Trying to Write Like Your Favourite Author? Just DON’T do it

I tried quite hard to be Evie Wyld for a while. Instead of becoming a contender for the Betty Trask Award, what I ended up with was the sleepy novel equivalent of downing half a bottle of whisky with your Nytol. In a word, it was crap.

The husband falling asleep with an early draft of it on top of his face, and a successful novelist friend of mine saying, ‘The thing is, I really preferred your other book,’ failed to convince me that something was wrong. I carried on buffeting my female protagonist with dramatic gale-force winds and filling my hero’s mouth with histrionic piffle.

But finally I realised why, when I spoke about that book, all my friends tried to change the subject, and I went back to book one – the one set in motion by reading a Maggie O’Farrell book. The one that had ground to a halt because it wasn’t quite Maggie O’Farrell enough.

I ripped the whole thing up and started again and this time my head didn’t scream. ‘For God’s sake, it’s a lesser Anita Shreve.’ The words, ‘You’re not good enough to be the next Kate Atkinson’ didn’t repeat like a CD with a scratch down its centre. No, I just wrote.

Somewhere along the line, I’d shaken off the need to try and be a writer other than myself, and I ended up writing my heart across 330 pages. I think I might just have found my own writing style now. It can take years to find it, but let’s be honest, even when you do find it, it’s a slippery thing. Sometimes it turns up to do the hours; other times it slides through your fingers.

My short story collection this year is a case in point. It’s been a neglected thing – what with trying to find an agent and all – but I did complete two shorts. One didn’t work out – I loved the concept and the twist, but the voice was too weak, too damn depressing. And my other story did work out, I guess. Sea Gift is a contender in this year’s Bristol Prize.

But the point is, writing without constraint, without thinking ‘I need to be as good as ……..[insert name of favourite author here], well, it’s full of possibilities and sometimes gleans grand results.

So as I stare at the blank page again – I’m about to start writing another book – I’m going to remind myself of this and take another gamble.

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3 thoughts on “Trying to Write Like Your Favourite Author? Just DON’T do it

  1. I definitely agree with this, but also working out what it is you like about your favourite author’s voice is also useful. And when I lose my voice – like you mention above – in the middle of writing a manuscript sometimes I’ll go and have a read of an author whose voice I like (often Richard Ford), not to copy it, but to help me get back in the zone. Sometimes it works.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Claire. Yes, I do that too – it’s inspiring. My go-to author is often Kate Grenville. I love the way she pauses in certain moments and details them. But depending on what I’m writing, it can be a number of other writers too.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. A really interesting post. It is so tempting to measure yourself against the familiar tone and style of another author. Finding the voice which is uniquely yours is not easy but necessary, if that makes any kind of sense!

    Liked by 1 person

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