Saturday, December 22, 2012


For years I tried to give my novel writing students, both in private workshops and at various colleges, this advice: Don't seek success by imitating some famous writer you admire.

We already have a Dean Koontz, an Elmore Leonard, a Lee Child, a John Grisham. And in most cases one is enough, sometimes more than enough.

Not that you can't learn from them. You can. But you should also learn from the classics, the great literature of the past. I was talking to my friend Harry today, and he said that too many young writers today have not learned from Sophocles and the ancient Greeks, from Shakespeare, Faulkner, Hemingway, or Melville.

It is true. Learn from the masters, but don't try to become them. They did what they did better than anyone. You are not likely to do it better. We don't need another "Short Life Of Francis Macomber" or another "Hamlet."

But what you can do better than anyone is be yourself. Use your own life and experience as material. Faulkner found enough material in Oxford, Mississippi, to become one of the world's great writers.  

If you want to be successful, dig deeply into your soul and your psyche and your experience, and don't be afraid to make a fool of yourself. I had an actor friend who said that was the most important thing. Be vulnerable. Don't try to be strong and tough and famous like someone you admire.

Here is a great little story about how a writer-director-actor named Mark Duplass and his brother made a mistake trying to make a movie like "Rocky":

They found success by making a short film about one of them trying to perfect the outgoing message on his cell phone's voice mail. It cost $3 to make and launched their careers.

Trying to imitate John Grisham or Sylvester Stallone, I think, is a way to avoid taking chances, and that is not the way to succeed. You have to strike out on your own, find your own material, your own themes, your own stories, and your own voice. 

Being a new quarterback calling your own plays may scare the hell out of you, but that is OK. Sometimes, you gotta throw the long ball, to continue the football metaphor. Even if you're a rookie.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2012, Roger R. Angle  


Sharine said...

Roger, thanks for this post! While it is impossible to create something "completely new," as our minds are all connecting ideas all the time, it is vital that we write what genuinely turns us on, in our own unique voice.

Stay true to your ideas and keep writing, man!

Roger R. Angle said...

Thanks, Sharine.