Writer Quotes: Mizner, Eliot.

“‘If you steal from one author, it’s research; if you steal from many…it’s research.” -Wilson Mizner.

Let us fall into aphorisms for a moment and consider the suggestion that imitation is the best form of flattery. I know that I have a…well, you could call it a knack, you could call it a bad habit…of mimicry. Typically, the writing I do is done in the style of whatever writing I’m reading. I can see this even in my rewrite of a novel that I’ve already written; the idea was to mostly mimic and improve on my own prose, but there are still certain bents and leans throughout the thing, where I could probably go back and realize, “Right, I was reading Atwood when I wrote this; this is the section where I was reading Pratchett. Oh, God, I must have been reading Piers Anthony here; that’s the only excuse for that pun.” And there are always influences, too. My horror story right now is very influenced by Stephen King, especially in theme; my fantasy tends to be a blend of Terry Pratchett, Tolkein, and awesomely bad Magic: the Gathering books.

Quotes like Mizner’s here makes me feel a little better about it, too, because it makes me realize that I’m definitely not the only writer who falls prey to taking cues and inspiration from their predecessors and influences. We all have authors we admire, and they’re part of the reason we decided to get into this writing business in the first place. The trick is being able to work on your craft and hone it so that your own writing breaks away from its influences and keenly defines itself as its own. The only way to do this is with practice, continuing to write and develop and recognizing your influences and celebrating the work that wedges out of it that feels definitively your own.

And while we’re on the subject, it isn’t as though Mizner was alone in this sentiment.

“Mediocre writers borrow; good writers steal.” T.S. Eliot

Who are your biggest writing influences? Do you feel you mimic their style at all, be it intentional or not? Do you make an effort to not write in a certain style, or do you accept that your influences show and will take the comparisons with honor? Do you have any tricks or tools to help you hone your writing to be definitively yours and not the sum of all your influences? Or do you feel there’s nothing really to hide when you show your “research”?



  1. This post made me laugh because I’ve been doing some e-commerce writing *shudder* and noticed today how robotic what I wrote afterward was.

    Some of my favorite writers are Jane Austen and D.H. Lawrence. I doubt I sound very much like them, but I bet I do sound like many of the YA authors I read.

    My WIP is in first person (for now, at least) and I think that’s easier to keep in a defined voice. I could see it being easier to drift in third person.

    Great post!

    • Thanks, Heather!

      I don’t write very often in the first person, but you may be onto something there. That third-person drifting might be contributing a lot to my mimicry; I’ll have to give it a try and see if I notice any difference!

  2. I had to laugh out loud when I read the Piers Anthony comment. I’m working on a short story specifically done in the voice of a Grimm’s fairy tale. It is so unlike my usual writing, but I’m enjoying working to get the voice right. I know, just the opposite of what you asked, but it’s what I’m working on right now 🙂

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