05 September, 2012

Combating Outside Influences: An IWSG Post

The Insecure Writer's Support Group, founded by Alex J. Cavanaugh, is here again! This monthly event, in case you haven't heard of it before, is a day when writers across the blogosphere post about their insecurities, worries, problems, questions, and other things that quietly undermine their writing efforts.

You've probably guessed my issue from the title.

Sometimes, I think I should avoid everything like the plague and hide in a cave when I'm working on a project. It can be so easy for another person's style to influence what I'm trying to do, or for a concept from another work to slip itself into one of my projects, or for a plot twist to emerge in a slightly-different form. Not as a conscious decision, of course, but because my imagination liked the idea and thought "Hey! Let's do it again!" without proper authorization.

Problem is, I like to read (and watch things) when I'm writing a story. I feel more creative when I'm absorbing other fiction, finding out what other people are doing in their genres--you know, actually being a consumer. Hence, the conflict between wanting to experience the good ideas but not wanting to unwittingly copy them into my own projects. It's only on very rare occasions that I actually want someone else's style to leak through into my own.

Do you find outside influences to be a problem when you're writing? Developed any methods of avoiding them from getting into your own projects?

-----The Golden Eagle


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I think they show up regardless. And a little is all right. As long as we see what we are doing - or catch it later - and make sure it's not too obvious or not really what we wanted to convey.

Charles Gramlich said...

When I'm working on a particular project, I do allow outside material in but I try to 'match' it with the project I'm working on as much as possible. If I'm writing a western then I'm likely reading some and watching some too.

Susan Roebuck said...

I don't think you'll copy anything, GE - you'll know if you do. What you might get though is inspiration and there's nothing wrong with that whatsoever.

Pat Hatt said...

There is always going to be another source you can reflect on, so I just let it flow.

Michael Di Gesu said...

Every artist throughout time has influenced new artists....

We are products of our environments and we are greatly influenced by our surroundings and our keen senses.

As long as we create something new and fresh, we aren't copying anyone.

Brinda said...

It's easy to be influenced, but I always hope it forces me to examine something and improve it.

Anonymous said...

Music with lyrics is a big distraction for me. Not so much influencing what I'm writing, but making the voices in my head sing along and stop telling me the story.

JeffO said...

To answer the question, I don't think so. But I've been re-reading an older work of mine the last few days and it's interesting to see where other outside influences (time of year, world events) pushed their way in, and how I can relate it to other bits of writing I've done.

T C Mckee said...

I usually don't have a problem being influenced by a story but I have caught myself adopting a voice a time or two. Reading while I'm writing just inspires me and I like to know that I'm being original, and keeping up with what the competition is putting out is always a good thing.

M.J. Fifield said...

I'll avoid reading certain things when I'm writing my own stuff because I want to avoid any inadvertent influencing. Unless I am in need of some serious inspiration. Then all bets are off.

Lauren said...

I actually have what I call a recharge period, usually a period of a week or two in which the "well" seems to have run dry. During this time I read, blog, watch movies, whatever it takes, and when that time is over I'm more than ready to get back into my "real" world.


Sherri Lackey said...

I don't think it influences me too much. I glean what I like from other people's writing styles and incorporate what I like into my own writing. I think it's just something that humans do. We copy each other, not only in our written communication but our verbal communication as well.

One day you are talking to your friend who punctuates what she has just said with the word: Seriously? The next day you find yourself doing the same thing. The next week you notice the entire nation is punctuating their language with: Seriously?

It just spreads like the plague. :)

Barbara Watson said...

I think of it as taking bits and pieces of what I love about another person's writing and trying to make it part of my own. So it's not necessarily a bad thing as long as I can maintain my own style amid adding new things.

Murees Dupé said...

I sometimes find that to be a problem for me too. Especially when I read something I like too. So I just try to distance myself from writing till I calm down a bit.

Theresa Milstein said...

I've had that problem too. I'd go through phases of either reading, writing, or other. Now I'm better about juggling everything. If only there were more time in a day...

cleemckenzie said...

There's a saying, "Comparison destroys joy." I'm going with that.

Krispy said...

Ah, I know exactly how you feel! I'm definitely more creative when also consuming other work because it keeps my brain moving. Sometimes I'll notice a plot hole or an interesting concept in something I'm reading or watching and that'll spark my own creativity. But yeah, it can be hard to keep those influences out of your own work, especially since I can be something of a sponge, lol.

I wish I had an answer for you. I guess if I find something overly influencing me, I'll take a break from it. I'll cleanse my pallet if you will. Usually, books influence me more than other things. So maybe I'll watch some TV, usually a crime drama since they're pretty straightforward and nothing like what I write.

