Serdar wrote on how one gets outside of copying influences to find your own way. He shares his own experiences, and it’s a journey you’ll appreciate. In turn, I want to share some of my most formative experiences because they’re about learning what doesn’t fit you.
When I returned to fiction with A Bridge To The Quiet Planet, Sir Terry Pratchett’s was the obvious influence. Whereas he took on fantasy and cultural tropes, I evolved a fantasy setting into the information age, exploring what that said about both the genre and people. Combined with my love of worldbuilding, it was a romp through a techno-fantasy world, more serious than Pratchett but also reveling in deconstructing tropes.
When my editor got back to me, I realized I also came off wordy as hell.
Now, Sir Pratchett can be pretty wordy, so the influence is evident. The thing is, what worked for him didn’t work for me – I worked better with a tighter style. Sometimes you grow out of an influence by finding what parts fit you and what doesn’t – if one doesn’t fit, throw it out. Sir Pratchett had to decide to do his own thing as well, and it worked for him.
(As a note, I have revisited Robert Aspirin, my early “funny fantasy” influence, and his tight prose may help me out in future writing).
My second formative experiences as a writer started with Agile Creativity. I was getting tired of Agile being so bog-standard IT stuff, or seeing applied half-baked to writing or art. I decided I’d write a book applying the core of the Agile Manifesto to creativity in general. I was going to explore hardcore Agile and hardcore creativity and do both right.
It got several sales, including one bulk order, and for a time was my most-requested presentation at conventions. I’ve had very good reception on it, and take great amusement that it uses Agile standards, while being for cosplayers, artists, and so on.
This only led to ideas for other books on Agile, which I’ll be working on in 2022 and possibly 2023. These will get into the psychology of writing and Agile, and another that let us say will have an attitude. I stepped away from multiple, stale (to me) influences now I’ve got more places to go – and take my audience with me.
What can I say? I’m an explorer, I’m the guy that gets weird as a way of doing things better.
Don’t fear giving up on your influences, or winnowing them down, or saying “screw it, I’m doing the opposite.” Those moments are a critical part of growth as a writer. I can assure you every influence you have probably had many similar moments, and that’s how they became good enough to influence you.
Honor your influences by deciding when to stop listening.