As writers, we tend to strive for originality. We don’t want our work to be a copy of someone else’s; we want to write words that are unique. But what if I was to tell you that you should imitate other writers? Would you believe me if I said that mimicry can help you write more authentically? The fact is, every one of us has authors who influence the way we write, and by studying those authors, we learn how to grow in the areas we care about most. Guide poets can lead the way as you find your writing voice.
So What is A Guide Poet?
A guide poet, put simply, is a writer whose voice resonates with your own. Think of your guide poet as a kindred spirit. In their works, you’ll find a style that matches the tone of your words or a way of thinking that speaks to you. Their writing will sound like something you would say. This isn’t just an author you like; it’s an author you understand and who you feel understands you, although you’ve never met.
How to Find Your Guide Poets
Choosing guide poets is a bit like choosing friends: it’s a mix of chance and intentionality. Here are a few tips to help you get started.
- Start with your nightstand–-The collection of books you keep ready at hand are a great indicator of your current interests. Make a stack of the books you always have nearby; the books you list off as your favorites and the ones you reread often. Even though not all of your favorite authors are guide poets, chances are your guide poets will be found among your favorite authors.
- Evaluate your collection— Look at each of the books in your stack and consider why you’re drawn to them. Do you like them just because they’re fun to read or you learned from them? Or, do they connect with you on a deeper level? If you find yourself underlining whole passages of a text or thinking “I wish I’d written that,” then you may have found a writing guide.
- Pick your guides–Ultimately, who your guide poets are boils down to who you want them to be. If you feel like you connect with a bunch of different writers, focus on the ones you’d most like to emulate. Find the ones who best match the goals you have for yourself and make them your models.
How Your Guides Help You Find Your Voice
Once you find authors whose voices resonate with your own, who you feel connected to and want to learn from, it’s time to consider how they can help you find your voice. There are two main ways these writers can help.
First, Defining Your Voice:
Guide poets can help you decide what you want your voice to sound like. Your writing voice is the underlying tone and message that weaves through everything you put on the page. It’s the flavor that makes your writing distinct, and it stems from both the way you write and the reason you write. Guide poets help you define your voice by helping you recognize the aspects of writing you are most focused on.
When you read the work of the authors who influence you, take note of why you connect with them. Do you love the way they write characters? Is their message something you care about too? Make a list of the different characteristics you admire in their work and then compare it to your own writing. As you begin to find overlap between your style and goals and theirs, you can start to put into words the characteristics of your voice.
For example, studying my guide poets (J.R.R. Tolkien, William Joyce, and Annie Dillard) helped me realize that one of my main goals in writing is to take small, simple parts of life and show the value and wonder to be found in them. I realized I love books with lots of description, color, and light, and so these were aspects that I wanted to focus on in my projects.
Second, Developing Your Voice:
Guide poets can also help you develop your voice through imitation. By mimicking the aspects of your guide poet’s style which resonate with you, you can test out different parts of your voice. You aren’t giving up your uniqueness, but rather using similar authors to learn the skills you need to grow. In taking on the style of another, we can’t help but make it our own. That’s why a thousand different poems can be written in the same form without becoming the same poem. The guide poets simply become a shell, an outline, that we fill with our own color and design.
Here’s a simple exercise to try. Give yourself 30 minutes to write as much as you can in the voice of one of your guide poets. By putting on their style for a moment, you’ll exercise your creative muscles in the areas you desire to develop.
At the end of the day, God has gifted each of us differently. Your story is distinct from all others; your voice is unique to you. The influence of others doesn’t take away our ability to find our own tune, but rather enhances our ability by offering us a chance to sing in harmony. When we learn from guide poets, we take what is offered to us and make it into something new. In them, we find both mentors that guide us as we find our voices and friends who make the journey easier to travel.
So who are some of the guide poets in your writing journey?