It’s awesome when you read a book or a story and you think, “I wanna write stuff as good as this!” You come away feeling all excited about the possibilities of these little things called words. It reignites that passion to practise, practise, practise in hopes that you’ll one day be even just a fraction as skilled as the author who penned that brilliant piece of fiction.
What’s less awesome is when you read said book or story and find yourself subsequently scribbling a cheap, knock-off version of the same thing. Reading is an important part of learning how to write, but there’s a fine line between being inspired by great fiction and being influenced by it.
It’s lovely when a story sparks something in your own imagination and new ideas spin out of your brain so quickly you can barely get them down on paper fast enough. I definitely find myself feeling more creative and having more ideas when I read often.
However, sometimes I find myself with story ideas that are just plain rip-offs of someone else’s work. Others, I find myself writing in the style of another writer that I’ve recently admired, and that’s no good, either. I don’t want to be a poor-mans version of *insert talented, famous author of your choice here*. I want to be Ellie Scott. I want to write like me.
I don’t know if I have a defined style yet – figuring that out is all part of the fun, I guess. But I’d like to have one. If nothing else, I’d like to feel confident that my stories are reasonably original. And that means I have to ensure I’m only being inspired by other work, rather than letting it influence me.
So how do I go about doing this?
Well, it’s an ongoing battle. But here’s a rough strategy:
1. Write a rip-off first draft
If I find myself writing a story that feels like someone else’s, I just kind of crack on with it initially. Sometimes you need to get it out of your system, y’know? Writing in that style might help to get the bare bones of the story down on the page. I just remind myself that it is only a first draft and will definitely need some work.
2. Figure out how to put my own spin on it
I’ll take my rip-off first draft and do something different with it. Maybe I’ll throw in a character who shouldn’t really fit. Maybe I’ll completely rewrite the whole thing from a different POV. Maybe I’ll turn it into a flash fiction piece instead of a long story. Basically, I pull it apart and put it back together again to make it feel like more of my own.
3. Redraft until I lose the will to live
Once the story has a bit of my mark on it, I’ll keep working on it in an attempt to make it more me. I’ll redraft it and redraft it and redraft it until it loses all meaning and I hate the damn thing. Then I’ll leave alone for a little while.
4. Redraft until I like it again
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and when I’ve had a little break from a WIP, I find it easier to differentiate between its good and bad points. It’s also easier to pinpoint the elements that don’t feel like mine. Then I can rip them out and replace them with something better.
What’s your strategy?
I think feeling influenced by others is a bit of a tricky hurdle to get over. Figuring out the difference between inspiration and influence can be just as tough. If anyone else finds themselves guilty of it, do let me know in the comments how you deal with it. I would love to be inspired (and maybe influenced…) by your advice.Follow Ellie Scott on WordPress.com