“I was a pretty good imitator of Roy Acuff, but then I found out they already had a Roy Acuff, so I started singin' like myself.” – Hank Williams, Born Sep. 17, 1923.
When you get started in a field you want to pursue, it's completely valid to begin as an imitator of the most successful practitioners in that field.
In all likelihood, it was some single shining star in that particular galaxy who inspired you to want to be like them in the first place.
Whether you want to be a country and western troubadour, or a copywriting marketing hack, it's the same.
But to truly come into your own, and build your own thing, you eventually need to become an original. It's essential to find your OWN thing to build and bank on.
This is daunting to people, because they feel it requires a miraculous act of creativity and uniqueness.
What a monumental task it must be to become your supreme self and evolve into a fresh new voice that audiences will huddle around and glorify and buy buy buy from! Woe!
Not really, though.
The trick is in ACCUMULATION of sources to imitate. Eventually, weak imitations of a multitude of prior successful people will thin out – imitation becomes influence. Your work becomes a gumbo of quality ingredients: points of view, observations, interpretations, etc.
Seek out influences to imitate from OUTSIDE your field, too. Bring something alien in to mutate the DNA of your work in combinations no one has ever seen or thought of.
And then originally comes with repetitive, deliberate PRACTICE. Whether it's scribblin' or a-pickin' and a-strummin' – work on it as often as you can, for as long as you can. And let those imitations develop and evolve, let your other influences change them.
And what you will see is that you achieve uniqueness because you are a unique combination of influences. Your “originality” is a byproduct of imitating, combining, recombining, and altering what you found in your field and far afield that inspired you in the first place.
Here are a few ways you can use your biggest inspirations as a way to help you create your own unique voice and style, without imitating or aping…
1. Start a breakdown sheet on someone in your field whose work you admire. Write a list of the things you like about them and get specific about why. Do the same for things you dislike. This gives you a practical checklist of dos and don’ts rather than thinking of it as the PERSON you are imitating. Do this for all your heroes and idols.
2. Do the above any time you come across a piece you like, no matter who it’s by. Make a list of your likes and your gripes. Think about what the creator was trying to impart to their audience as far as meaning and detail. Then think about how you could express the same meaning, but in your own words and from your own experience.
3. Think of your differentiators. Take one of your heroes, and think that if someone were to say of you, “You’re like [INSERT HERO NAME]… Except…” What is the exception? Are you for a different audience? Do you come from a different background or perspective? Do you exclude some baggage that comes along with them? Once you know what that differentiator is – and have a list of them from many sources, you know what to ALWAYS include so you can stand apart.
Try these out. They’re simple, and should help change your perspective and focus from the idol themselves to their actual work product. Once you’re focused there, it’s a lot easier to be influenced without becoming a mimic.