Writers Who Have Influenced My Style

It has been said that when you are writing you should give up reading because it is likely to influence your own style.  If I did that, I’d never read again.  Reading is essential part of being a writer.  Read all kinds of books, and don’t be afraid pick and choose the things you like about each book and incorporate them into your own unique style.  A million people could write about what it would feel like to lose a child and every single one of those will have a different story to tell.

A number of years ago I wrote my very first short story for a correspondence course in writing I was taking.  I  wanted to experiment with my writing style but I didn’t want to risk losing the high marks I’d been getting throughout the course.  Then I decided that if I was going to experiment, what better time to do it than when an expert could tell me whether or not I was successful or not.  So I took the risk to slow down a scene I was writing about a woman who finally accepts the fact that her baby has died.  I wrote about her stops and starts, about how she tries to outrun her anguish by doing something else, until the reality overcomes her.  She takes her anguish out on the painting she has been working on by destroying it, a metaphor for the loss of creation.

I am pleased to say that my risk paid off.  My teacher said that by slowing down the story into the minutest detail I created suspense.  He then went on to suggest I read the stories of Raymond Carver, who uses this technique in his own writing.  Ever since I have tried to visualize the details of the scene I am writing.  I won’t pretend that I’m always successful because sometimes I just want to get the words down, but this is my goal.   And if I don’t get it right on the first draft, I always have my editor to remind me. Because when I do slow it down, I can see it’s a better story.

Just about everyone has heard of Ernest Hemingway.  I must admit that he’s not my favorite writer.  His work is just a bit too masculine for my taste.  But it does reflect his character as a man’s man, and that in itself is good.  But I have to say that even he had an impact on my writing.

Ernest Hemingway

Once upon a time, I could write sentences that turned into an entire paragraph.  The words were fine, the punctuation was in place so the reader could take a mental breath, but there wasn’t enough periods.  I took note of this and learned to break up my massive paragraphs into groups of sentences.  In doing this I find that the writing is stronger and more concise.

Virginia Woolf

When I first read Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, I found her style hard to follow.  But I persevered and discovered that I like her work.  I have tried to emulate her and failed.  However, her willingness to experiment with different forms of writing instead of staying with the tried and true, is a more important gift from Ms. Woolf.  She taught me to trust my own voice rather than to follow the crowd.

John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck loved America.  In his book, Travels with Charley, he drove across America in a made-over truck with his dog Charley.  In doing so, it enabled him to write about America with a deeper understanding of the people as well as the country.

I love Canada and want my stories to be set in Canadian locations.  My current novel is set at the French River in Northern Ontario.  I had the opportunity to visit this past summer and fell in love.  If you have ever seen a painting by Tom Thomson, you will know what the French River looks like.  It is big and wild, and can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.

As you can see, reading widely, with an attention to detail, can impact on your own style.  Whatever genre you prefer to write about, it is necessary to read authors who write the same and learn from them.

I recall buying a mug at The Village Book Shop in Bayfield one summer.  The words on the side sum up my message perfectly.  It said:  READ! READ! READ!

Categories: Writer's Notes

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