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Voice & Influences

October 15, 2011 | Dawn | Comments (1)

David Young
In our public panel the other evening the subject of ‘writerly influences’ came up and I’d like to reiterate my remarks at that gathering. These observations particularly apply to those in the early stages of their writing career.

The only real way to educate yourself as a writer, to find your voice, is to read widely across many disciplines.  Of course, you must read ‘the classics’ but it’s also vitally important to follow your nose into the dusty, far flung corners of literature and human thought.  You don’t need to know what you’re looking for. It will find you. When you stumble on a particular work, an author’s voice, that speaks directly to you with real power and changes the way you think and feel about the world it’s your job to fully explore all the books by the writer in question, including biographical and autobiographical texts. 

The object of the exercise is to drain the cup of that voice that spoke to you and thereby be influenced so deeply that the writer’s voice turns into a kind of haunting echo in your own work.  Some writers resist this suggestion, afraid of becoming mere mynah birds who replicate the pace, style and observational eye of another. I would urge you to put those thoughts aside when you are engaged in the crucial, self-directed educational project of ‘finding your own voice’.  If you don’t allow the influences to temporarily take you over you won’t absorb them and learn the lessons that will inform your own voice going forward and make you a better writer.

All art forms are based on this progression, this ancestor worship. No great master  -- be she a painter, a novelist, or a symphonic composer -- would ever dare to say that their brilliant work sprung unbidden from a vacuum.  Artists who make beautiful and useful things stand on the shoulders of those who came before them.  It’s the natural order of things. So, seek out your influences!  Fall in love with the voices of other writers!  Mimic their style and cadence until they drive you nuts… and then let them fall away.  Their genius will rub off and you will grow a size as a writer. 

David Young

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Playwright David Young will be blogging in this space from October - November, 2011 as Toronto Reference Library's Playwright-in-Residence.