Finding Your Writing Influence

By Len Lawson 

It is a crucial benefit for writers to discover the authors who have had the most significant influence on their work. This revelation will help us to understand what type of writers we truly are and in what direction our writing can and should go. Without knowing who has influenced us, it remains difficult, especially for beginners, to understand how we write. However, we do not have to become the same authors as others who have influenced us. We should use this knowledge as a door to greater awareness of our individual craft.
For example, I first became interested in literature in high school. We read the classics like Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, and others, but the one author we read who intrigued me most was Zora Neale Hurston. When we read her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, I was overwhelmed with Hurston's diction and dialogue.
Reading Hurston led me to my writing idol at the time Toni Morrison. However, when I made the decision to become a writer, my words came out similar to Morrison’s words with long sentences and many adjectives. When I first allowed others to read my writing, its density confused them. Moreover, I discovered that Morrison read much of William Faulkner’s and Virginia Woolf’s writing before writing her own. Her works are really a combination of both their styles.
I realized that if I were to become a serious writer, then I would have to develop my own style. Nonetheless, my influences instantly came out onto the pages because I had read so much of them. I channeled Hemingway’s use of dialogue in a matter-of-fact tone. I disseminated Hurston’s African American dialogue in some of my writing with Southern settings. Furthermore, yes, I did use what I learned from Morrison’s uniqueness yet sparingly so as not to confuse my readers. I incorporated the best of those authors fused with my own creativity and paradigm.
The result has been a style all my own. Critics might say that I am simply copying other writers and pasting them into my work. I say that without reading a variety of styles, writers cannot discover their own. I leave these tips for us to discover who our writing influences are and to discover who we are as writers:
  1. What writers do you enjoy reading? What is great about these writers and their works?
  2. What can you detect in your own writing that resembles what you see in other writers you have read?
  3. What else can you learn about these writers that can better influence your writing (i.e. their biography or autobiography, how they became writers, what writers influenced them)?
  4. Which of these writers’ works, if any, most resemble your own?


By Bonnie Stanard Anachronisms are the bane of serious historical fiction writers. If we rack up too many, our validity as researchers if not writers is called into question. For those of us who spend a lot of time figuring out things like whether alcoholic drinks were served with a straw in 1858, Leonardo Dicaprio had us choking on our popcorn in the movie Django Unchained. There he was on the screen, surrounded by his slaves and sipping a coconut daiquiri with a straw. Whatever the blood and gore, that straw was indefensible. As improbable as the straw were some of the situations. Any black person, slave or free, who wore a pistol in 1858 wouldn’t have worn it long. Nor would he sit at a dinner table with white people. And since slaves were considered property worth from $500 to $1500, what owner would damage his own property? And there was a lot of damage here. But wait a minute. Director Quentin Tarantino signals that the movie is unorthodox on the posters used for promotion. How can anybody take seriously a 19th Century cowboy wearing sunglasses? Obviously Django is not intended as a traditional Western. In a review of Django, Stephanie Zacharek of NPR claims that if the movie “takes significant liberties with history … , it also faces certain historical truths head-on.” She doesn’t elaborate on these truths and I’m still wondering what they could be. She also says it isn’t a screed because “there’s too much joy in it.” Huh? Did she say “joy?” Amusement … maybe. Those of us expecting a cowboy adventure of the more typical sort were twisting in our seats by the second half, hardly aware of the playfulness. Early on, I scoffed at the poor approximation of what was supposed to be cotton plants growing in a field. However, Tarantino had everything under control. He hadn’t been so stupid as to accidentally make cotton look like soy beans with blooming boles. Anyway, director Quentin Tarantino is not easy to interpret. The historical inaccuracies are a way of messing with the concept of suspending disbelief. Even as we immerse ourselves in the story, we are kept out of Django’s world. The movie is a tongue-in-cheek offering that dares you to like it. It’s deliberately provocative. It’s listed as an “Action” movie but begs for another label, one that will acknowledge the element of absurdity. It’s been well received by critics and has an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. If it weren’t for the violence, I’d watch the movie again with the hope of more insight into Tarantino’s unconventional talent. For all Zacharek says about Tarantino, her comment about his use of the n-word prompted the most responses, some of them acrimonious ( There are critics who reduce Django to that one issue and would throw Tarantino under the bus for using the word. Several weeks ago on my WritePersona blog, I addressed this dilemma, one that haunts those of us who place our stories in the South in the 19th Century. ( -- scroll down to “Tough Words”)