I don't know how many of you amazing authors out there find this to be a problem, but it was certainly something that plagued me as a growing artist.
Stephen King, my all-time favourite writer, has a famous quote.
"If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that."
Simple as that.
I find myself considering that quote quite often, especially during new works that are under development. Is it really as simple as that? In many ways, I certainly agree. In one way, I wonder.
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I have often wonder just how true that is. Ever since I was a small one (okay, people who know me, get your jokes out here), I've been an avid reader, or, as King calls them, a "Constant Reader." My father owned an independent bookstore in Jasper, AB, Canada, and rather than get paid in bucks, I was paid in books as a teenager.
Because of this amazing opportunity, I was exposed to writings of all shapes and scopes. At first, I fancied myself a die-hard fantasy guy, ready to take on the multitudes of worlds that exist in this particular genre. From there, I moved onto John Grisham, diving into the courtroom to ply my trade as a read-along lawyer, offering my advice to invisible characters who, because their own fictional lawyers were smarter than me, never heeded my word.
Then came the King. I'm now 40+ books into my journey through the mind of one of the most prolific horror writers of our time, and not slowing down anytime soon.
As I was reading and writing, I used to share my work with my parents, and enjoyed getting their critical analysis. I've always been of the idea that, as a writer, I should always be open to criticism and suggestions. As I've told many people, if I like your idea, I'll use it; if I don't, I won't.
One particular criticism stood out, and still does to this day.
I shared a few stories several years back, and my father read them. When he finished, he asked me a simple question:
"What Stephen King book are you reading right now?"
At first, I didn't understand the question, as it didn't have anything to do with the stories he had just read. Except, that it did. In fact, it had everything to do with my work.
That was the first time I really recognized a mistake I was making. I love Stephen King....the problem is, I love him a little too much.
Over the course of several short stories, I had begun to try and imitate the King's process into my writing. Small little nuances in his work had started to appear in my own, and even though they seemed minuscule, once I caught wind of what I was doing, they stood out like a neon pink street sign in a black and white film.
Going back, I started to examine earlier pieces of work I had completed. Sure enough, the evidence was there. During my fantasy phase, not only had my writing focused solely on fantasy worlds, but there were clear indications of which series I was reading. The most prominent work that appeared in my writing was from David Eddings' Belgariad series, in which a young village boy discovers he has an untapped wealth of magical power just waiting for discovery.
Not only did I begin using some of the plot points, but I had also adapted Eddings' style into my work, especially when it came to character interactions. My young characters were naive, my older characters sarcastic and cynical. Even the storylines were vague imitations of Eddings' work.
I tried creating lawyer stories, which, I will fully admit, I quickly realized were not my forte.
Then horror kicked in.
To this day, I still have a difficult time escaping the temptation to create works that hold stylistic elements from King. Each short story I wrote seemed to be a direct representation of whatever book I was reading at the time.
Finally, a few years back, I realized just how big a mistake this was. There is a reason that King's style works for him. There is a reason that Eddings was able to create such an amazing world. And there was a reason that my own stories were falling flat, no matter how much work I put into them.
I wasn't creating my world, I was creating my world through what I believed to be the eyes of others.
The moment I was able to recognize this, my style changed. I have worked at letting my own subtle nuances take over, and the writing that was once flatter than a county plains has finally begun to take shape with hills and valleys. I still read, but I'm much more guarded in how I absorb what I'm reading, and I'm careful to watch my work.
3 books later, it is still a lesson I take to heart every time I open up my computer and put fingertips to keys.
It does leave me with a curiosity, though, and that's where you come in, Dear Readers.
Who is your inner writer? Have you successfully established your own world of nuances and styles, or have you adapted others into your work? I would love to hear!
Thanks for reading, Dear Readers! And thanks, as always, for #WritingStrong.