Should You let yourself be Influenced?

I read a great article today, or rather a great interview in the Globe and Mail featuring writer Benjamin Percy. In the short piece he talks about influence, and being influenced as a reader/writer by other great writers. I have read various blog posts and opinion pieces debating the issue of influence and books. Some advice that a writer should stay away from books in order to develop their own style. To be truly unique you have to follow your own path. So does this mean a writer should ban books of the genre they are working in?

A friend of mine is doing just that with a historic piece. In that case, I can understand his reluctance to read other fiction pieces based in Renaissance Rome. Depictions of the past can be malleable, and created by an artist or author because it can never be known exactly how the past truly was. But what about the other genres? Should a person not read Stephen King if he/she wished to write horror? Should the masters like Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Wilde, Woolf be ignored?

Benjamin Percy writes that the point of reading, and writing is to be influenced.  You learn the style and the you study the craft through the enjoyment of literature, then you use these skills to your advantage. Just like how the young artist will study the Mona Lisa or a Picasso, we as writers can learn from what we read. 

I myself have grown as a writer through the act of reading. Perhaps I channel the style of those I admire subconsciously, but I know that what I write presently is much better than the prose I have written a year or two ago. I attribute this to every book that I have picked up between that time period.

What do you think? Should a writer stay away from influence?


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5 thoughts on “Should You let yourself be Influenced?

  1. I think it’s a bit like being a cook. Eating in the best restaurants helps you decide which things you love, and then you take them and make them your own.

    To not be inspired by greatness is to choose mediocrity

    1. I like that. I suppose it’s a bit like having teachers or mentors as well. As a student you can’t help but be influenced by what or who you’re exposed to. Thanks for the input! 🙂

  2. I think every writer is the summation of their influences. I remember the first time I encountered Cormac McCarthy. I thought his style was so unique and brilliant, until I read Faulkner. It’s the same for music, there is nothing new, just filtered through a different perspective.

    1. Thanks for sharing, and I think I agree with you 🙂 I studied a little Carl Jung a few years ago, and he would attribute this to a universal shared consciousness. Its the reason why we have archetypes.

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