Influence and Archetypes

3. Allow your influences to shape your voice, not drown it.

Creativity is borrowed. None of us formed our thoughts in a vacuum, and all of us were subject to a myriad of different models. Inspiration lives inside us, and our subconscious never forgets. We need not copy our heroes, their hand is always there to guide us.

(From 10 Ways to Avoid Writing Insecurity)

I am perpetually second-guessing my inspiration.  I make playlists for almost everything I write, then wonder if I’ve drawn too heavily on the musical themes.  I pick out people to provide a rough physical representation of a character, then worry that I’m borrowing too many mannerisms.  I’m inspired by archetypes and tropes almost endlessly, for the fun of twisting them to my own skewed vision of the world and setting them loose again.  I worry that my ideas aren’t new, that my pop culture filter isn’t of a fine enough mesh to weed out wholesale theft.

This kind of insecurity feeds a case of Faker Syndrome like fertilizer feeds a garden.  Beautiful things will grow, vegetables will flourish, and every time someone takes a bite, you will wait for them to voice what you secretly fear- that whatever you’ve handed them, as transformed and amazing as it may be, is still full of shit.

Here’s the truth: My ideas are just as new as yours, or anyone else’s.  Which is to say, they aren’t.  If it’s under the sun, it’s been written about, and that’s okay.

Write about your bad boys with a heart of gold, your competent, deadly women, your perpetual jokers.  Bring on the battered heroes, the reluctant revolutionaries, and yes, the girls next door, but for the love of little narwhals, please make them your own.  That’s why your idea is worth writing, after all.  It’s your spin on the same story everyone wants to tell that makes it new, and worth reading.

Being ashamed of your inspiration does nothing to build better writing.  Nobody can tell you’ve got Nickelback on your playlist if what you’ve made is better than what you borrowed.  Honestly, nobody can tell anyway, but you’ll probably convince yourself they can, if you’re looking for a way to hamstring your progress.  Filing the serial numbers off someone else’s work isn’t going to fly.  Finding your angle, creating layer upon layer of the things you love, your borrowed shiny parts of everything you find value in, every story you wish was a little different, that’s going to get you somewhere.  Maybe somewhere you never thought you’d wind up, telling the story your way.


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