The late American author and philosopher, Joseph Campbell, said that when you like an author, read everything they’ve written and then read authors they’ve read. This is the opposite of reading as much as possible by as many writers as possible. What Campbell was pointing at was that we should follow ‘threads,’ not follow blindly. This is why Ted, Babbitt’s son, (Lewis, Sinclair. Babbitt. Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1922. Print) must, as Campbell advocated, ‘follow his bliss’ rather than do what Daddy says.
It’s the old story of individuation. You need to write about what’s in your heart, what’s true to you, rather than allowing yourself to be influenced by well-meaning folks.
When we read, we get influenced. Fearing that we somehow may not have what it takes, not be on the level, we may get wrongly influenced. We may even begin to adopt the style of another. This is not good because in doing so, we give up a big part of ourselves, the part that’s unique and makes us stand out from the crowd.
They say that we learn how to write by reading much and writing much. This is true. But equally important is what we read and what we write.
Don’t fall into abstractions
One of the worst things we can do is fall into abstractions. This is when we don’t have anything substantial to say yet, feeling the need to say something, start twisting and turning words in such a way as to sound erudite while, in the end, saying nothing or next to nothing.
The old story
Individuation is an old story because it’s the story of our race. We have, since time immemorial, been trying to define ourselves as separate from others and communicating this definition.
An ongoing struggle
Keeping our voice, our true identity, is an ongoing struggle which starts in early childhood and ends in old age. It has to do with fighting against being pigeonholed; falling into the trap of directional questions; being able to say ‘no’ when everybody else is saying ‘yes;’ and appreciating someone the world disdains.
If the myths and legends are true, (Campbell, Joseph and Moyers, Bill. Flowers, Betty Sue (ed.). The Power of Myth. Doubleday, 1988. Print (Paperback)) then we have much more to draw from than we thought. There is, in fact, a vast reservoir of archetypal material we can ‘extract’ and use to individuate and find our voice.
Once we’ve found our voice, we need to keep it since it is precious and defines who we are.