L.G.Smith said...

Yeah, it's a tricky thing. I mean, some authors I read their work and I want to try and mimic their style, or at least that quality they have that makes me love their writing. Yet I don't want their voice infiltrating my own. It's something to definitely be conscious of.

Andrew Leon said...

I don't think there's anything wrong with absorbing other influences. It's from taking those things in and allowing them to work with other influences that we get new things. Besides, Bono was right, "Every artist is a thief."

Old Kitty said...

I don't think anyone is immune to "outside" influences - but then that's the beauty of art for me! What you create uniquely is the end result of an amalgamation of other strands. Take care

Connie Keller said...

For me, reading while I'm writing is key to keeping my creativity flowing. Usually, I read outside my genre when I'm writing--it helps me notice errors in my own work.

Nancy Thompson said...

I think the best way to combat it is to only read your most favorite author while writing. I love John Hart and aspire to be more like him, so I'll read and reread his books for style inspiration.

Marsha Sigman said...

I used to worry about this a lot. I read so much I was afraid I would never find my own voice in the middle of so many others.

But I think a person's voice is sort of like their personality. Our experiences make us who we are, and the stories we love help create our voice.

The more you write, the more it will just come to you. Trust me.ha

Beth said...

In On Writing, Stephen King says that everything you read becomes part of you and that there is a difference in this kind of influence and in trying to mimic someone. For what it's worth.

Arlee Bird said...

I'm sure outside influences often enter into what I'm doing, but I try to keep my own style and think of original ideas. One thing I try to do is avoid the trends of whatever seems to be what's currently popular.

Lately I seen some books coming out that seem very close to the story lines I've heard from other books. I would rather avoid that.

Wrote By Rote

DWei said...

All the writing I do is for my blog so I have to rely on outside influences for blog posts at times. :P

Liz said...

My first book (the one that's currently trunked) was my reaction to a movie I saw. I didn't like where that movie went with its premise, so I rewrote a story that went where I would have liked the movie to go.

Of course, the characters are all different. The plot is different. And whereas the movie took place in modern times, my story is set in a fantasy world. So, I don't think I plagiarized at all. I hope.

And I'd like to add a "like" to cleemckenzie's comment.

ali cross said...

Oh I so get this! It can be a struggle, for sure. Usually, I read/watch things OUTSIDE of the genre of my current WIP. That way I still get fed creatively, but can mainly steer clear of being influenced.

Good luck Eags!

stu said...

All writers are influenced by others. All artists are. Everything we ever do influences us, and that's fine. Accepting that it's fine is a lot easier than trying to block things out.

Romance Reader said...

Reading influences as well as inspires sometimes and it's good to fill the creative well by reading other peoples work.

A great post!


Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I envy some other writers' styles but I don't feel I copy them.

Christina Farley said...

What a great blog series to do! I guess it's for me to not expect that first draft to be perfect.

klahanie said...

Hi The Golden Eagle,
I think you can try to use those outside influences to your advantage. You can use distractions, use influences, as inspiration for your own projects :)

Rusty Webb said...

I used to avoid reading when I wrote, but since I try to write something every day that would mean giving up reading altogether. So I try to just be cognizant of what I'm reading and hope whatever it was can be edited back out if the influences are a little too obvious.

Donna Hole said...

I find myself influenced by voice and word choice, but my own writer voice and style usually takes over during editing. But those outside influences help me free write, or even find the perfect inflection for a character.

But I do have days where I want to dig in a cave and just focus on my writing.


Rob-bear said...

As a Bear who writes about "outside influences" most of the time, I'm in a much different "place" than you are. Since it is those influences that guide my creations.

Sadly, most of the "influences" are unhappy or unsettling ones. Which does not make for a happy writer.

Angelina C. Hansen said...

This was a big problem for me when I composed music for piano. I'd be working on a song and suddenly crash my fingers against the keys, "Dang. I know that song."

I haven't noticed it happening in my writing though. Not yet. Now I'm paranoid. ^_^

Jamie Gibbs said...

We're influenced by outside things all the time - the trick is using that and adding your own flair to it.

Catherine Noble said...

I think everyone is influenced by what they've read/seen/learned, but your words are your own. If five people were given the task of writing a novel from an identical plot, you'd still get five different books from it. Don't worry, you'll put your own stamp on it :)

Shelly said...

Real Life can be a problem. I get bogged down by all the responsibilities and what I want to do.

Hugs and chocolate,

Talli Roland said...

Oh, definitely! When I'm in deep edits, I always read non-fiction. Fiction is just too stressful!

Jayne said...

