The Importance of Influences in Your Writing

All writers have influences. They might like to pretend as if their ideas and creations are divinely inspired, but the truth is that writing is more like alchemy, a process where the base materials of old stories and ideas are mixed together into something shiny, bright, and new. However, while there’s nothing wrong with being influenced by another writer, it’s a fine line between being creatively influenced by someone and ripping them off. Luckily, there’s a few simple things a writer can do to avoid accusations of unoriginality.

If you have enough influences, that's a homage and not a ripoff.

Every writer has a wall full of influences,

The first thing to keep in mind is that one influence is a ripoff, but two influences are an original idea. A story about a young farmboy that learns his father was a knight and sets off on an adventure in space to battle an evil empire is not a particularly original story, but by drawing from Hindu mythology instead of Zen philosophy or by replacing the evil Empire with an alien Lovecraftian horror, the idea gains new life and avoids the trap of trending too closely to its primary influence.

Another thing that can be useful for writers is to avoid reading the type of stories you’re writing. It can be very easy to be influenced subconsciously by things during the writing process. Stories abound of writers that reread an old story or manuscript and discovered that events that happened to them during the time they were writing ended up on the page in one form or another. This can also apply to the type of things you read, so the easiest thing to do is to not read from the same genre that you’re working in.

Finally, the absolute best advice is to be honest and open about your influences. People don’t begrudge a writer for being in love with Tolkien or wanting to write like Stephen King. These are the writers the readers love as well. They’ve been inspired by them, they love to read them, and they will hardly nail you to a cross for the same crimes. The problem is when a writer tries to hide their influences or lie about them because they feel self-conscious or embarrassed. Celebrate your influences and your readers will celebrate with you. Denounce them and they’ll smell blood in the water and attack.

Of course, celebrating your influences requires a bit of self-introspection. You need to find your influences in order to make them your strength. That’s why next time we’ll discuss a process you can use to find your influences. Until then, stay safe and keep writing!

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