Sometimes, you can come across a piece of writing in a magazine or a book, and, without looking at the author’s name already know who wrote it. Who else but J.D. Salinger could write such agonizingly existential yet scorchingly judgmental phrases? There’s a reason why Gabriel Garcia Marquez is credited with inventing magical realism. Who but Elizabeth Gilbert makes you feel like you’re reading your best friend’s diary? Would anyone ever mistake Normal Mailer’s work for Toni Morrison’s?
You can pick these voices out from a crowd because they are from writers who have a distinct writing style.
But why does that matter? Why do I need a writing style?
Your writing style is your trademark. Whether you are a blogger, a content writer, an academic or a novelist, developing a style is an important step in your writing life. It not only helps you grow your brand, it also helps you write more and better. If your writing voice is already well-honed, it’s easier for you to jump into a new piece. You start to lose that fear of “how do I begin?” Your writing voice, once it’s developed, serves as your guide.
So, how exactly do you develop a writing style? Here are some tips:
Read a lot of other people’s work
Read a lot of the genre you want to write. Gather a collection of the top writers in that area and read their work. Don’t read for information or entertainment. Dissect their work to determine their style. A blogger who always includes interesting personal experiences that tie to his theme vs. a blogger that tends to quote a lot of stats and news stories. A horror fiction writer who goes right for the gore vs. a horror fiction writer who sets up a creepy psychological landscape. An academic writer who has a conversational tone vs. an academic writer who is more conservative and scholarly in tone.
Keep dissecting and notice more about the tone. Does one writer tend to be humorous while another tends to plummet into political apathy? What are key words and phrases they might tend to us? Are their sentences long and descriptive or short and informative?
Now read your own work
If you’ve already written some pieces, be it blog posts, essays or even books, go through some of your own writing with the same discerning eye. Pick out things you notice about your own style: key phrases, tone, sentence structure and length. Do you get to the point right away or do you take your time building a case? Do you tend to write long descriptive passages or are you focused on action and moving the story forward? What are the things you want to change? What are the things you want to develop more?
Write what you know
This is what most authors do anyway. Your surroundings are often your inspiration. Even fantasy and science fiction sometimes have characters and settings culled from the author’s real life. Writing what you know already takes some of the pressure off of having to imagine a unique story. Write an autobiographical piece about your family. What do you have to say about where you came from, how you grew up? Let loose and don’t hold back. Don’t think about how someone would feel if you wrote that about them. Say exactly what you think.
Having the courage to tell the truth is perhaps half the battle to developing your style. Have you ever read any of David Sedaris’ work? It teems with jaw-dropping anecdotes about his family. Totally no holds barred. Sometimes I cover my mouth in delight and then wonder, “How could he write that about his mother? No, how could he publish that about his mother?” That is his style: caustic humor and brutal honesty. Starting with writing about something familiar is a good way to develop your own writing style.
If you’re writing content, the same holds true. Don’t try to write content about technological gadgets when your background is in Italian Renaissance Art.Write what you know. A writer can write just as eloquently about technology as another writer writes about art. The trick is to be familiar with your subject.
Have the guts to be yourself
Writing takes a lot of courage. You are exposing your thoughts, opinions, fears, emotions and, sometimes, your soul to a group of strangers. Who may actually behave very cruelly in their criticism. In order to survive as a writer, you have to be able to get past your fear of judgement and failure and have the guts to express yourself. In your own way. Not in a way that you think someone would like. In the way that you like.
Like any other endeavor, be it becoming a star athlete, a world class opera singer or a celebrated painter, you must have courage. What if Jackson Pollack thought, “Oh no, I can’t develop this drip paint style. Nobody will like it. Nobody will understand it. I’d better just paint some landscapes.” Don’t be afraid to develop your voice. It’s the unique gift that only you can give.
Doing freewriting exercises can really help uncover your writing style. In freewriting you’re tapping into your brain’s subconscious and letting out anything that comes up. Without filters or worrying about spelling or grammar or if something even makes sense, you’re spilling out a raw form of your writing style. Do a lot of freewrite exercises over the course of a month and see if you can determine a common thread in them that you want to pick out and develop.
Find out who you are
Well, this may sound like a tall order, but when you’re developing a style, it really comes down to defining your vision of the world. Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Are you a hedonist or a pragmatist? Are you a poet or a detective novelist? Writers often write because they feel they have something they want to share. What is it that you essentially want to share?