Why You Shouldn’t Try To Be The Next [Insert Famous Writer Here]

Yes, if you try to write exactly like a famous writer, then you're just like THIS guy....

Yes, if you try to write exactly like a famous writer, then you’re just like THIS guy….

Well, since I’m still obsessively geeking out about reading G. R. R. Martin’s “Song Of Ice And Fire” novels at the moment, I’m surprised that it took me this long to think “Hey! I want to be the next G.R.R.Martin!

But, eventually, it happened.

Despite my miniscule creative attention span, I suddenly wanted to write a long series of epic fantasy novels which people would geek out about almost obsessively.

I wanted to ensorcel people with richly-described settings, to transfix them with uniquely fascinating characters and to leave them aquiver with tales of thrilling adventures.

I’d thought about writing some “Song Of Ice And Fire” fan fiction but, well, that’s a rather limited way of writing a story and it’s also cheating too (I prefer making fan art anyway). It’s also not really something that G. R. R. Martin approves of either (although I take a slightly different view when it comes to fan fiction based on my own small body of work).

So, instead, I thought about writing the good kind of fan fiction (as described in this article by G. R. R. Martin) which would be inspired by “A Song Of Ice And Fire” but which would take place in an original setting and have original characters.

I was excited, I was interested, I started writing. This was what I wrote:

“I had never cared much for sailors” Bess thought as she lowered the crossbow.

Yes, that’s all of it. I wrote a single sentence and then the story just stopped. I couldn’t write any more of it. But, rather than feeling like the out-of-practice failed writer than I am, I decided to ask myself why I couldn’t write a story that would rival G. R. R. Martin’s. It didn’t take me long to find the answer:

I’m not G. R. R Martin.

I’m also not Clive Barker, Poppy Z. Brite, William Gibson, Warren Ellis, Lee Child, Philip K. Dick, Shaun Hutson, Hunter S. Thompson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or S. D. Perry. All of these writers have inspired or influenced me in some way or another, but I’m not them.

My stories are not their stories. My voice is not their voice. My interests are not quite the same as their interests. My life is not quite the same as their lives. My personality is not their personalities.

Trying to tell their stories would be like trying to dress up as them and impersonate them. I could possibly do it vaguely convincingly, but I’d still look and sound like the literary equivalent of an Elvis impersonator.

Although I haven’t listened to many songs by Elvis, I know that his music has inspired a lot of other famous musicians. It’s also “inspired” Elvis impersonators too. Guess which one of these two groups gets all of the glory and also ends up inspiring other musicians in turn?

So, yes, there’s a lesson in all of this. Although it’s ok to aspire to the achievements of famous writers, remember that they didn’t get there by just imitating other famous writers. They told their own stories in their own unique way and followed their own unique interests. These will, inevitably, be different from your own style of storytelling and your own interests.

So, if you want to be the next [insert famous writer here], then you need to know yourself. You need to know what kinds of storytelling come naturally to you and what kinds of storytelling don’t (eg: fantasy fiction with third-person narration doesn’t come as naturally to me as sci-fi fiction with first-person narration does) and you need to be aware of what kinds of subjects and places (either real or imaginary) interest you so much that you want to write stories about them.

For example, although “A Song Of Ice And Fire” has made me vaguely interested in old castles, forests etc… I didn’t really care about the middle ages much before I picked up these books. To me, it was just a dusty part of history that fantasy fans and war re-enactors obsessed about for some weird reason.

What I’m trying to say is that, G. R. R. Martin has probably been fascinated by the middle ages for a long time. I haven’t. So, when I tried to write a medieval-based fantasy story, I failed pretty quickly. Why? Because the interest wasn’t there. Luckily I realised this after only writing just one sentence, rather than after a few hundred of them.

So, if you want to become a famous writer who inspires other writers, then base your stories around your own interests and not around the interests of writers that you admire (unless you both happen to have similar interests).


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

3 comments on “Why You Shouldn’t Try To Be The Next [Insert Famous Writer Here]

  1. […] No, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel here, but your webcomic should be something that is personal to you. It should reflect your sense of humour, your outlook on the world and your interests. If you just try to copy the success of another writer, then your webcomic will probably just end up being a pale imitation of theirs. […]

  2. […] restricted to what someone else has imagined. I’ve written about this in more detail in another article, but trying to imitate your idols won’t make you better than them (or even as good as […]

  3. […] few weeks ago, when I was having a rather fun and completely unrealistic daydream about being the next E. L. James, I suddenly realised something interesting about both my […]

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