Remember when you first start writing you’d say things like: I want to write just like… As you were determined to make your fiction stand out you wanted to write in the style and voice of someone else. (The life of a writer is filled with irony.) With such a plethora of good writers in every genre it’s difficult not to cling to your favorite writers and try to mimic their style. Some people even mention this in their query letters as if it were a get-in-for-free card: Dear Sir, If you’ve ever read any of John Grisham’s work you are going to love…
And you know it may even work– for a while. I mean, you’ve read so much of Grisham’s work, your fiction rings with the same intensity and suspense. You’ve even captured his vocabulary.
In the Bible story about David and Goliath, David is just a boy when he declares that he will fight the giant Goliath. The Israelites are petrified by this brawny ten-foot-tall nemesis. King Saul said, cool go for it. I’m sure the king figured within minutes they’d been scraping bits of David from the ground with the tip of the sword, but he humored him anyway and dressed him with armor, helmet and a sword. But when David tried to move in it he found it big, awkward and unfamiliar. He may have looked the part, but it wasn’t going to work for him. He opted instead for a slingshot and a few stones. Perhaps they thought he was either too young to know better or too peeved to care. (I Samuel 17) This uncircumcised Philistine has the audacity…
Even Goliath laughed at him. (Of course the snickering tapered off as he watched one of those smooth stones sail toward his skull at the speed of a sand storm.) But the point is it’s amazing what you can do when you’re walking in your own truth.
Writing is a tricky thing. You can convince yourself of your non-existent originality or pride yourself for your uncanny resemblance to that one Daniel Baldacci book that just melted the charts. You’re clinging to the coattails of a New York Times bestseller in hopes you can take a ride with them to the top. But it is not until you get into the story that your eyes upturn toward your beloved mentor so that they may impart inspiration. As it turns out the essence of the story can’t be taught or imparted; that is the part that comes from the heart of every writer. It is what draws us to put pen to paper. It is our interpretation of experiences, fears, hopes and such; it is our quest to define the truth or unearth new questions. If that could be copied we’d all be turning out bestsellers.
When I first started writing I wanted my writings to ring with the fierce honesty of Terry McMillan’s work. I thought, easy enough. I can write like that. But the more I read about her as a person I realized that her works were interpretations of her truth. How could I possibly mimic her interpretation?
Some place, in our souls as writers are the questions begging to be asked or answered. It is that place from which we write. I remind myself: only you can write your story. And it must be written your way.