Trick to Writing: Inspiration Not Imitation

by Liam Kenney

Getting a minor in Creative Writing meant I read a lot other student’s work. While some stories were beautifully crafted narratives with rich, full characters, others were (and I don’t like to use negative words) not.


I went to a rather small university (often just eight creative writers in the class). By the time we graduated I could read a story and know who wrote it- which you would think would always be a good thing. We had spent the last four years, spending countless hours (and tens-of-thousands of countable dollars) developing a voice. The problem was, it wasn’t necessarily our voice.

Some of us had latched on to authors we liked –  emulating their style, word choice, and tone (one person even wrote all their poems like Dr. Seuss).

We got caught up in if our writing was good, and not if our writing was our own.

Nobody wants to read William Kenney’s Salinger novel. If people want to read Salinger, they’ll read one of his many books (but probably just The Catcher in the Rye).

While you should remember past masters of whatever your craft is, the important thing is to not draw too much inspiration from any one source.

I think Bob Dylan puts it best:

It’s only natural to pattern yourself after someone. If I wanted to be a painter, I might think about trying to be like Van Gogh, or if I was an actor, act like Laurence Olivier. If I was an architect, there’s Frank Gehry.

…You can’t just copy somebody. If you like someone’s work, the important thing is to be exposed to everything that person has been exposed to.

Bob eloquently makes the point that it is not enough to use one person as an inspiration, but to see what inspired them.




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