The main drawback is that many writers tend to copy favourite authors thinking that this will bring published success. But is copying them such a bad thing?
There are several problems with copying, or trying to be too much like the authors we admire. Here are some of the pitfalls:
- Lack of voice
- Lack of style
- Nothing is learned
- Their mistakes become your mistakes
- Bad writing habits
Many new writers read the likes of Stephen King or JK Rowling or David Baldacci et al, and are immediately predisposed to that style of writing, they want to be like those writers, but they forget that for years, these authors have developed their own unique ‘voice’ and style and literary nuance, but this is something that all writers must find while developing their own way of writing.
Lack of voice
Borrowing someone else’s ‘voice’ just doesn’t work. Established authors have their own distinct tone and style; they’ve spent years perfecting their craft, to hone that unique ‘sound’ in their work. So when someone tries to write like that, it becomes forced and contrived. Also, there can be a distinct lack of creativity within the work, simply because the writer hasn’t taken the time to grow and develop his or her own voice.
The ‘voice’ is like a fingerprint. It’s exclusive to the writer and should, once developed, distinguish you from other writers. It’s a powerful device - people will get to know your writing because of your writing voice alone.
Lack of style
This brings us to style, or lack of it. Trying to write the way a famous writer does may mean you can’t develop your own style.
Like ‘voice’, writers must also develop their own style. This could be lush and descriptive, it could be sparse, it could be gritty, it could be literary etc. Whatever the style, it should speak to the reader it its own way; one that the writer has cultivated and developed themselves through practice.
If you are writing too much like other authors, taking their tone and technique and approach, you will find that you don’t actually learn anything as a writer. Writing is always a learning process. The more we write, the better we become.
Trying too hard to write in a style that isn’t really you will come across as false and dull. Your style is yours alone, no one else’s.
Nothing is learned
As previously mentioned, writing is all about learning. Being published doesn’t mean a writer stops learning. Writing development never stops. Relying too much on the way your favourite writer does it means that you bypass that learning process – nothing is learned.
Writing the way we do, with our own voice, our own style, means we learn about the craft, we learn about ourselves as writers – what we’re good at, what we’re not so good at, and through that process, we create our own path to improvement.
Be inspired by others, practice, learn, but don’t copy.
Their mistakes become your mistakes
Established authors make mistakes, some famous ones are not beyond dropping a few howlers too, so when new writers find themselves copying the way their favourite authors write, they also assimilate the kind of mistakes that all writers should avoid, things like tenses, poor sentence structuring, telling but no showing etc.
Make your own mistakes and learn from them, but don’t copy others’ mistakes because ultimately you will become ignorant to becoming a better writer.
Bad writing habits
That brings us to bad habits. Ever had driving lessons from your parents, then when you get a driving instructor, you’re given contrary advice and told how to do things properly? That’s because you’ve picked up your parents’ bad habits. The same is true of writers. No writer is immune; we all have bad habits.
The problem here is that beginners become so focused on trying to be a writer that they absorb everything from their favourite author, and that includes bad writing habits (things like hanging participles, fragmented sentences, alternating tenses, lack of observation etc) and they use them in their own work, thinking it will immediately get them published.
By all means let other writers influence the way you might like to write, but don’t copy them, otherwise you end up ambushing the legitimacy of your own work.
There is nothing wrong is emulating other writers, their influences are hugely important to fellow writers, but don’t be a poor imitation. Be your own writer.
Next week in Part 2, we’ll look at positive ways to emulate your favourite others without the need to copy them.