When you’re a young writer (in my case, 22) interested in carving out a distinct and singular style for yourself, chances are high that despite the strains and pains of some early attempts, you haven’t yet discovered your own “literary voice.” Your literary voice is your way of writing that is so uniquely your own that when future authors poach that style, future critics, ensconced in their itchy armchairs, can trace back its lineage to the tip of your own humble pen.
For me, my independent voice has yet to ripen. I find myself always imitating the authors whose works I’ve read most recently. Since my diet includes mainly “the classics,” anyone sufficiently well-read could make a game of matching each of my stories to the author who inspired it.
Given a quick, cursory skim through story A, our perspicacious reader can see that Hemingway is clearly the father. The literary offspring resembles him too much to call that into doubt. And story B? Why, that has Salinger’s ears of course. And C has Beattie’s brow. Etc., etc.
Quite recently, in fact, I wrote a hoppy, poetic piece that resounds (or rather roars) so loudly with Nabokovian echoes that any reader concerned with originality might instantly go deaf from reading it. The more uncertain the young writer is, of course, the more they lean on the crutch of another’s genius.
So at this point, I simply have to accept my status as a kind of chameleon poet—quite a different kind than the one Keats meant when he first coined that term. Every young writer starts out a chameleon, and some writers remain chameleons forever. That’s not the goal. The trick is in cultivating one’s own color—vivid and vibrant enough to stand apart from any background.
At the modest age of 22, I still have a ways to go.