You Can Like What You Actually Like

This love can’t be faked, not inside your own soul. Yet among those who are merely trying to impress, it is of course faked all the time. At my university, we foolishly used to ask applicants for a list of the writers and books that had “influenced” them. This is not an entirely fair question to ask any writer, but for a board of academics to spring it on a bunch of young, inexperienced, aspiring writers was madness. Of course the answers we got were mainly intended to impress. The question became the single most insincere item in the entire application—bypassing the mendaciousness even of professorial letters of recommendation. The lists we got were almost always very grand, academically impeccable, and exactly the same: that year’s higher-than-highbrow list of what every applicant assumed a bunch of professors wanted to see. We should have been ashamed. We were doing people damage by inducing them to lie about their real tastes and their real identities, leading them into a form of self-betrayal that at worst can be a symptom of self-contempt. Dishonesty about what really pleases your imagination is outright dangerous to you as a writer.

The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction
Stephen Koch