I’ve always been a good mimic, as a writer. Pretty much if I read a book or story that impresses me, I can and usually do write something that takes the style and technique and replicates it. This is not to steal anyone’s ideas or brilliancies – most of the time the story that results is far too close to the inspiration to be saleable. It’s good exercise, though, and I do it more or less unconsciously.
This is, however, kind of like homeopathy, in a sense: The molecules of that other writer’s ideas get increasingly diluted as time goes by and I move on to other things, until, eventually, you can’t recognize any of them in my work. Yet the effect remains, so diluted and subtle that you would never link the two, but it’s there, combining witrh the invisible thefts from other writers.
This is why everyone tells you to read constantly when you’re an aspiring writer: You’ve to steal little and steal big.
So what happens to me is that I read a few things by, say, F. Scott Fitzgerald and there follows for a few weeks a stream of stories or perhaps one ungainly novel that mimics his sgtyle and technique. These are mainly unusable, though great fun. Then, two years later, a story emerges that has tiny slivers of Fitzgerald in it but has been alchemized into something different, something new to me (if not necessarily the world at large), and boom! I’ve got more to work with as a writer. This happens without any conscious thought or direction; I just do it, and always have.
This has gotten me into trouble before. Back in my college days an asshat professor once gave me a D on a term paper because he was convinced it was too well written and scholarly in tone to be the product of a Sophomore. I complained and he challenged me to bring him examples of my writing to prove I was capable of it, so the next day I showed up with a box of manuscripts. he looked at the box, looked at me, and conceded defeat. And then the jackass who thought the paper was too good to have been written by me gave it a B+ instead. Jackass.
What had happened, of course, was that I read a long list of scholarly books about the subject at hand and unconsciously absorbed the style and tone of them, then replicated it in my paper.
This is a good thing. Sure, the first attempt is going to be an embarrassing imitation of another writer. But the exercise gets that DNA into your bloodstream, and years later it’ll bubble up and just add a little something to your own work. This is how you get better: You steal little and steal big from everyone around, while they’re stealing from you (hopefully). You discard the chaff over time and keep the good stuff.
Plus, I figure that someday I can parley this skill into a neato ghostwriting gig, like writing “new” Robert Ludlum novels or something. Man’s gotta drink.