“I am part of everything that I have read.”
– Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States of America.
As a writer, that is a concerning thing to acknowledge, in essence: everything I write is influenced by previous work I have read by another writer. Does this mean we are imitations of writers before us?
When immersed in literature, we are exposed to many teachers of writing: the authors of the works we read. It’s expected that our writing takes on characteristics of all those authors we enjoy, identify with and admire.
Stephen Zemelman and Harvey Daniels (Best Practice: Bringing Standards to Life in American Classrooms) say, "Of course, reading provides specific data and topics for immediate writing projects, but it can do much more than that. At a deeper level, immersion in certain kinds of reading helps all writers assimilate the tone, flavor, structure, norms, and rhetorical strategies of particular genres of writing, a prewriting activity that’s no less effective for being osmotic and unconscious. Further, reading helps students identify themselves as fellow writers."
Is that a bad thing? Does it make you a plagiarist?
I say no.
The stories you tell are yours and yours alone, influenced by what you have read in the same way the experiences you have had in life have influenced your writing. It all melds into who you are and that defines what and how you write. If you are influenced by a distinguished author – what you produce might resemble certain aspects and style, but will be different from the original in countless ways. Even if you try to write like Hemingway, you will still write like you, influenced by Hemingway, but unique in many ways.
Hate it, or love it, or feel you are an imitation of someone else – you are the only you that will ever exist. What you create is equally unique.
Embrace it and write.
© 2013, Mitch Lavender