Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery – Or So I Am Told

As a mentor to budding writers, the most important thing that I wish for them to learn is to find their own unique writing style and run with it.  The last thing you want to do is end up sounding like a poor imitation of a great writer.  But what if you are the writer who is being imitated?  Would you be flattered?  Quite possibly.  Now what if the person who was imitating your style is the one getting all the rave reviews, the reads, and the huge following while you, the originator of the style, are left standing in the dust.  Would you be flattered, or angry?

I have not only seen this happen to many great writers, I am one of the greats that has had my style ripped off by people who do not even consider themselves ‘writers’ or take the craft very seriously.  I’ve had people imitate my style, slap together a piece of crap onto paper that took them less than an hour to write, and then see hundreds of readers fawn all over them, telling them that they are a great writer.  I’ve seen the same people who told me that my work was “too hard” to understand because of my complex writing style fall all over themselves to praise another “writer” on how their complex sentence structure really added to the flow of the story.  Qualities that readers hate about my work ( the complex sentence structure, informal writing style and feel of retelling a story rather than it being written on paper) are the same qualities that these same readers gush about to other ‘writers’ who have either never written anything before in their lives or who do not take the art of writing very seriously, or who just do it ‘for fun’ or ‘a hobby’ or, heaven forbid, those who did it ‘just to see if they could’ or, perhaps the worst excuse of them all, ‘just because.’  And, perhaps the situation that ruffles my feathers the most, is the long-winded novel/story/etc that has been written by a half-dozen different people who then decided to promote the piece under a single pseudonym, giving the very distinct impression that one person sat down and came up with the whole storyline and wrote, proofread, and edited the entire five billion word piece when, in fact, it took the combined efforts of a small army a few years to come up with the end product.

For some of these so-called writers, plunking down a short story during their lunch hour to post on a porn site to raise their popularity status is their way of feeling important.  Needless to say, if you are the one pouring your blood, sweat, tears, and heart into a piece only to have the writing style that you spent decades developing blatantly ripped off by someone else is a hard pill to swallow.  Having that person getting all the great reviews and fan base is adding insult to injury.  Add on the fact that someone who had the help of numerous people is getting wondrous reviews while pretending that the work in question was written by a single individual is like having someone spit in your face. 

Where does that leave writers who have had their writing style imitated?  With about 2 million writers in the United States alone, it is really hard to come up with a unique idea, much less a unique writing style.  So how can you even prove you are being imitated.  If you post stories on blogs, websites, or open forums and have any type of following then someone coming along and imitating your style to gain their own following is quite easy.  Having something in publication that reaches thousands or more makes it even more probable that you could become the next author to be “flattered” by an imitator. 

The cold, hard truth of the writing world is that no matter how good you are, writing is more of a popularity contest than anything.  You are guaranteed to have at least one person out there who will love your work and read everything they can get their hands on that is written by you.  You might even luck up and get a small following of fans.  For those whose writing inspires a nation, they may find themselves an overnight sensation, but that doesn’t mean that they are a good writer.  Many, many writers will tell anyone who will listen that Stephanie Meyer isn’t “all that” when it comes to being a good writer.  It actually boggles our mind on how such an elementary form of writing could have gained so much attention while really great artists such as Anne Rice have not received 1/3 of the recognition.  The difference is that Stephanie Meyer, for whatever reason, won a very picky popularity contest.

One thing that writers have learned is that fans are fickle.  While someone like Stephanie Meyer may be enjoying an overnight success such as it were, tomorrow the reading public could very well toss her out on her butt in favor of someone with less talent than even she possesses.   In the end, it won’t matter how great of a tale you can weave or that the latest craze sounds just like you.  Unless you can somehow figure out how to gain the upper-hand in the popularity gig, you may very well be doomed to sit in the shadows while a poor imitation of you shares the limelight with a dozen other imitators.

The only good news?  Those who imitate an author can never write as good as the originator of the style.  While they may enjoy a few moments in the sun, those of us who have been writing for years, with talent to spare, and enough ideas to keep writing for decades to come, we shall enjoy many more moments in the bright glow of success than any pale imitator.  While the imitators may write, at most, a few million words because they decided to ‘see if they could’ write that great novel, what happens once they have squeezed all the reads possible out of that piece of work?  Chances are, they are not going to write anything else simply because they never had the talent to compete with writers who have decades of experience on them.  Once their fifteen minutes of fame are up, they will be gone forever, fading into the background from which they came.  They are, after all, mere imitations, and while imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, it cannot replace an original.


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