Tag Archives: writing style

Developing Your Writing Style

develop writing style

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.

Freewrite

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?

7 Fabulous Ways to Improve Your Writing Style

While writing style is ultimately crafted through time and experience, this post focuses on the 7 most fabulous of fabulous ways you can improve your writing in a more focused and productive direction rather than through mountains of trial and error.

writing style

1. Create Your Writer’s Asset List

Regardless of how long you’ve been writing, from one day to one lifetime, sit down and compile a list of all your assets as a writer. The exercise is about providing perspective that oftentimes is lost to those who don’t approach these things systematically.

Here are some questions to get you started.

  • What kinds of essays/papers have you written before? Keep it simple, but do give yourself a visual representation of everything you’ve accomplished.
  • How fast are you?
  • What are your grammatical strengths?
  • What are the defining characteristics of your writing style presently?
  • What are you the best at writing?

2. Cut, Clip Shave and Destroy

It’s called “killing your darlings” and the practice is valuable beyond words. You start to see how much of your writing is fluff and filler. You begin to see how to write more directly, rather than being overly descriptive or beating around the bush because you’re unsure of yourself.

Write a paragraph about something, anything will do.

Then, go through it word by word and get rid of EVERYTHING that isn’t absolutely necessary to make the point and keep the sentences cohesive. Once you find the core, then you can sprinkle your own twists on things that reveal your style.

3. Take Any Focus off of Yourself

Are you writing for yourself? That’s like an educational speakers speaking to hear themselves talk. It doesn’t resonate well and sends many of the wrong signals. Who are you writing for? What’s the point? What’s the end-goal? Your writing style is expressed most naturally when you aren’t trying, right? Take the focus off yourself and put it elsewhere, thereby allowing your style free reign.

4. Regard the General Intonation of Your Writing

Rather than trying to look at style in a compartmentalized fashion, pay attention to the overall vibe or intonation of your writing. Remember, the vast majority of human communication is through intonation, or how we say things, not what we actually say. Most of the time when we talk about writing “style” we’re really referring to your intonation. Address is from that angle to streamline the process.

5. Study Writers

Try studying writers outside your comfort bubble. Keep in mind that these authors are processed goods. That paperback is the commercial literature equivalent to a Twinkie. They’ve been heavily edited and proofread by people that make insane amounts of money. Their personality is like iron.

Go for someone, anyone, above your age with TONS of personality. Want an example? Ok, try Russel Brand, or perhaps Matt Taibbi. You can’t expand style without new, foreign and alien input. Pay special attention to any genre that makes you uncomfortable, because there’s likely gold in there for you.

6. Actually Study the Science of Creativity

If you study the science of creativity you’ll see that you probably have far more of it than you might think. If your style seems stagnate, you need to sit down and take a look at how creativity really works. #5 touched on it, but you can take it much further than that.

Creativity comes from quasi-random “mutations” (if you will) when two really unrelated or oddly paired things meet. Put yourself and your mind in places you’re unfamiliar with on a constant basis and then absorb tiny bits of info. This will shape a truly fabulous writing style.

7. Make Rephrasing a State of Mind

Isn’t style the ability to take a dry sentence and turn it into something more engaging? Isn’t the ability to take a dry sentence and inject your own personality into it? With that being said you should make it a constant background practice for your mind to rephrase and reword things you read in passing or directly.

If you devour a post that blows your mind because of the style, then rewrite it in your own words. If you read an advertisement that impresses you, then rewrite it. The more you practice taking things and molding/shaping them in your own voice, the more your own style will reveal itself and evolve.

What about you? What writing tools are you willing to share? There are so many different takes on this subject, probably as many as there are students. Some tools and tips work better than other, so out with it! What are your top 3?