In Zen and the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury writes about the years he spent trying to write like his favorite authors. “I loved them, and they smothered me.” Bradbury called this the burden of imitation, and it was holding him back. This resonated with me, as I’ve been trying to imitate Michael Crichton’s speculative fiction for years. Sensing that Bradbury needed to grow out of the phase of imitation, he made a list of things he loved and hated, “Sensing somewhere in the bright and dark seasons must be something that was really me.” He chose one topic from the list and began writing. In two hours, he’d created a short story called “The Lake,” one of his most famous stories. By the end of…