Life lessons on the craft 

The Blue Square Writer

Copying Originality

I grew up skiing on the east coast. When I moved west, I was easily identified as an out-of-towner. It was my style. Gone were the tight, neon snowsuits. Out west, baggy was the style. I bought some new gear. But what I considered baggy then is, today, pretty form-fitting. The clothes grew baggier and baggier and now some skiers are wearing jackets clear down to their knees and hats under goggles under headphones under helmets. When I tried to fit in with the styles, I realized that they change so fast that emulating the currently popular one didn’t work. Pretty soon, I wasn’t worried about fitting in because I had created my own style.

 

Writing is no different. Popularity of writing styles changes just like anything else. Compare any 19th century novel to the new releases at Barnes & Noble. This ephemera is especially true with the specialization in today’s society. The most world-renowned sci-fi writer might be unheard of to a romance writer, and vice-versa.

 

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But it’s also a lot like copying. Now, before it looks like I’m lambasting anyone trying to imitate The Greats, let me tell you that I empathize. When I first started writing, I tried very hard to write like the authors I was reading in school (both high school and college) and, to be perfectly truthful, it really helped me become proficient at writing. I learned story, conflict, character development, etc. Near the end of college I started experimenting with combining those copied traits from disparate writers (unsuccessfully, I might add). It was here, while failing more and more, that I grew the most. I learned what I could and couldn’t do.

 

Example: The Great Gatsby is a favorite. I tried to write a story with an unreliable narrator, like Fitzgerald’s Carraway. It did not work out. My narrator didn’t seem unreliable – I looked like an unreliable writer. But the story was not without its strengths... strengths created by me, not copied from Fitzgerald. By failing to write like someone else, I learned how to write like me. And once I could do that, I felt I had really advanced as a writer.

 

For people really wanting to work on their craft, mimicking a favorite author’s style can be a useful wrung on a ladder. But, ladders were not meant for standing, they were meant for climbing. Get everything you can from mimicking favorites, but eventually move on to something unique. If you’re trying to write like someone else and then sell it – stop. Not only are the odds significantly against you, it’s also unoriginal. The world already has a John Grisham and a Danielle Steele and a Tom Clancy. And there are tons of style copycats out there. Some of those copycats have been (and will be) lucky copying them. But most won’t.

 

Anyone trying to write a vampire novel after 2010 was likely laughed at – and not without good reason. Why did it work for Stephanie Meyer (an author I consider one of the worst) and not for the millions of others? She wasn’t the first to write vampires nor was she (even close to) the best. Mr. Stoker takes the trophy for first, and Mrs. Rice takes the trophy for best. Meyer had a catchy idea, and it caught. However, you don’t hook two fish on the same hook at the same time, and all the garbage that came out in the vampire craze was just fish biting at taken bait. If you’re writing an imitation of a hot-in-the-market-right-now book, you’re likely wasting your time. Readers don’t want what’s already out there. They want what’s next. Plus, you have to take into consideration that if you just signed with an agent today, it’ll be several months (if not longer) until your book hits the shelves. Hot today does not mean it’s hot tomorrow. Fads pass. Originality is always appreciated. 

 

What worked for others won’t work for you. Deal with it. Understand, too, that what works for you won’t work for them. Also, realize that you don’t want their ideas to work for you. You want your ideas to work for you. Learn from the best to become your best. Don’t copy the mediocre to make a buck.

I grew up skiing on the east coast. When I moved west, I was easily identified as an out-of-towner. It was my style. Gone were the tight, neon snowsuits. Out west, baggy was the style. I bought some new gear. But what I considered baggy then is, today, pretty form-fitting. The clothes grew baggier a...

For two weeks each June at a beautiful mansion in downtown Denver, Lighthouse Writers Workshop explodes with literature (quick plug: check out Lighthousewriters.org). First-time and award-winning writers gather for fourteen straight days of literary salons, readings, seminars, workshops, agent meeti...

When I first moved to Colorado, I noticed a big difference in the styles of ski apparel. A local skier can, just by looking at the clothing of the skier, determine whether that skier is an east coaster on vacation or a fellow local up for the day. There are similar ways to determine who’s who by the...

As a ski instructor, the first thing I taught my students was how to take off and put on their skis. With my younger kiddos, we’d put on just one ski, slide around for a while, and then try two skis. From there, I would teach them the Pizza Stance, holding their skis like a slice of pizza (a V with...

Remember those cop shows in which a suspect sits handcuffed at a table while a cop in a suit paces back and forth in the grey interrogation room? Maybe there’s another cop drinking coffee, sitting opposite the suspect? Inevitably, one cop will say, “Okay, let’s go over this one more time…” and the s...

I’ve been a ski instructor at a major resort. But most of my ski instructor experience came from teaching friends and family. Sometimes I taught complete beginners, other times I passed on advice I received, and others I acted as a second set of eyes. Every pupil chose certain advice to take and cer...

When I moved to Colorado, the first pair of skis I bought were twin-tips. I wanted to be a park rat, skiing backwards, spinning tricks, and riding rails. But I was stupid to think I would successfully land tricks on my first attempts. The bumps and bruises were harsh yet fair teachers. Regardless, I...

Wider skis float on deep powder. Twin-tips allow backwards skiing and more response. Racing skis remain stiff at high speeds. Each different ski has a different design for a different purpose. Some All-Mountain skis try to give a little bit of everything, but just end up being all-round deficient. T...

Both my parents and their families grew up skiing in New York before the prevalence of parabolic skis. Because my parents loved skiing, I grew up sharing that love. Each year my extended family would ski over Christmas or a long holiday weekend. When I grew up and moved out west, my parents came to...

Mountain hiking is one of my favorite summer activities. It puts me on the mountain whenever I can’t ski. But there’s one thing that almost always frustrates me about hiking: The False Peak. As I hike up the steep slope and look in front of me, there are times when it appears as if I’m approaching t...

Please reload

Previous Posts