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:
- What writers do you enjoy reading? What is great about these writers and their works?
- What can you detect in your own writing that resembles what you see in other writers you have read?
- 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)?
- Which of these writers’ works, if any, most resemble your own?