Ideas / Writing / July 9, 2011

Imitation and influence

There is a fine line between being influenced by someone and imitating someone.  One of these can be a great gift for a writer (and thus the reader) and the other usually produces mediocre results, at best. Imitation may be the greatest form of flattery, but flattery is not the greatest form of writing.   
Being influenced, at its best, is subconscious. It is a shaping and directing of the writing that hints of the influencer without undermining the writers own style and voice. Being influenced is a product of having absorbed an enormous amount of the influencer’s material and then having it ooze back out between the lines of your own composition. It is a flavor, a suggestion, but not a style itself.
Imitation is asking the question “how would so-and-so write this?” Imitation is a disservice to the reader. If they wanted to read the other person’s style and voice they would be best served skipping what you write and going straight to the source.  A writer can never imitate his way to a work that is better than what he imitating.
A writer can be influenced without even realizing it, but he can never imitate without realizing it. Imitation is brutally self-conscious which makes it brutal for the reader as well. 
This same principal holds true for preaching, for composing or performing music, for any form of creation and communication. So put yourself in a position to be influenced. Absorb great creators of the written word, the spoken word, the musical work. But do not seek to mimic them.  Nobody benefits from that.

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