Anxiety of influence

February 7, 2013
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

Sarah O’Connor / Silhouette Staff

It is only natural that we compare ourselves to other people. This need follows us up to the point when it’s career time, when we start making our way in the world and start comparing ourselves to others who have been in the same career paths as us. We start to doubt ourselves.

Using literary terms, this is called the anxiety of influence. This is when writers feel anxious and can’t help compare themselves to writers of the past and how great they are.

As a writer, I have experienced this. I dream of pursuing writing whether professionally or on the side but can’t help and compare myself to the writer’s that we are forced to read in high school, the ones worthy enough to be studied. When thinking from such a large spectrum, I can’t help but doubt myself.

But I’ve been trying hard to break out of my own personal anxiety of influence. I write here for The Silhouette and as much as I love doing it there is one thing I can’t do when writing for The Silhouette - I can’t write creatively. I can’t just submit a fictional story or poem to the opinions section; I have to write about real things. That’s what a paper’s for.

So when I spotted the chance to break out of my creative anxiety of influence, I jumped at the chance.

Word Nest is a new program aired on the McMaster Radio Station. It’s a segment where writers read and then critique one anothers’ works on air while also discussing areas of inspiration and different writing styles.

The idea intrigued me. Getting to read some of my work on air, actually getting it out there for people to hear and to possibly enjoy sounded amazing. I joined immediately, curious of who else would take the risk of reading his or her personal work on air for everyone to hear.

I was surprised by the outcome – there were only four of us including the production manager. But as we walked into the empty recording room, energy flowed between us. We were strangers, all of us, connected by the love of words and the need to share them. And it began.

We each read our work, three poems and a short story. A quiver in our voice, our eyes glued to our words that stared back at us. My heart pumped and shivered with excitement as I read these familiar words to strangers, anxious and curious at their response.

And I was surprised by the confidence and fear they had - the readiness and hesitation to read their work and how everyone smiled when they finished.

Each of us was awe-struck, amazed at the each other’s talents. We critiqued each other’s work asking our favourite lines to be read again, explaining the inspiration behind the words that had been private for so long.

And like everything good, it ended too soon. We said our goodbyes and left the room no longer strangers. Each of us had read something private, something we’d held close to our hearts, something that was a part of us.

True, our words weren’t published in a book or even a paper, but they were said, they were spoken.

I don’t think the anxiety of influence should be defined only for the writers. I believe everyone has his or her own personal anxiety of influence. How will we ever be as good as they are? How will we reach their level? Why did we do this?

But we are and we can. What we need to remember is others can inspire us but we can’t compare ourselves to them. We are our own person and are capable of anything we set our mind to.

I don’t know how many people turn on their radios to hear four girls reading and critiquing each other’s stories and poems. But I won’t be trapped in by the anxiety of influence. And I don’t think you should be trapped either.

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