Here's a question for all you bloggers and anyone else who likes to write. Who has been the biggest influence on your writing "voice"? We all aim to have our own voice in our writing, but ultimately if we are observant and honest enough we will see bits and pieces of writers we admire in there. It isn't intentional plagiarism or stylistic robbery - it is simply that we love those authors so much that they changed what we think of as a well-crafted sentence or good turn of phrase. They added words to our vocabulary that we cannot use without thinking of them. They gave us our sense of humor or passion for what's right or eye for beauty. The rhythm of their phrasings are as natural as songs we know by heart. It isn't that we want to write like them so much as we are them, or they us, in that they are in our heads, part of our experience.
Following is my list in very roughly descending order of current influence, at least from what I can consciously tell. There are others in the stew as well but these are the ones I think of when I notice how I am writing (which is rarely). One will note a heavy leaning toward "humorists" (more accurately "absurdists", those that find humor in absurdity), which is fine - we all need to laugh more.
- Peter Tauber - from one book only, his Sunshine Soldiers, which I have probably read 20 times now since my early teens.
- Hunter S. Thompson - I stopped reading his work in the 1980s because frankly the quality went down and he became a caricature of himself. But man, before that, he was probably the greatest wordsmith alive in my lifetime. I was reading HST at age 15 - ruined for life!
- Aaron - one of my bestest friends on the whole planet and a long-time member of my email salon, where he plays the role of my alter ego and posts as much or more than I do (which is saying a lot). He's also the funniest person I know personally. If I (consciously or un) rip off anyone's written mannerisms, it is Aaron's. But we've been reflecting back and forth at each other via writing for ten years now, so untangling that web of influences would be hard. Aaron doesn't write much for public consumption - he should change that.
- P.J. O'Rourke - all those years at National Lampoon means he has his satire chops down, but that would fall flat over time if he wasn't so smart, too. Even when you disagree with him he has you laughing.
- Mark Twain - 'nuff said.
- Joseph Heller - I've only read Catch-22 (over and over). That's enough.
- Garrison Keillor - we're big Prairie Home Companion fans here, and I love to listen to Garrison tell stories. But really, his writing is exquisitely crafted and just as worth the investment of time as listening to PHC. Not every good talker can be a good writer or vice versa, but Keillor is both.
- H.W. Tilman - little-known British mountaineer and explorer. Hysterical in a very dry triple-negative-statements-that-explode-into-sly-jokes English sort of way. There are places on the maps of Africa and the Himalayas and Greenland that he helped fill in, plus he was a behind-enemy-lines commando helping partisans during WWII, so he's always an interesting read as well. Surprisingly many explorers and mountain climbers write well; Tilman is simply the best of the bunch.
- Kurt Vonnegut - I don't read him any more, but there was a time in my formative years when I devoured everything of his. If he wrote it before 1980, I have read it.
So, who influenced your writing voice?