On Neil Gaiman, Blogging and Influence.
Ever since I’ve seen Neil Gaiman’s commencement address for the 2012 graduating class of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia two years back—an address that will become enormously influential in my life and one that I’ll revisit time and again—I cannot not constantly ruminate on the wisdom it delivers. And among these many enduring lessons in creativity and art, and in life, one that particularly and often pervaded my mind is: “The urge, starting out, is to copy. And that’s not a bad thing. Most of us only find our own voices after we’ve sounded like a lot of other people.”
I was in the early stages of the inception of my first blog and I didn’t know what I was doing—in fact if you ask me now, I still don’t know. And here was a guy. A guy who’s been prolific and successful for years and he’s telling me it’s okay to find my voice in the words of another. I can tell you that was and is a strong message.
Just last month, two friends asked me separately who I look up to when it comes to blogging. In both instances I wasn’t able to name names right away; I had to think it through. And while on the process, because blogging is essentially writing, I returned to Gaiman’s dictum.
Before I go further, I would like to establish my interpretation of to copy in the sense that it was used by the English author. Gaiman, I’m most certainly confident, does not advocate plagiarism. In this case, “to copy” is to feel the style of another artist by writing (or whatever verb that matches your field of artistic endeavor) as closely as possible to his voice.
If my work—that is, my blog—is any evidence, it is safe to say that I still struggle with finding my own voice. Originality is, after all, a steady process of constant borrowing and repurposing. For a while I toyed with the idea that I can be as fun and funny as Cait of Paper Fury or as carefree and articulate as Elena of the now defunct Novel Sounds. I wanted to have provocative, in depth discussions worthy of Joey’s of Thoughts and Afterthoughts and to incorporate my personal life into my writing just as easily as Jamie of The Perpetual Page-Turner does. But all of these don’t come naturally to me, which is not to say that these people don’t influence me all the same, because they do. And lately, the necessity to self-examine is more timely than ever, as I muse over what I thrive to accomplish with Bookish and Awesome.
I am nowhere near having my answer. But I feel like I’ve stumbled upon the beginning of a thread.
Jen of Pop! Goes The Reader and Shannon of Awash With Wonder are two ladies who write with eloquence and sensitivity I deeply admire. The ease with which they choose their words is something I aim for. And while both are equally thoughtful, each write disparately, in subject and in style, from the other. You can accuse my reviews of being stiff, but I exert effort into producing them as thoughtful and sensitive as best I can. So I guess Jen and Shannon are my main influences. They definitely make me aspire to write better.
Is it okay then that I grapple with my own voice? We all go through it; the process has been humbling thus far. Is it okay to copy and be influenced by other artists? Yes. Because as Austin Kleon affirmed, “you are a mashup of what you let into your life.”
Who are your influences?