Friday, March 18, 2011

The Influence and How It, Well, Influences

My writers group, The Underground Writing Project, wrote what we call a 'round' story. Basically, we each took turns writing a chapter and so on and so on until we reached the end. Lather, rinse, repeat.

In a seemingly unrelated topic: literature classes bring up the question of influence and it  is always brought up in relation to a writer's work. Who influenced the piece? What traditions influenced the creation? What relationships did the writer have with other writers?

Well, the round story writing was a wonderful experience-- and our heaviest influence was P.G. Wodehouse (with some Oscar Wilde in there for good measure). The resulting book (yes, we actually finished it) is what I like to think of as What Happens When Americans Get Hold Of British Parlor Comedy. There are polo matches and guillotines and love hexagons. We outright borrowed Wodehouse's voice -- or tried to. I mean, he is Wodehouse and we're just us, right?

That experience is the first time in my writing practice that I actively thought about another writer's influence on my work.  It's the only time I pondered the way a voice should specifically sound on the page. (And interestingly enough, it's also the only time I've been called out on a critique regarding voice: apparently I used 'kind of' instead of 'sort of' in one spot. Who knew, right?)

Now that I'm working on a new writing project, the idea of influence has popped into my head again. I know a certain writer influences the structure of the new piece, another influences the subject matter, and another influences the voice when I feel myself dragging. And I'm not going to tell you these writers' names because they're all genius, award winning writers and I'm not about to present the idea that what I'm working on matches up. At all. Forgive me.

The cool thing about the situation is that I feel myself stretching and trying things that I wouldn't have without these other writers. The structure is a little funky. The subject matter is close to my heart. The voice is, oddly enough, more authentically me too, I think; more inspired than influenced maybe. I'm hoping that it winds up like the UGWP round story: the influence is present but it's all original. I'm pretty excited.

Now, I really really really want to know from you guys whether you've actively let another writer influence your work? How did the experience go for you? What'd you learn?

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