Credit Your Predecessors BUT Develop Your Own Voice

There is no failure in starting your writing career under the influence of your favorite writers and trying to reproduce their style. Emulating their voice is part of your own experimentation with and initiation into the world of the art of writing. It’s good to have an ideal that guides you and keeps you working; but, always remember that it is pretty much impossible to recreate someone else’s prose faithfully no matter how diligent you are. And, really, do you want to? Aren’t you really trying to use this exercise as a way to develop your own path and your own place?


I think of the excellent reproductions of paintings that always have some tell-tale change in brush stroke or color tone that eventually reveals the forgery. The copy is acknowledged for the likeness but not the talent. I wouldn’t mind a future reviewer acknowledging my influences, but that is where I would like it to stop. And since we are not discussing con games so much as aspirations and inspiration, you should only be concerned with achieving a level of competence and confidence to make your effort worthwhile. You don’t want to be an anonymous copy or, worse, a ridiculed imitator, but an authority in your own right only giving credit to your predecessors rather than being shadowed by them.

I want to stand on my own and become PART of the group. The process of learning from our teachers should create a goal of no longer needing them anymore.

Now, if you do some research, you can find examples of how different writing styles yield very different images of the same scene. Some of the best examples come from translations. There is never a dearth of discussion among translators and scholars as to how one should approach the translation of another’s work. Do you reproduce word-for-word as close as possible? Do you reproduce the essence of the meaning using the best vocabulary choices available to you in the language that this text will be translated into? Which of these two choices will do the the author’s work the most credit? I think of Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, the modern Irish poet who writes solely in the Irish language. Poets and authors such as Paul Muldoon and Medbh McGuckian have done her work justice in their renditions. I’ve not read reviews of the many translations of her work into other languages, but as for the English versions, she seems to approve. Ultimately, the translator must be working in the original authors’ interests, but choice of wording and style is subjective. Some will like the translation, some won’t.

Emulation is not translation of course, but you will want to make similar decisions. Do you borrow the ideas and the essence of the tales or do you reject these and find your own words to create similar worlds? Some will like your choices, some will not. As long as you can stand by those choices and explain readily and easily why your work’s final presentation is as it stands, you can feel confident in your work. If you are still not so sure as to what your voice will be or how much you wish to remove yourself from your predecessors, keep drafting, practicing, sharing, and editing. You’ll find your way.

Here is an exercise that I give to my literature students to help them understand what is it like to create some of the works they are reading:

We choose one of the authors we have read, and I have them write about two paragraphs on a topic in the writer’s voice. So, in one of my classes, we had read Charles G. Finney’s The Circus of Dr. Lao, a text from the 1930s that fits in the genre of Speculative Fiction (pre-sci fi or fantasy terminology). This story is dominated by references to myth and philosophy all in relation to the development of identity and perception. I asked them simply to describe “A Snowy Day” using Finney’s voice. The results were spectacular and very different. We all started with the same sources, and created very different worlds.

This is what I hope that emulation of and influence from an author can do for you: Help you create your own “snowy day.”

We Are All Movers of Obstacles

Meditation does not guarantee peace. It is very much the job of the mind to encroach upon our precious moments and deposit obligations, regrets, great plans, and worry any moment there is a chance of quiet or calm, and our consciousness often acquiesces to these distractions because they are so incredibly strong and very important to us. After all, they design and direct our goals and create a structure for our behavior.

imagesThese obstructions, like many others, are possible to move aside given that you have the right fulcrum. There is no certainty of the existence of a chant or theory that will be the catalyst for your “aha” moment, but, what is certain, is that you can create it for yourself. You are the foundation of your quieted mind.

I came to agree with this ideology—as I often do come to understandings or even questions—as I lay upon my yoga mat after an especially vigorous class. On this day, the outside world and its cares were rather easily forgotten. Like many of us, I do have a tendency to let shopping lists or big ideas flow around when I should be savoring my down time. The darkness was let in and welcomed and the familiar horizontal streaks of insistent daylight played in front of my lids. As I let go, images and lights flashed around incoherently. As they gelled, I had a vision that each of my fellow practitioners was sitting upon her mat in the form of Ganesha and each had a flame over her head. The room was not fully formed, so the background was a general haze of pale yellowish light. I was mesmerized and fascinated and happy and still disengaged from interpretation or analysis. As the voice of my teacher, Alison Levine, gently enticed us back to the moment, I held on to the feeling of wonder.

