Identifying Your Influences: The Most Important Thing for a Writer?

For anyone that wants to be serious about their writing, the most important thing they can do is identify their primary influences. Well, actually that might be overstating things a little bit. In fact, the most important thing a writer can do is develop a regular writing schedule. And now that I think of it, learning to revise your work is probably the second most important thing, but “the seventh or eighth most important thing you can do is identify your primary influences” isn’t exactly an eye-catching opener, so please excuse the hyperbole.

But regardless of its exact placement on the list of important steps towards becoming a serious writer who writes serious things, identifying your primary influences and learning how to consciously use them to improve your writing is very important. How do you go about identifying these influences? Mostly through general introspection and self-awareness, but since that’s a broad and rather useless answer, let’s look at some specific techniques you can use to identify your influences.

The Bookshelf Test

The first technique is something I like to call “the bookshelf test”. Go to your bookshelf, computer desk, or wherever else you keep the books you’re currently reading. I keep mine on stacks on the floor, but we can’t all be disgusting, unorganized slobs. Which books do you reread time and time again? Which books do you consider “perfect”? Which authors show up in your stacks multiple times? This should give you a rough outline of the writers that heavily shape your own approach to the craft.

Ask Your Peers!

You might also want to try asking your peers, especially if you’re in a member of a writing group. This is a great method because an outside perspective can often identify influences that you might not have ever considered. I once had a friend tell me that a lot of my fantasy work read like “an old Don Bluth film”. And while I was surprised by the comparison, I realized that movies like Land Before Time and Secret of NIMH had been huge influences on me at a very young age.

Finally, simply ask yourself one question: who do I want to write like? We often talk about influence as an outside force, something subconscious and out of our control, but just as often it is something a writer decides for themselves. Of course, once you’ve identified your idol, that perfect writer that you would kill to write like, you need to move on to the next step: identifying their greatest weakness and using it to become an even better writer than they could ever dream of being. That’s why next time, we’ll discuss how to tear down your writing idols. Until then, stay safe and keep writing!

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