Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Writing Like . . .


Who influences your writing?  I love to read Frederick Buechner, Dietrich Bonheoffer, Madeline L’Engle, and Annie Dillard, and I would like to write like each of them, or all of them, taking the best they have written into my own work.  I have tried to write like all of them, but when I let the writing sit and then go back to it after a few weeks or months, it doesn’t sound like writing I would want to read; it is a discordant mess, a mixture of wolf and sheep, a combination that leaves only a yellow-eyed, mangy wolf straddling bloody wool and bones, an apparition anyone would race to avoid. 

On the other hand, when I write and take out all shades of Buechner, Bonheoffer, L’Engle, and Dillard, I am left with only me.  And when I return to reread it, it doesn’t sound half bad.  It sounds like something I might like to read.  And maybe you would, too.

No successful writer writes like their heroes, their mentors.  Every writer must develop a singular voice.  When the voice rings false, anything false must be ripped out like the wolf savages a sheep, leaving only bone, sinew, and mangled wool, and replaced with the author’s voice—a voice of neither wolf nor sheep, but a cat who slips by in the fog, at once shadow and substance, shades of all felines who have come before, and yet a preternatural feline whose weaving tail invites us to follow and find ourselves.

And that is where I leave you in this new year.  Editing and cutting, cutting and pasting, releasing your own words to the page.  And as you do, remember that the words that come out of your mouth carry intonation, expression, and movement.  The same word does not carry the same meaning when it is laid out bare in black on paper or screen.   The American language is replete with words to describe, for example, that “preternatural” feline, as aberrant, anomalistic, anomalous, atypical, bizarre, curious, deviant, deviate, deviating, divergent, eccentric, exceptional, extraordinary, fantastic, funny, grody, gross, heteroclite, heterodox, heteromorphic, irregular, odd, off-base, off-color, out of line, peculiar, preternatural, queer, screwy, spastic, strange, uncommon, unexpected, unnatural, unorthodox, unusual, or weird.  But of all these shades of meaning only one will contain the precision that you or I intend.  And if you progress to similes and metaphors, you have even more choices some from existing poetry and prose and some not yet considered.   

Read and respect and emulate your heroes and mentors, but let you own voice ring out clearly.  This is a new year and a time to lay aside our if only’s and want to’s and write like . . . ourselves.

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