Some interesting discussion about “copying” and “emulating” has found its way into these pages. And important discussion it is. Finding one’s voice is difficult enough without also finding that you’ve been using someone else’s along the way as well.
When I think back to a time when I knew I’d found my voice, I also think of what made it authentic. Sure, I was writing about what I knew, but I was also writing from deep inside. I was eager to tell a tale. So sure of myself because I believed that what I was saying was important and that anyone who read my writing was certain to agree.
“If you would write well, read good writing.” William Least Heat Moon made that observation when discussing the relationship between what and who we choose to read and how it impacts our own writing voice. Copying is one thing, but emulating is quite another. Like Moon, I believe we unconsciously absorb some of the style, tone and voice of writers we love. Stands to reason. If we take time to marvel at a turn of phrase, a well-formed paragraph, a particularly engaging opening line, or that final phrase, hammered into place like fine craftsmanship, why wouldn’t we incorporate something similar. Not something identical, but something with equal impact.
Musicians work this way. We all know what happens when musicians and writers plagiarize. Disaster! Yet, there is a place for influence; I think it’s inevitable. That’s why what we choose to read can provide great benefit. I often try to read something I would never choose myself. If left alone, I’d find plenty of writers that I like…Steinbeck, Walker, Bellow, Duncan, Krakauer, Morrison, et.al. But I might not find the likes of Poe Ballantine, Alice Munroe, Ivan Doig, or Carlos Ruiz Zafon. (Zafon’s novel, The Shadow of the Wind, is currently on my nightstand)
So dig in. Read widely and deeply. Absorb. Your writing can’t help but flourish.