Imitation is Suicide. Insist on yourself; never imitate. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Write down in which areas of your life you have to overcome these suicidal tendencies of imitation, and how you can transform them into a newborn you – one that doesn’t hide its uniqueness, but thrives on it. There is a “divine idea which each of us represents” – which is yours?
(Author: Fabian Kruse)
When I first started writing, I wanted to be like everyone else.
I wanted my words to sound like those which came from the girl who sat behind me in English class. She got A’s on every paper. Teachers thought she could do no wrong. They thought she would go on to be a great writer. I, on the other hand, would be banished to an existence of A minuses and “Maybe writing isn’t your thing.” Yes, right. Fuck off. I’ll model her sentences and use the same transitional phrases. I was fiercely competitive; part of me still is.
Then, when I was in high school and fell into the hormonal release that was LiveJournal, I wanted to sound like other journal-ers. I whined, ranted, and philosophized myself through my teenage years. Surveys and lists were my poetry. What are you wearing today? What’s your favorite color? Last thing you ate? That was where creativity started and ended.
I got to college and wanted my words to sound like those of my professors. I trimmed language and became more direct. Active voice always. A professor said I could handle this whole academia thing because I could write for it. Page after page, citation after citation. I equated my intelligence with the lack of red pen on my assignments.
I started copywriting and wanted my class projects to be as brilliant as Volkswagen ads from the 1960’s. Lemon. Think small. I wanted to send powerful messages in the fewest words possible. Practice. Model. Yearn for the chance to go back in time and be a Peggy Olson. Put on a stiff upper lip. Intimidate with excellence.
I started writing in a journal. Poems. Adjectives, adjectives, adjectives. I had to be descriptive to be profound, right? I felt conflicted, caught between the mess of transitional statements, minimalism, adjectives, and active voice.
What was right?
What was GOOD?
I wanted to be good. I still want to be good. But I know that I can’t stress over what’s good and what isn’t. I can’t make everyone happy. I can’t inspire with every phrased. I can’t communicate effectively with every single person on the planet who decides to read something I’ve written. But I still want to fit into the category of “GOOD”.
Is that a bad thing?
Now, here I am. Blogging. A pledge to be useful, relevant, and engaging. Simple language, internet reader-friendly structure. Skim. Bullet points. Pointed statements. Eye-catching headlines.
I still don’t know what style I’m supposed to imitate. For most of my life, I’ve tried to imitate others so that I could be seen as something in particular. The smart girl. The copywriter. The wordsmith. The good friend. The perfect daughter. In some areas, I succeeded.
I’m glad this prompt came along. It was a nice reminder that as much as I love Malcom Gladwell‘s work, I don’t have to write like him. In fact, I don’t have to write like anyone to be considered “good”. I can just write and let that be the piece of me that gets put out there. You can pick apart my sentence structure, critique my grammar, and criticize my word choices. I’ll revel in it. The words are mine, no one else’s.
I don’t think that my imitation has been suicidal. If anything, it’s forced me to become better. Stretching range and changing style. Finding out what I felt most comfortable with. If I were to continue to sink into the temptation to only be like another writer, I may have killed a writing career. I probably would have killed this blog in the process. I would have taken all the joy out of writing and turned it into a chore. Wanting to be like someone else is a good thing in moderation. It makes us feel connected to another human being. It drives us to make ourselves better at something we feel passionate about. So if I model from time to time, forgive me. I’m human too.
But, I’ll try not to all the time. I’ll continue to stretch and model, but never lose sight that these words are my own creation. I’m responsible for the form they take and the impact they produce. And that’s a good thing. It’s perfect, actually.