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Becoming an Original

Speaking parrotCopy, then find your voice.

Most new writers emulate the writers they most admire. They can’t help but sound like them. Even true originals like Marcel Proust used to do parodies of the writers he was most influenced by. He used this copying as a way of exploring what these writers had done with the language, and little by little found his own voice.

You don’t have to worry that you’ll just become a copycat. You have to do the apprentice work – major craftsmen started out as young craftspeople aping what their mentors did.

So, for you as someone who may be finding your voice, look to people whose work you admire. Try to express yourself, and you’ll find yourself taking pointers from those other writers. Then, put it aside.

Let it sit for an hour or overnight.

Then revisit it, and take out the copycat stuff. And see where you can say the same thing a little differently. As yourself.

Little by little you’ll discover ways of expressing you thoughts so that your personality comes through, rather than that of the writers who’ve influenced you.

Of course, you can still have elements of those other writers in there. But as you do this, as you find your voice, you’ll become someone who’s not copying anyone, but is influenced by someone else’s thoughts, inspired by that writer.

That’s the difference. Copycats copy. Writers take, and rework and make their own something that has given them the dream of expression.

Are there writers who truly influence you and whose prose style you want to make your own?

I’d love to hear it.

Thanks for sharing!


Tags: originality, Style

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  • Cheryl McCullough

    Good advice :)

  • KirstenNelson

    One of my favorite sayings is “steal it like an artist.” It’s so much easier to start with something someone else has created and then to make it your own, rather than staring at a blank screen attempting to write a blog post that will ensure world peace. I agree with sleeping on it. That distance from what you’re working on is just the thing to give you fresh eyes to make the post your own.

  • leighjeffery

    Although I am not a writer, I do apply this method to my artwork. For years I thought I was a terrible artist because I was so influenced by other’s work and therefore thought I was not very creative. As I got older I began to find that my art was starting to look more and more like my own, just as you say- “Little by little you’ll discover ways of expressing you thoughts so that your personality comes through, rather than that of the writers who’ve influenced you.”

    Thanks for the great post Bob!