In Forward Motion for Writers chat, writing skill is a common topic. It comes up a few times a month at least. And, pretty frequently when this topic comes up, a certain subset of writers will say how they wished they wrote like one author or another.
I try not to do this.
It denigrates my own skill, and I’m not interested in insulting myself. So I don’t write like some author who can turn a clever phrase, or write a beautiful line, or whose description is vivid and compelling.
I am not that writer. I would not want to be that writer. I am happy as myself. The fact is, I have some things I want to write—some things I think it very important I write. I could not write the stories I’m telling if I was writing like those other authors. My description may not be particularly vivid, and I may only rarely be able to produce a truly clever phrase, and my lines may not be the prettiest things to be written, but I’m pretty pleased with my skill. What I’m not pleased with, I’m working on improving.
And, no, I’m not saying a writer shouldn’t aspire to acquire the skill they see in the books they admire. They should. But saying, “I wish I wrote like This Really Skilled Author,” seems, to me, to be an insult to their own writing. It would be an insult to my own writing if I said that. It would make me feel like not writing—and that’s how these authors who I’ve seen say this feel. They seem to believe their writing isn’t worthy of admiration—or even being written—if it can’t possibly match up to what they admire.
That’s crap. They’re sabotaging themselves. They seem to be using their prose’s lack of beauty and compelling skill as an excuse not to write. If not that, they’re using it as an excuse to beat up on themselves and make writing more difficult to do.
The fact is, I could not write what I write if I constantly compared my writing to that of those whose writing skill I admire. I like the fact my writing isn’t as beautiful as some other writers’ words are. It leaves me the freedom of mind to write the story that’s in my head accurately. If I worried the entire time I wrote something about how it compares to someone else’s book, I’d never get anything done. My stories wouldn’t be mine, they’d be somebody else’s—somebody not-me and not-this-other-writer. They’d be an insult not only to me, but to that author whose writing I was trying to imitate.
Also, by not comparing my writing to other writers’ skill, I’m reaping the joy of discovering a sentence or paragraph that makes me gasp or grips my heart. I’m able to appreciate writing not my own because I’m not spending all my effort in my own writing trying to make my skills and gifts meet goals which I’m still very far from. I may one day be as skilled and gifted with prose as authors whom I admire are, but it’s going to be a slow process, and even after I gain that skill and gift, my writing will still be my own.
And that’s excellent.
That means I’ll still be filling a niche with my writing no other author can fill, even those whose writing I love to read. My life has made me a very different writer than any other writer out there, and my writing can’t shine and entertain people like it should if I tie it down in comparisons to other writers’ skill.
And one skill I probably wouldn’t have now if I spent all my time trying to imitate other writers, or wishing I wrote like them, is the ability, as one of my friends who’s read a number of my completed works has said, to “pack a lot of story in.” I rather like being able to do such a thing.