Write it now: who’s your writing influence?

As far as I am concerned one of the more facile questions authors – or artists of any kind – get asked is ‘who’s your influence?’

Yes, like a geeky Tolkien fan I had to pose in the entrance, such as it was - you could circle it, just like the door Aslan made to get rid of the Telmarines in .Prince Caspian'.

Yes, I’m a huge Tolkien fan. Is Tolkien an ‘influence’ on my writing? No.

It’s as if nobody can do anything original. There’s an automatic assumption that a creative artist – like a writer – has to be ‘influenced’ by the style or approach of a leader in their field – that they have to follow, not create or think laterally.

To the extent that styles often follow trend, I think it’s always going to be possible to trace links between different authors’ work. But the question of ‘influence’ begs the obvious question – if writers are only capable of following others’ lead, where do the original ideas come from?

The reality, of course, is that there are authors who don’t let others influence them – who march to the beat of their own drum. I can’t help thinking that the best writers are those who  go out and create something entirely new.

Sometimes they create stuff that’s too bizarre for words. Or just weird, like Kafka’s flirtation with gaps instead of commas. But amidst all that is an originality that you just can’t get if you let people ‘influence’ you. Out of that comes such things as Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, an experiment in free-flow thought that absolutely worked. Or Hemingway, whose stylistic influence was pure art deco.

So where do these authors get their ideas? Their influences?

Part of it, I think, comes from cross-pollenation, often in unlikely ways. Take Claude Debussy – possibly the greatest French composer that ever lived. His influence, quite explicitly, was the Impressionist art movement.

If Monet could evoke an emotion through colour, he wondered, could a composer evoke a sense of colour through music? Bizarre idea –but he had a go. And through this, Debussy captured the feel of late nineteenth century Parisian bohemianism, just as the artists did. He influenced a whole school of composers  – I’m thinking of Erik Satie’s ‘Gymnopedie’, especially, a piece filled with morning-after ennui.

That works for writing too. If you think of influence in this abstract and indirect way then it becomes more then just follow-my-leader. One of my ‘influences’ in this sense, as a writer, has always been Frank Zappa. What gives, you say? He was a composer. That’s right. The appeal is what he was doing musically – which was all to do with collisions of rhythm, collisions of tonalities. Almost dada, in a way. How does that flow into writing? In many ways. Collisions create the tension that draws readers on. And that is the essence of writing.

Do you have an ‘influencer’ like this?  What inspires you, as a writer?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

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16 comments on “Write it now: who’s your writing influence?

  1. F. Scott Fitzgerald is my heaviest influence. I enjoyed “The Great Gatsby”, but his short stories are true prosaic gems.The, as many writers will say, J.R.R. Tolkien for taking various Scandanavian – primarily Norse – myths and turning them into believable, modern fantasy. And Ray Bradbury for his ability to bring science and literature into a beautiful format, again, with his short stories. I have read many diverse authors and each and every one proved to be an influence and inspiration in some way. But my literary “voice” is my own. These authors inspired my love of the written word generally, and inspired me to use my own voice to tell stories. We all aspire to achieve the full greatness of our gifts, such is the nature of things, but we also look to the past to examine what we believe the pinnacle of a particular author’s style that we enjoy reading.

    • Bradbury was an amazing writer who, I think, eschewed any ‘influencers’ and marched to the beat of his own drum. Others followed him, not the other way around. You’re right, of course – these people inspire us to find our own voices.

  2. P.S. – I, too, love Tolkien, I love his “Silmarillion” stories and other shorts he wrote in addition to the Hobbit series.

  3. cavegirlmba says:

    Great article.
    Less great: my first thought, “writing under the influence”.

  4. M. C. Dulac says:

    I’m a great believer in the fusion of all the arts. A painting can inspire as much as a piece of music . For me Anne Rice is a great inspiration (I read Lestat at an impressionable age) – and I believe she has spoken about finding in inspiration in art and architecture and thinking visually.

    • Visual thinking is, I think, a key to creative writing. And it’s no paradox because writing is all about experiencing and sharing the shapes and patterns of ideas and emotion. Like all the arts.

  5. naimeless says:

    Loved your post! As for influences, they always ebb and flow for me. Sometimes it’s Hemmingway, other times Jim Morrison and the music of The Doors. Though I would have to say that through most of my life, the biggest influence I’ve relied on is Frederick Chopin. (So much so I did my undergraduate thesis and jurried music exams focusing on his work.)

  6. I like the word “catalyst” instead of “influence.” “Catalyst” and “inspiration” go pretty well together. The writers who catalyze and inspire you drive you to efforts more completely your own than the writers who influence you. Influence can be a negative thing. I was very much influenced at one point by Richard Newhafer — a good writer — but it took me a year or so to figure out I didn’t want to be Richard Newhafer. Still, in the end, once I learned that, I could find Newhafer inspiring and use what I learned from him instead of trying to write just like him, maybe one of the best lessons I ever learned. It saved me from wanting to write like any number of writers over the years!

  7. Everyone I read. The stuff that don’t like shows me what I don’t want and the stories I like give me ideas of my own. The former outweigh the latter and have a greater influence, I think.

    • Sounds good – and that broad-spectrum infusion of ideas sounds like a great mix. It’s good to have certainty on like and dislikes, too. My own notions, in that sense, reflect ‘realism’ – which I guess is why I am such a fan of Hemingway, among others. I balk at contrived plots or non-fiction that misses some of the realities of the human condition.

  8. jjspina says:

    You do, Matthew! I get inspired just reading your blog posts. Thank you.

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