If you were to look at Picasso’s work, you could spot it anywhere.
If you were to listen to Sting’s music, you’d know it was Sting.
If you were to read Dan Brown’s book, you’d know it was Dan.
So how come these folks have a style and you don’t?
You know you don’t have a style, because if you took your cartoon or your article and placed it amid another person’s work, no one would be able to pick out your work as unique.
And that’s because it’s not.
Imagine you’re trying to learn how to cook a yummy dish like biryani.
Now biryani tends to be a very complex, almost scary, type of rice dish. It’s filled with a list of ingredients as long as your arm, and the process can be intimidating.
But if you’re determined to crack the ‘biryani code’, you’re going to follow the instructions in great detail. The exact ingredients, sequence and methodology must be followed to ensure that you replicate the dish.
And this means you’re copying.
When you’re copying, you’re replicating the style of the person you’re copying.
But if you make this dish several times, changes occur. You may read about another type of biryani or watch a few videos. And suddenly, instead of boneless chicken, you’re using chicken with bones. Or instead of chicken, you’re using veggies.
Sooner or later dropouts occur as well.
You stop referring to the recipe because you’re comfortable with the sequence and ingredients. And then you create your own kind of dish.
You may forget some ingredients, add others, or do something quite different altogether. And if you mix, mingle, and keep learning how to make this dish, you soon get your own style.
Style is not about invention.
Style is about copying. About ‘tracing’, and ‘copying’ and ‘then rendering from memory’. The more you trace, copy and render from memory, the more the concepts mix in your brain.
And eventually, one day—not too far in the future—you’ll have a style of your own.
But you need to practice and mix and mingle.
If you slavishly copy one person’s style, you’ll soon become a replica of that person’s work.
When I first started out in cartooning, I used to copy Hagar the Horrible. And my work was a replica of Hagar the Horrible. But then I added other cartoons, like Dennis the Menace, Calvin and Hobbes etc. And my work became my own.
Today I have a distinct writing style, drawing style, speaking style etc.
And so can you. You already have a style that’s quite your own in many areas of your life. And it’s time to pore over those concepts so that you can apply that style to your writing as well.
So practice away.
Copy a lot.
Trace a lot.
And render from memory a lot.
And yes, make sure you copy from different sources.
And then, about 6-9 months from now, you’ll have a style that’s quite different from anyone else’s.
But if you keep doing what you’re doing, without copying, you’ll just become a copy—of yourself.
If you want to continuously evolve, you need to keep tracing, copying and then rendering your own impression. That’s the only way you’ll keep learning and evolving your style.
So that when you make biryani, they’ll say you made biryani.
But when I make biryani, there’s a certain point of difference that makes it quite my own.
Make your own biryani. Write your own bestseller. Start today, and share your ideas and experience in the comments!
P.S. Copying is different from plagiarism. If you’re not clear about the difference, look up the dictionary.