Learning to Learn: My Battle With Influence

I feel so naive admitting this, but for years, I believed as a writer that by constantly reading the work of others, I would somehow lose my own unique voice in favor of assuming the voices of those whose work I read. I thought, for example, that if I read too much Faulkner, I’d sound like Faulkner, and nobody would want to read my work because only Faulkner can be Faulkner and my writing would be an inferior, probably abysmal forgery of something that had already been created. I feared that in allowing other authors to influence my writing, I’d try too hard to imitate them and lose more in the process than I would gain. Thankfully, I have outgrown this callow conviction.

When I began my MFA program just two months ago, I was so overwhelmed by the amount of reading I would be doing over the course of just one semester—ten to twelve books in sixteen weeks—on top of all the writing. My mentor and I settled on a reading list, and I remember first realizing how many different voices—strong, literary voices—I’d be exposed to by the time the semester was over. Faulkner, Anderson, Steinbeck, McCarthy. And those are just a few.

I’m a little more than halfway through the semester right now and yet, by my own determination and fervor, am nearly finished with my reading. What I’ve discovered in the process is that my writing is growing tremendously, not because I’m typing out tens of thousands of words a week but because I am reading that and many more. I can see my language developing and maturing as I read these literary classics, yet I still recognize my own voice, something that is exceedingly encouraging, and I find myself wondering why I ever thought I’d be better off to shield myself from others’ creativity. I guess I’m growing up after all.

 

Photo courtesy of mind on fire.

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