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I like to read across a variety of authors, genres, and publication dates. Whenever I sit down to write something of my own immediately after marathoning a book or series, I tend to unconsciously use words, grammar, or style reminiscent of whomever I was just reading, since the “rhythm” of the text gets stuck in my head (for lack of a better way to phrase it). If I do this enough times on a single piece of work, it causes it upon reread to sound like a weird, jumpy mishmash of--for example--Tolkien, Christie, and Snicket.

This is not exactly the goal.

I know that taking inspiration from better writers than me is a good thing, but how do I stop accidentally imitating them? I like writing/being able to write in different styles, so I don't want to force myself into a single "voice" for everything I create, and I worry that being constantly conscious of or checking where my phrasing is coming from (and etc) will break my flow. However, I'd rather be consistent within pieces, and to not just copy, as unintentional as it is.

What are some tips to solve or mitigate this issue?

Thanks!

  • I have to admit, I don't read much anymore outside of my studies. I couldn't really solve this problem. I also have the problem of nitpicking others' writing. But that's ok; I love to write! – Stu W Dec 13 '16 at 23:26
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The first thing you should do is look at the answer to this question. Then realize that this is not an issue, but something that you can use greatly to your advantage. However, you still have the problem of not having your own style. I will address that below.

I am a natural mimic as well. When I started out writing, I wrote like whatever I read. I was writing and reading frequently enough and at the same time, so that my style eventually became a collection of different mimics. Or so I thought.

As a mimic, you are going to adopt the style of several authors into your own style. This is just how it works. But as an individual person with a distinct personality and life, those styles are also going to be shaded over by your own experiences and beliefs. This is also how it works.

As my writing style solidified, I found that it was slipping into a different groove. There were elements taken from C. S. Lewis and Edith Nesbit, along with Eoin Colfer and G. A. Henty. But there was something else in there, something that was purely me. That something wasn't my style. But it was what made my collection of mimicked styles different.

So the second thing you need to realize is that 'your style' is a collection; a collection of mimicked styles from authors you love, coupled with who you are. This style will emerge naturally, as long as you just keep writing, and don't worry about it.

That being said, there is an exercise you can do to bring your own unique style closer to the forefront of your writing. The first step is to stop reading, at least for a little while. Take a month off, and at the end of that month (don't start reading!) write. (As a writer, you should never stop reading entirely. A month is okay.)

The second step is what you write. Don't write just anything. Write something you really believe in. Find a topic that is close to you, some position you would defend if it was questioned by someone else. Do you have something you genuinely believe other people need to know? Good. Write about it.

Why am I doing this? By writing about what you believe in deeply, you're pulling from who you are. You're pulling from your experiences, what you know, and how you feel. Coupled with having not read a book recently, you will be unable to stop your own style from pouring out. Then, later, whenever you want to write in your own style, simply re-read what you wrote, and use your mimicry to your advantage.

It should be noted that this will only work if your style is not yet solidified. If it is, your style has become a part of you and you will write that way no matter what. This is a good thing though, as it means what you read will no longer cause your writing to fluctuate quite so drastically. You can still mimic if you focus on trying to, so you haven't lost that ability either.

Best of luck!

  • 2
    +1 for an excellent style finding exercise. Our passions and the strongly held beliefs which we are willing to defend, are wonderful tools for discovering and exercising our personal writing styles. Thanks! – Henry Taylor Dec 10 '16 at 23:57
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To write fluently, you have to have a ready of flow of language at your command, and that will come from all you have heard and read. If you binge read one author, their language will invariable be what is flowing in your head for a while.

The key to developing your own tone is not isolation from influences but variety. Don't binge read anybody. (That may suit you as a reader, but you have to start reading like a writer if you want to be one.) Read widely and deeply, and make the classics a significant portion of your diet. You are not likely to slip into writing like Dickens or Conrad, but they will broaden your pallet of language, making you less susceptible to accidental pastiche.

Make sure the you regularly include writers whose style is very different from your own. If your prose is naturally spare, read Steinbeck and Dickens. If your prose is naturally ornate, read Hemingway or McCarthy.

With all these voices running through your head you will not be overly influenced by any one.

Of course, this is only a secondary benefit for wide and attentive reading for a writer. No one can master a craft without first (and continually) immersing themselves in the work of its masters.

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Many authors avoid reading – or reading anything even remotely related to what they write – while they are writing, to avoid being influenced by the ideas and style of other writers. My recommendation would be to abstain from reading in your own and related genres while you write, because it is near to impossible not to be influenced by what you read.

At the same time, I consciously read authors whose language I want to influence my own while I write. Usually these are classic authors who do not write genre fiction (as I do), so there is no danger of taking anything but language from these examples. If you want to read while you write – and writing a novel can take a long time, so not reading anything at all might not be how you want to live during those months –, consider non-fiction, classics, or complementary genres (such as reading horror when writing love stories).

