Monday, July 11, 2011

Under the Influence

by CWK

"Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal." -- T.S. Eliot

Here's a paraphrase from Tim Keller, "If you read only a few authors, you'll mimic their voices. If you read a thousand authors, you'll develop your own voice, and speak with originality."

We are all under the influence. We are all prisoner's of the past. We can't help but be influenced. The question is -- are we reading and thinking enough so that we develop our own voice? Are we, as writers and speakers, using our own God-given voice?

I started reading C.S. Lewis when I was in college. Then, for the next 3 years, I copied his writing style. Not intentionally. I just loved the way he wrote. I wanted to perpetuate his voice in my own work. I did the same thing in public speaking. My campus minister was a captivating speaker. He spoke with his arms latched behind his back. Guess what I did the first few times I spoke in public? Yep. I latched my arms behind my back. We can't help imitating those we respect. I have friends who preach just like their pastor -- even down to the voice intonations.

So, we are all under the influence. This doesn't mean that we have no responsibility in developing our own voice. How might we work toward this?

1) Read Wisely... i.e., the good stuff.

If we are going to be influenced -- if this is inevitable -- then we ought to choose our mentors wisely. "He who walks with the wise grows wise... " Who are we reading? Why? What influence are they having on us?

2) Read to "weigh and consider (Bacon)."

Think through what you read. Digest the nurturing elements; spit out the bones.

3) Read widely.

The more we read, the more chance we have to be influenced by a number of different authors. We should read more than one genre (Poems; Plays; Novels; Short Stories; History; Fiction). We should read more than one style (Serious; Comic; Ironic; Thoughtful; Popular). As a general rule, the more widely we read, the more chance we have to emerge with something unique -- something our own.

And this, from Spurgeon, on individuality:

Yet, for all that, our subject is individuality, and we hope that each man will recognize and honorably maintain his personality. The proper recognition of the EGO is a theme worthy of our attention. I will make a word if I may: let egotismstand for proud, vainglorious, intrusive selfhood, and let egoism stand for the humble, responsible, and honest selfhood which, finding itself in being, resolves to be at the Divine bidding, and to be at its best, to the glory of God... Be yourself, dear brother, for, if you are not yourself, you cannot be anybody else; and so, you see, you must be nobody. The very worst notes in music are those which are untrue; each true sound has its own music. In my aviary are many birds, and they sing very sweetly; but there are among them three grass paroquets, which do not sing, but imitate the other birds, and very effectually spoil the concert. Their imitation seems to drown the natural music of the rest. Do not be a mere copyist, a borrower and spoiler of other men's notes.

- From Individuality and It's Opposite.

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