I don't really get influenced by other authors' voices when I'm writing, so this doesn't affect me so much, although it's always good to be vigilant of course. Distractions is more the thing that creates an obstacle - am so easily distracted! *pings off to YouTube*

Corvus Press UK said...

I think I tend to be conscious of outside influences but manage to keep them at arms length. i think you have to trust the purity of your own vision. I never lock myself away, the world is too fascinating.

The Golden Eagle said...

Alex: Yeah. I worry about not catching something I copied--I think I usually do, but then, that's me. :P

Charles: Interesting! I like reading within the genre I'm writing, too, though I think I'm more likely to directly imitate that way.

Susan: True! :)

Pat: A lot of works are connected in some way to others--good point.

Michael: Yup. Just can be hard to tell when something's new and fresh and not too close to another artist!

Brinda: That's a great way of looking at it. :)

Joshua: Music does that for me, too. Somehow manages to take up the attention of the part of my brain usually telling stories.

JeffO: My writing is heavily influenced by outside events. My first novel had a lot of politics and other stuff you'd see in the news.

T C: I've done that with voice, too.

Good point!

M.J.: That's what I usually do. If I'm really lacking on ideas, there are few other places to turn besides fiction.

Lauren: Sounds like an effective strategy! I tend to go through fiction spurts, but not intentionally. :P

Sherri: LOL. It's interesting how phrases spread like that; and that's a good example of copying.

Barbara: I don't think that's bad, either.

Murees: Fiction I really enjoy has the greatest impact on my own style, too.

Theresa: Don't we all wish that! :)

Cleemckenzie: I love that.

Krispy: Sponge here, too.

I like the idea of branching out into something totally different from your own genre.

L.G.: Agreed!

Andrew: Great quote. And you're right, it is true.

Old Kitty: I don't think there's anyone immune, either!

(And I love that you used the word "amalgamation". Awesome.)

Connie: Different genres are great at highlighting problems; some bring out elements that others do not.

Nancy: I'd do that . . . but I'm not a big re-reader. I just like to blaze through books and go back to ones I loved maybe once or less per year. :P

Marsha: Oh, I trust that advice. I do think it's true that the more you write, the more your voice will emerge.

The Golden Eagle said...

Beth: I have to read On Writing sometime. All of the points I've noticed people make citing the book have been really good. :)

Lee: I wouldn't want to write something with a cookie-cutter feel, either!

DWei: One of the nice things about non-fiction--you don't have to worry about outside influences, since that's what it's based upon.

Liz: It doesn't sound like you did. I think taking something like that and personalizing it (setting alone would probably alter the story significantly) changes it more than enough.

Blogger's comment system needs likes.

Ali: I'll have to try that out. Might be good for finding new fiction, at any rate. :)

Thank you!

Stu: Good point. I'm sure I'd go crazy if I tried avoiding fiction!

Nas: I agree. Still worry about copying inadvertently, though.

Thanks. :)

Susan: Ah yes, I envy some styles, too.

Christina: At least things can always be edited out!

Klahanie: Now that sounds like an interesting challenge. :)

Rusty: That's what I usually hope to do with my own writing.

Donna: Most writers (if not all) probably have those cave days. I know I just want to retreat and close my eyes and ears sometimes. :P

Rob-bear: There are a lot of negative influences in the world. So many sad things happening these days . . . as they always have, I suppose. But at least there are pockets of good occasionally. :)

Angelina: Sorry to make you paranoid! Not the goal, obviously.

Jamie: Definitely.

Catherine: That's what I'm hoping will happen.

Shelly: Yeah, RL can get in the way of writing.

Talli: I love reading non-fiction for inspiration as well.

Jayne: YouTube is a new distraction for me . . . I've gotten hooked on vloggers there. :P

Corvus Press UK: I agree! I wouldn't want to hide from all influences, either.

Donea Lee said...

Hey, there!!! Long time ~ :) You know, I actually feel like I'm writing better when I've just read and absorbed a few great books!! I hope the other author's style never leaks into my own work. But, I have to say - I'll go back and read or watch something and think - wow, I have something like that in my story. I think it's inevitable, really. Our life and everything in it, that we see, read, taste, touch, feel, etc...is going to leak in to our ideas and our stories. Personally, I think that's ok. :)

Deniz Bevan said...

I definitely need to stay away from outside influences. I try to make sure I don't read fiction set in my own time frame, research books only. Any other era, though, is fair game!

The Golden Eagle said...

Donea: Great to see you here. :)

I agree, some influences are inevitable. I'm just afraid someone will read or see the same thing I do and notice a correlation I hadn't meant.

Deniz: Nice thing about Historical Fiction--there is so much diversity. :)