Pride and Pigs

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When I was in high school, my junior English teacher assigned us a project: to write the story of the three little pigs in the style of our favorite author. We were not allowed to write the author’s name anywhere on the page and we were graded by the ease with which he guessed that author. A couple of my favorites flitted through my mind- Daphne Du Maurier, Dornford Yates, Martin Cruz-Smith– all with their own entirely different writing styles. I could just imagine all the various sorts of transformations the little pigs would go through in the eyes of these distinctive writers. But I wasn’t going to risk my teaching not having read one of these author’s of mine, so I settled on one that I figured any high school English teacher had to recognize: Jane Austen. I had a great time writing it. It was so easy letting yourself slip into the mind of an author so stylistically well known and use her voice to speak through. There was no need for me to be original, no need for me to be afraid of overstepping my boundaries. The story wasn’t mine and that made it easy.

When I write my own stories it can be agonizing. I never know how much influence I should allow other writers to have over me. I want to be the one to tell my own story, no exceptions. But sometimes, when I read over a piece I wrote a while ago, I could tell you exactly which author I was reading around that time. Usually, when I ask my friends to see if they can tell they can’t see what I’m talking about, but it bothers me. I know its natural for other writers’ influences to creep into your work, but how much is too much? When does the work become more theirs than yours? Sometimes I struggle with this more than others, but I am beginning to believe that everyone’s particular voice is made original by the authors they have read. Influences are allowed as long as they are slightly outweighed by your own inventiveness. They should be the assistants, not the craftsmen.

What do you think? How much influence should you allow into your work?

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One Response to Pride and Pigs

  1. Rod Smith says:

    Of men and pigs — see “Documentary” in Claudia Emerson’s new collection Secure the Shadow.

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