other writers. Creative writing classes often include assignments in which the student copies a particular style or even the introduction of some famous short story or poem.
Beyond this, one of the most repeated pieces of writing advice for aspiring authors is to read whatever they can get their hands on to learn what works and doesn’t. This is solid advice, and I certainly don’t disagree.
There comes a point, however, when the nascent writer has to take down the scaffolding of other voices. The question is this: What voice is left after the scaffolding disappears?
By voice, I mean the characteristic style of your writing that lets the reader know you are the author—the lyric rhythm, the straightforward prose, the sardonic wit. Your voice is the point of contact between you and the worlds and words you create.
Getting out from the shadow of other writers is a complicated process. The more you write; the more confidence you gain in making the writing sound the way you want it to. This doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t be influenced by others. That’s unavoidable. And, in fact, your individuality as a unique content creator comes through because of your background, not in spite of it.
But make sure that you aren’t drowning yourself out because you want your writing to sound more like [insert famous writer here]. This isn’t always a conscious process, but when you review what you’ve written, you’ll likely see the places you’ve leaned on others instead of speaking as you.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Did you learn to write by emulating others? What impact do you think this had?
- Who are your influences as a writer?
- Which characteristics of their writing do you enjoy the most? Which do you hope to capture in your own writing?
- How would you describe the way your writing comes across? Sarcastic? Lean? Flowing?
- Does this style seem natural?
- How does your background make you unique?
- After reviewing your writing, how does it compare to the writing of those who have influenced you?
The Writer’s Checkup
Read the intro for background.