Wednesday, October 12, 2005

death to your father

Someone wrote (and I paraphrase roughly) "I put my arm in my sleeve and out came the hand of my father". In writing, we all have the equivalent of a father or fathers. in much the same way that my daughter Sage is picking up on my speech mannerisms, attitudes and values, the works of an author that we enjoying reading influences how we write. It could be a general tone or a method of discourse, a way with phrases or a writerly frame of reference that we find compelling - and we learn from it. This author becomes our favorite writer, and his style or manner pervades our writing - after all, we learn to write from what we read.

But there comes a time in the personal evolution of a writer when you must deliberately engage in subversion, and, in effect, deliberately misread the text of your predecessors. This is one of the ways you can begin to grow beyond their influence, by finding flaws in something you once held sacrosanct and lacunae in what was once (to you) impervious. You learn to question and seek errors, and engage in act of misprision.

Without this act, you cannot progress as a writer, will never find your own unique voice, never develop your own words. While it is impossible to be completely devoid of influences, you can determine to be conscious of just what is affecting you and take steps to distance yourself – aesthetically, intellectually, stylistically – or be condemned to act like your father (or fathers).

If you are perfectly fine growing up like your father, then misprision is not for you. I can think of schools of writing or cadres of stylists that all write in the manner of their leader, and in the context of a movement, that's fine. But even in that context, people will yearn to be unique. Think of it in terms of a uniform: if everyone needs to wear greys, there will be someone who will jazz up their attire with an accent. A writer who writes exactly in the manner of someone else is being grossly unfair to his own potential.

And for me, this is an ongoing process, because occasionally I realize that I’m being influenced by so-and-so writer (Marquez's influence is strongest, but I know I've diatanced myself in many ways, but I cannot hide my origins in the same way I cannot unchoose my genetics). It triggers a reaction in me. I read and reread the work of that particular author and compare it to my current work and try to see just what and how I’m adapting. Then I take steps to put some distance, not out of fear of being a clone, but out of respect for that author and because I need to fine tune my-own voice.

For people who do not write, such concerns seem trivial. But for me, the self-inflicted self-aware agony of growth is part-and-parcel of the entire process.

Then again, you could just write and not worry about it.


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