When I discussed this with Allison, neither of us really knew what to think of this. Obviously we knew it was Ganesha and I have a fondness for that deity, but that did not help me understand why he was manifested as a student and topped with the tongue of a flame as you’d see in relation to the Holy Ghost in Christian scriptures. I was raised Catholic so it’s possible some of the love and beauty from these teachings aligned with this deity, and being blessed with the Holy Spirit is much like being filled with the confidence of the Mover of Obstacles. But Ganesha is related to wisdom and intellect–a guide for those who prefer more active engagement with spirituality. I see the Holy Spirit related to surrender rather than action.

Interestingly, Ganesha is also associated with writers and a writer must remove any obstruction that impedes the creative or analytical process. Inspiration is really not an outside force, but an inner movement motivated by openness to possibilities. Upon reflection I felt a sense of surety that I was identifying each student present as their own mover of obstacles if not in life, in practice on the mat. We were all capable of embodying the idea of challenge and the flame was a reiteration of being infused with this potential.

This idea of possibilities in yoga crosses in to my teaching and writing often. The end is not always what I am concerned with , but the process and what coming to the mat, computer, or notepad may ignite. Your initial intention may very well be moved aside to make room for more or different experiences and output.

As you know, there is much out there on how to remove negative mantras from our thinking patterns, and the term “mindfulness” is becoming a mainstream catch phrase. But do we always find a personal connection to these pieces of advice or terms? And what about those who are interfered with by outside forces rather than internal and who may not have the spiritual resources, yet, to circumvent or fully remove these human or financial trees from the path? I find that when people say “get rid of excuses” or some such maxim, there is insight lacking in their statement. Excuses are formed of matter that bad experiences (perceived or real), low energy (spiritual or physical), and poor self esteem merge to create. An excuse is a symbol of much deeper concerns, not a generic barrier used to casually avoid change. BUT, once the platform for the excuse is restructured or razed, the practiced rationalization is no longer so dear or poignant to the person’s personal rhetoric. The obstacle has been removed or reworked and a new story can be written.

What is your obstacle? Is it a tangible object or a thought that impedes your forward momentum? As a practitioner, do you find any particular impediment to your practice or your quiet mind?


Let’s Weigh in on Fan Fiction


As I sat with a friend of mine on a recent evening, we started talking about these last posts about the Memoir and the subject turned to other genres that I had not spent time reflecting on. Then she said, “Write about fan fiction!” Hmmm, I don’t really know much about fan fiction actually but I am definitely in favor of any medium that gets writers writing and finding their own voice.

I actually have the button  you see pictured here. I used to work in a comic book store in Baltimore and we had these as promos for an issue of a Wolverine comic. It cracked me up in general but I never really thought about who the fans were and why they were dedicated enough to earn so much ribbing. After all, aren’t fans the only thing that keeps you in business?

When you think about it, we’ve all been inspired (or annoyed) by the authors we read when in school or that we found in our excursions to the library, or Amazon, or the bookstore (remember those?). I just never really thought about the concerted effort so many people have put in to developing entire stories and lives around existing characters. To write a vampire story is not new. To create an entirely new planet is not new. But to write about existing vampires or colonies in other universes is very curious to me. But I do know what it is to feel lost or lonely when a story or trilogy or some such ends. I have often missed some characters and wished they would return somehow. I remember when Anne McCaffrey died. I was faced with the end of her dragon riders. Even if she were not planning to do more with Pern, the possibility was open as long as she was here. Now, even with her son carrying on, it’s still not her. BUT this is where the fans come in right? They keep the legends and the people alive and offer a continuation of the world she created or let this one branch out to the next, much like the originators of Pern did when they arrived on this new planet. Why not stay in touch?

Basically, everyone has a story and it’s important to tell it. Is it for family? I have worked for year for my dear friend Ruth Wolf as she compiled a family history for her many grand and great-grandchildren. Is it for the public? An in-group of other avid fans of particular authors who all feel connected through particular stories? Is it for the love of writing alone and you allow what boils up from inside to guide you?

You are interesting. Whatever you want to write is up to you as long as you hone your craft and never feel that you are done learning and observing. If emulating a stye is what drives you to experiment, great. If writing fan fiction and staying within the existing world that another created rings true with you, great. Are you a Memoirist who shares your experiences for those who could learn from your life or be inspired by it? Great. Maybe your memoirs work for personal as well as professional goals.

It’s all what truly resonates within you and never let anyone tell you your choices are not marketable or timely. You decide what you create and then decide how it will live on. If you reach enough people, maybe your own tales will continue on when you’ve stopped or have moved on. So, write on Fan Boys and Girls!