Yielding To the Influence of Other Writers

Renowned Australian singer, songwriter, and story teller Paul Kelly was once asked where he found ideas, and he answered, ‘I steal them.’ Kelly was being somewhat self effacing, but he was also close to a truth all writers know. They know what imitation looks like. Such influences are unavoidable.
At some stage in our writing journey we try on other voices, adopting, then adapting them. Such influences are important to our development as writers. We may find ourselves drawn to the rhythm, description or structure of the words. This influence on our ears and eyes is inevitable. The more we read as writers, the more we are exposed to the influence of our fellow writers.

I read somewhere  - ‘Bad writers borrow, good writers steal.’ When you notice yourself influenced by the words of another writer you need to shape that influence to make it fit your writing intentions and your particular voice.  I have previously mentioned how I have been informed by the writing of Jerry Spinelli and his influence on my writing, particularly his use of repetition, and short, punchy sentences. Roald Dahl’s wonderful character descriptions are another influential craft consideration I find compelling. At various times, I have been most conscious of writing under their influence.

Writing in the style of another author is something we need to practice as teachers of writing.  By experiencing the influence of a mentor on our writing, we are better positioned to ‘show’ our students how this act of writing in the style of another author, can influence writing; nudging it forward.

 Some teachers express concern that inviting students to write in the style of an author they admire will result in ‘copying.’ The modeling we do as teachers is a critical element in this aspect of writing. By example we show how we imitate the style, not the content. This type of powerful demonstration is essential, Again, it employs the notion of show, don’t tell to influence change. Our student writers need to see how it is done by a more proficient writer.

 Try these ideas in the safety of your own writer’s notebook before sharing them with your students:

  • Select a passage/extract from a text you find appealing. How would you write it differently? Maybe you could change the setting, or the tone., or redefine the character/s.
  • Select a piece from a mentor text that provides you with a strong sense of voice. Rewrite it, heightening or exaggerating the voice.
Writing in the style or syntax of another writer can often lead to discoveries. Discoveries about characters and events you actually want to write about. It may lead you to the story you need to write. Try it for your students sake.


  1. I have found that mimicking a mentor text is a great way to convince young writers they have something to say. Sometimes I am specific about what text to mimic. Other times I just suggest texts they may want to try. It sure helps beat the "I can't think of anything to write" blues!

  2. A nervous but talented writer may well find this less intimidating than writing an 'original'; and weaker writers can use this as a scaffold. What a terrific exercise using favourite writers, one that I think we have all tried incidentally in our classrooms, but made much more explicit in your exercise. Wonderful stuff, and exactly the sort of inspiring practice of which we need to be reminded.


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