I have been reading since a very young age. I can still remember the first book I ever read: Patrick the Pup. I think that, along the way, I have learned a little bit from every book I have read (even Patrick), and have applied it to my writing. I have one problem with this. Ever since I was young enough to start playing make-believe, I have become obsessed with one author or one movie and all my play and stories were direct reflections of it. As I got older, I thought that immaturity would stop and I could enjoy and learn from books without becoming obsessed and using the same motifs over and over. I was very, very wrong.
It all started at a garage sale, when I picked up an Isaac Asimov anthology.
There was no turning back.
The first science fiction book I truly fell in love with was Robot Visions by Isaac Asimov. I had read science fiction books before, of course, but this one really stuck with me because of the way it was written. I loved the way Asimov subtly worked in social comment, the uniqueness of his robots and the way he wrote his characters. Then, I started to read about the man behind the stories. I was floored by how he was successful in every genre he wrote in, and the sheer amount of stories that he wrote.
Isaac Asimov became my writing hero. More than that, I wanted to BE Isaac Asimov.
Every single story I wrote I compared to Asimov, and I think that even now there is an Asimovian flavour in a lot of my work. I was never satisfied with my stories, because they were not enough like my heroes’ work, and that was why I thought they weren’t getting published; they weren’t enough like Asimov. That drove me crazy. I would analyse his work and try my best to reinvent (copy) it, but to no avail.
The reason I wasn’t getting published was because I was too busy ‘being’ Isaac Asimov to be me.
R. P Macintyre (http://www.rpmacintyre.com/) pointed out my mistake at a youth writing camp I went to. He directly told me that I couldn’t be Isaac, because I wasn’t Isaac. That was news to me. His words helped me to get back to writing like me.
However, Robot Visions still remains one of my biggest inspirations. No longer an obsession, I can read through it and pick out its flaws, but also its strength. That’s what I apply to my writing now.
The moral of this story is that books should and can be a great inspirational tool for any writer. However, it’s important to remember that the book is someone else’s, and your stories should be your own.
When I was still in high school my best friend and I would swap science fiction stories we’d written. Then, in addition to critiquing the story, we’d try to guess which SF author the other guy had been reading the previous week, based on how that author’s influence showed up in the story. We guessed correctly about 80% of the time. We’re all a product of our influences, but we have some choice over the authors we fixate on, and eventually we become our own voice.