Writing Under the Influence

I had a teacher once say that when she wrote she didn’t read because the other author’s fingerprints would be all over her work. When I heard this I yawned. I figured I had the skills and the discipline that if I read Hamlet, I wouldn’t be typing things out in iambic pentameter. But now I fully appreciate what she was talking about.

There was a character in the X-men called Rogue (she was played by Anna Paquin in the movies). Her power was that whenever she touched someone she absorbed their powers and memories. This was great in a fight. But afterward it was a curse because she was stuck with their thoughts.

I normally would never use a pop culture analogy, but after reading 700 pages of Bill Simmons I couldn’t help myself. When I reread my review of his book, I couldn’t help but to see it as a complete rip-off of his style. Even though I was at times criticizing his style. I touched him and I absorbed his powers and now I’m stuck with them no matter how hard I try to get rid of them.

Why didn’t this affect me earlier in my writing life? Maybe when you’re younger and you write, you’re only tapping into your inner essence. But then after you’ve written thousands or millions of words, you find yourself going more on autopilot to get your point across (an example of this is using the word, autopilot). Your subconscious can’t help but to refer to the most convenient or recent example.

Is this a bad thing? Writing is a reflective action. Even the zaniest fiction doesn’t come from a vacuum. It secretes from the writer’s experiences. Sometimes those experiences are personal, other times they come as a member of an audience. But if you take someone’s words from real life and write them in a book, the critics will laud you as a first class observer. If you take your lines from a book or a movie, you’re a plagiarist. Hence, there’s a certain stigma towards being considered derivative. We want our Hemingways to fight bulls and our Bukowskis to get drunk with unfortunate looking hussies. JK Rowling will never win the Nobel prize becuase she has no wizardry in her resume.

And so I shall try to follow my teacher’s advice. No reading if I try to write. Unless there is an impending deadline.

One thought on “Writing Under the Influence

  1. Great post, man. I think about this all the time. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even go on Rotten Tomatoes to look at the aggregate score or other critics’ reviews because I’m convinced I’ll be swayed in one way or another. Important if you’re looking to find your own style. And btw, Bukowski is the fucking man.

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