“My superpower is my ability to not be influenced.”
Kanye West said that. I know Kanye’s not always the greatest person to listen to (who is?), but this line is extremely powerful.
It basically means that Kanye doesn’t copy people. It means Kanye stays true to himself. It means that creatively, Kanye is something you’ve never seen before.
He is not influenced easily by anything anybody has done before him.
What Happens To You As A Writer When You Read?
You subconsciously analyze styles. You’re probably analyzing my style right now. The other day someone published an article basically copying a headline I used word-for-word. I wasn’t mad — I was flattered, but it proves my point.
When you read other writers stuff, the temptation to copy them can be strong.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I’m not mad when people copy me, but I do wish they could be more original.
I Copy Other Vloggers All The Time
If you take a look at my Youtube channel, you’ll see I copy the thumbnail formats of other Philippine vloggers. I do this because I’ve watched too much Youtube.
The styles and trends of their videos have bled into my own work, and now my vlogs are sometimes ruined because of it.
I have copied fellow writers before, too. I’ve actually taken a lot of inspiration from Jessica Wildfire. I love her writing voice, and I’ve subconsciously tried to develop my own that’s similar to hers. I haven’t consciously done it, but as I read more and more of her stuff lately, I realized that “sh*t, I actually sound a little bit like this in my own writing sometimes.”
Just a little, because Jessica is way out of my writing league.
I mean, it’s not the end of the world if you take stylistic bits and pieces from writers you admire, but I do think it can rob the writing community of your own originality.
And to be honest, there’s not many writers these days who are that original. You know?
We’re all just copying each other either because we really admire each other or we want to make more money.
The Solution Is To Stop Reading
Okay, so this headline was a little too strong. I don’t recommend you stop reading entirely. I think there’s rock-solid arguments that reading more can drastically improve your writing.
I totally believe that reading is a great thing to do.
But I wonder where the limit is. In the early days of my writing career, I read Jeff Goins like it was nobody’s business. I also really enjoyed reading Anne Lamott. Their styles and writing insights really helped shape me into the writer I am today.
Then as I got more busy with writing and running my business, I stopped reading so much.
I read my friend’s articles on occasion, and I keep up with the submissions I get at the Post-Grad Survival Guide, but other than that, I spend strikingly vast amounts of time not reading.
Some of my friends read 50+ books a year, and I’m sure they’re learning a lot, and I like to read books too, but I feel like it would be better for my writing to have adventures, turn inward, and basically just learn my own life lessons — not read them from a book.
I do NOT want to put down people who read a lot. Let me make that clear. I’d read 50 books per year, too, if I wasn’t such a stubborn person. You want to know why I’m not as smart as my friends? Exhibit A.. I don’t read that much.
And don’t get me wrong, I think we all pretty much get the same amount of “life experience” whether we spend that reading or going on an adventure somewhere, but at least when I’m going on an adventure, I’m discovering new writing ideas for myself, and not having them laid out for me in a book.
I am not as smart as my writing colleagues. There’s probably many life lessons and mental models they know that could drastically improve my well-being if I knew them. I am fully aware that I am ignorant because I don’t read that much.
But I feel if I did read more I’d just write about all the shit I just read about. I’d be writing about the lessons other people have told me instead of the lessons I’ve learned for myself out in the real world.
If I’m just spitting back the lessons I’ve read in other books to you, the reader, then what “newness” am I really bringing?
I’m just a proxy for information that has already been stated. And I understand there’s really no “new” information out there, but damnit developing my own way of saying it is new, and it could help somebody.
And I feel as if I’d be robbed of that if I read too much.
It’s okay if you read books, watch movies, and basically just restate what you learned. I do it all the time. The truth is, there’s someone who hasn’t read the book you just read or watched the movie you just saw, so you’re helping them in that way.
But if you want to be original — if you want to be what I’ll call a “great” writer, one who rarely gets influenced and stays true to themselves, reading less might help.
Where do original ideas come from? To get to these rare beasts, I think you need to detox yourself from the ideas that others spit at you in books, articles, and social media.
An “original” idea will make you stand out from the crowd of writers as if everybody else is in 1940's black+white and you’re in brilliant technicolor.
I’m not saying you need to stop reading, period. But I am saying that you need to be careful. Try to take the ideas you read about a step further. Try to put your own spin on it.
If you do that, then you’re good in my eyes.
By all means, read, but just be careful. Sometimes your subconscious can creep in and copy it without you even knowing. Abstaining from too much reading has helped me be a little more original sometimes, I think, and it may help you, too.
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