Make no mistake, I want to be successful, but I don’t think being someone else’s shadow is the way to do that. I recently read a book touted to be just like [big name author]. And it wasn’t. It wasn’t a bad story, but it suffered by the comparison. There are a lot of authors I consider classics, soaring to new heights and taking the literary world with them: Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Mark Twain, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Terry Pratchett (to name a few). I try to learn from them, but I don’t try to be them. I don’t have anything against tributes or retellings–I love them when they draw new insights from or put fresh spins on familiar stories. But no one is going to be a better Tolkien than Tolkien or a better Jane Austen than Jane Austen. If I try to be them, I’m always going to fall short.
Judy Garland said, “Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of someone else.” And, while I almost never agree with Nietzsche on anything, I do like this: “At bottom every man knows well enough that he is a unique being, only once on this earth; and by no extraordinary chance will such a marvelously picturesque piece of diversity in unity as he is, ever be put together a second time.”
The time writers really shine is when we find our own voices. I believe we have more to offer the world by writing our own stories than by trying to write anyone else’s.