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Scott Lax Blog

On Influence in Writing

Finn being thoughtful (at nearly four months in the world)
Lydia and I were talking this morning about how much a writer should allow herself or himself to be influenced by other writers. We both agreed: learning from and being influenced by a writer (or other artists) is fine and good. Imitating, on the other hand – notsomuch, as they say nowadays.

As a writer, I'm influenced by a variety of artists, and they widely vary. Here's a sampling: poets Pablo Neruda and Walt Whitman for their cultural sensibilities and lyricism; French film director Francois Truffaut for his love of story-telling about the elegance and pain of everyday life and love; F. Scott Fitzgerald for his ability to write astonishingly beautiful sentences that happened to exist within great plots; my dad, for his ability to write succinct business letters, which was my first important lesson in writing after college (he took a two-pager and showed me how to edit it down to a couple of paragraphs); E.B. White, for his elegant simplicity and brevity in nonfiction essays; Dorothy Parker for her wit, which was layered with the understanding that life isn't fair, but that you can be funny anyway; Ernest Hemingway for his often short, gorgeous, utterly misunderstood sentences (misunderstood because he was a much better writer, and more complicated, than the simplistic view of him as a writer of silly, tough prose); James Baldwin for his searing portrayal of post-war America (I would put John Cheever in that category); Tim O'Brien for his wondrous ability to weave realism and fiction in a brutal yet tender way. And drummers Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich and Uriel of The Funk Brothers (drummer for many Motown hits) for the execution of controlled, powerful rhythmic excellence and varying dynamics.

Whew. And there are others, but if you got through those, maybe you want to take a break and make your own list.

So to put a finer point on this subject: Don't imitate. Be inspired. Be influenced. But find your own voice. How do you do that? I'll write more about that in coming months, but for now, here a bit of advice:

Be honest. Don't ever hide behind experimental or clever technique. Allow the story and the language to be the star of your writing, but not yourself. Creative writing is not an advertisement for you as a woman or man. It's an art form. Read More 

Honoring Our Veterans

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity."
- Dwight David Eisenhower (American 34th President, 1953-61; b.1890; d.1969)

When honoring our veterans - including my dad, who served during World War II, and three of my cousins who served in Vietnam - I think it's important to avoid jingoism and theatrics.

War is hell - only those who have fought it or been inside it can truly know that fact. President Eisenhower knew it, for he saw it as a five-star general and Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces. He was one of those who helped to save the world from the most dire threat we've ever known, from the insanity of militarism and fascism and hatred. What Eisenhower and others accomplished in World War II is one thing I honor. They are the reason I can write this now.

Yet he hated war, so much that he believed you did all you could to avoid it. Eisenhower was no Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh or George W. Bush -- all chicken-hawks who avoided service but like to thump their chests and play soldier.

This post is to honor those who really served and sacrificed. As for those who are more than willing to send others off to war, this day is not for you.

Thank you to my dad, and to my cousins, and to all of those who gave so much. If you want to read a brilliant book about the inside of a war, read the novel, THE THINGS THEY CARRIED by Tim O'Brien, the great American author and Vietnam Veteran. Read More