1

I would not say this is an issue, but after reading a book take a 15 minute break and give your mind a rest. Try to focus not on their writing style, but yours. Something you could give a shot at is not using words such as "musn't" or "thee" if you do that already. A lot of authors do that.

1

Write your first draft however you can get through it. Mix voices and influences, ignore errors, whatever. Consider your first draft something of a big creative experiment.

Smoothing out the voice of the piece happens in revision. (Lots of other things are tweaked in revision too: errors, point of view, scene ordering, etc.) Good readers will help with this by flagging spots where voice sounds inconsistent.

1

I think I might suggest an exercise to help with this, if you want to work on developing your own unique style. You could try this for a sentence, a paragraph, or a couple of paragraphs or pages. It would probably be best to try a paragraph at a time to start with.

Start by writing a sentence (or taking one that you've already written) look at it, and decide what the essence of the sentence is. The key here is that you'll be working with the idea that you want to communicate in each sentence, paragraph, etc.

So, you have your first sentence in front of you. Now go back and write it again, but try writing the same thing in a different way. You might do this by using a different choice or words, varying how long and short your sentences are, or by changing the structure. Here's an example.

With a glance over his shoulder, James stepped across the room.

Not bad, but not necessarily very interesting. How can we shake things up a bit to catch the reader's eye? The first thing you might try is to change the structure of the sentence.

James stepped across the room, glancing over his shoulder.

Notice that by switching the halves of the sentence, the idea that James is moving is emphasized by putting that idea first. Also, using the word glancing as opposed to with a glance emphasizes the idea that the action is in progress. It suggests motion and that he has just done this, or is in the middle of doing it. If you want to emphasize his glance over his shoulder or if that is more important than his moving across the room, we could leave that in the first half instead of switching things around. Now what if 'stepped' doesn't communicated the right idea? It's not specific enough, or James, in your mind, is upset or nervous? If we use a different word, we might be able to give the reader a different picture of what's going on.

James hurried across the room, glancing over his shoulder.

Now this is a bit more interesting. The word "hurried" gives the reader an idea of nervous energy. 'Stepping' is apparently not fast enough for James, so he hurries across the room. Notice how one word can change the entire feeling of a sentence. There are always ideas that your reader will take from your writing beyond what is stated simply.

I know that this advice might sound basic, but the choice of words can be very effective in putting a particular idea in the reader's mind.

I hope this helps!

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Your writing may sound like somebody else's. When I began, I actually analyzed the writing of my favorite authors. Not just for the basics of punctuation; but sentence length and structure. Dialogue that I liked, for example how many words in a sentence? How they used adjectives, and how many, how they described rooms, and landscapes, and people, and voices, and sounds, and smells. How many points do they mention?

Sex scenes: How did they manage that? I didn't just read books on writing, I read writing, not for enjoyment or story. I was opening books I had read, but at random and picking a good page of exposition, or dialogue, or looking for a memorable scene to analyze; count words, count adjectives, count sentence length and pacing (how fast fiction-world-time is passing per sentence, basically).

It broke me of some habits; gave me insight into "good writing" vs. bad.

All of that said, I imitate the patterns of their writing, not the words and choices and characters.

I think the way you find your own voice is after you have done some training like that, learning to imitate what you consider good writing by several writers, is to write without reading anybody else. Once I start thinking of a story, I read ZERO fiction until I have finished writing it. None.

My entertainment at that point is writing, not reading, and although I consume fiction in the form of TV or movies; I feel that is different than imitating another writer; their "voice" is not that distinguishable (to me) when acted.

I am a discovery writer, so my delay between story-conception to writing is pretty short, but still it usually takes me a few weeks of thinking before I open a file and start typing. I think if you do that, and are consumed by your own imagination and describing new scenes and characters and dialogue, your own voice emerges. What you learned from other authors are guidelines to good writing; the technicalities of what you like. They are a way to provide some distance and objectivity to your own writing, so you can know if it were written by somebody else you wouldn't be happy with it! That training is like vocal lessons; it doesn't really change your voice, it just exercises and adds some control to it.

Get other authors out of your short-term memory, don't let them back in by reading their writing while you are writing, and what you are left with is your voice.

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This isn't a problem. Just go with the flow. Finish whatever you are writing. If necessary put it aside, then come back later to revise and edit it. Whatever writing style(s) you were mimicking will have faded from your brain. Now make the form of the words your own.

Alternatively, deliberately try to imitate the styles of your favourite writers. You will discover that somehow someone else's style of writing will emerge from doing this. Strangely enough, this someone else will turn out to be yourself and your own style. Almost every writer goes through this stage. The more you write the more you will write like yourself.

Deliberate imitation will alert your brain to when you are inadvertently copying another writer's style. It's a good way to learn how to write better. You're simply trying out different ways of finding out how to write like yourself.

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