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Monday, May 31, 2010

Does Your Writing Remind You of Anyone Else's?

I love to read. My bookshelves heave from the weight of books. My first reading influence was Michael Bond with his Paddington Bear books.
When I first started taking fiction writing classes decades ago, I was reading a lot of Lorrie Moore, Deborah Eisenberg and Tom Perrotta. I love their spunky styles. I like how one can tease out deep meaning from their works.
I would love to say my writing is similar to theirs, but I've been writing a novel that doesn't seem willing to be influenced by the folks I want it to be influenced by. An infusion of Lorrie Moore here, a dabble of Tom Perrotta there.
So, every once in a while, when I get asked "If someone were to read my fiction, who would my writing be reminiscent of?" I draw a blank. I mean maybe my style is Eisenberg-esque, but I can't see it.
When reviewing books and reading the promotional material, I recognize when the marketers are trying to position a book: if you like this New York Times bestselling author, then you will love this debut novel.
Obviously, to understand an unknown (read: debut novelist) it becomes important to build upon something we already are familiar with. But how do you determine that? Is it from what books have influenced you and whose style might pepper your own? Or is it from reading someone reading your work and telling you that it reminds them of X writer?
I don't know about you, but I think I'm missing that essential piece of being a writer.... The piece which enables me to read my own writing and determine whose writing it is most like. I can read someone else's writing and sense influences, but I cannot do the same with my own writing. (It's the holiday weekend, my brain seems to be turning to there a term that refers to all this writerly influence?!)

What about you? Can you read different writers, differentiating the common styles? Can you turn your discerning eye upon your own writing?If so, is this something you've trained yourself to do? Or is it something you have always been able to do?

Elizabeth King Humphrey, a writer and creativity coach, writes The Write Elizabeth blog.


  1. I think the most obvious difference in style comes from a writer's voice. It has to be unique and genuine. A strong voice leads to a natural rhythm and flow in a piece and those elements make it easy to differentiate writers.

    Do I want my writing to sound like someone else's writing? No, I want to establish my own voice, but I will agree, there are snippets of my literary favorites scattered through my writing. It's bound to happen to those of us who gobble up books and pour our words onto the page.

  2. As a screenwriter and an essayist, I've been most influenced by Nora Ephron. Do I sound like her? Only in my dreams.


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