Over the years, I have found many poets and writers I wanted to incorporate into my writing. Early on, I was a big fan of Lawrence Ferlinghetti.In college, I grew to admire Ai. I have been a big fan of Charles Bukowskifor years and more recently I have been reading Tony Hoagland.On the fiction side, I have moved through the influences of John Irving, Bret Easton Ellis, Anne Tyler, Walker Percy, Jim Thompson and W. Somerset Maugham to name a few.
As much as these people influence my writing, however, I don’t write like any of them. I can see some elements of each in my writing, a Ferlinghetti-like flight of fancy or a Percy-influenced malaise for example. Still, as my voice has developed (and it is still developing) I have learned to incorporate rather than emulate. While pieces of my writing may echo that of other writers, I have my own system of expression and my own style.
There is no quick route to developing your own writing style. The key is to keep writing. Write your way through the bad moments and the cheap emulations. Don’t make a conscious effort to write like someone else, no matter how much you admire their writing. Be honest with yourself. Whatever else you do, keep writing, and then write some more.
As you keep writing, you will grow more confident in your style. This isn’t a process that takes a day or a week; it is the work of a lifetime of writing. Your voice will evolve long after you have stopped worrying about developing your voice — if you keep writing.
Once you become comfortable with your voice, you won’t be as susceptible to outside influences. You can learn from a poet without copying that poet. You can add the best of other people’s influences to your style. There is value in reading and learning from great poets and great writers. Just as musicians incorporate new sounds and styles, so can poets and writers. Just remember that your voice is the influence that matters most.