I would never call myself a runner - more like a plodder - but I do enjoy pushing myself across a distance. I recently went for a run with a friend of mine who does 42 km marathons. He really likes to mix up his training program. He does 3km sprints, then walks, or does a longer distance but for two kilometers he runs for 50 paces, then walks for 30 paces, that sort of thing. I just stick with the same distance, pushing myself on at the same rate.
'Hey you run too much in your grey zone,' he says, with the relics of his Dutch accent and grammar.
'What do you mean?'
'You need to mix things up. You will never improve if you keep running the same.'
The whole thing just got me thinking. What I get out of running is a kind of pay-off for my own bloody-mindedness. I love pushing myself, exercising my determination to push on through exhaustion. Yet I am so inflexible. I resist things, such as different approaches that would really improve me.
I've always had that determination to go it alone. I don't know if its the fact that my Dad was a rare breed of righteous policeman that would actually book other cops for speeding (and after the notorious Fitzgerald Inquiry was named as the only honest cop in Queensland, but that's another story - guess how many friends he had), and this has rubbed off. But I always wanted to do it myself.
At university I got incredibly angry when a friend of mine asked me to cheat in an exam. I have had much the same reaction at panels when established writers calmly state they deliberately copied the styles of other writers early in their careers, aping the structure of their prose to such a degree that they wrote it out as an exercise in absorbing it. That kind of thing horrified me. Creativity is SELF expression. I was always determined I would succeed with my 'natural' style, with my own voice, perfected through my own sweat (there I go again pushing myself the distance - alone). I wanted my ideas. My prose.
But have I been shooting myself in the foot?
I am a natural structuralist. I try to cram all my ideas in with plots and subplots. Sometimes I end up with so much complexity that the story openings get hopelessly bogged down in 'necessary' backstory. In my frustration, I have finally relented and for the first time am actually studying the openings of other books to see how other writers balanced their work, handled character etc.
This might seem so basic to everyone else, but for me its just such a different approach. Almost like - gulp - asking for help.
How much do other people study other writers?
In the development of your own style, did you make a conscious effort to absorb the styles of writers you wanted to emulate? Is this cheating or just good sense?