Creating A Style Of Your Own: Why It’s So Hard (And So Easy)

    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.

    About the author

      Sean D'Souza

      Sean D'Souza is a writer, marketing guru and expert on sales psychology. Read more by Sean on Psychotactics.com

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    • Cat says:

      My favorite hobbies are drawing and writing. When I was first learning to draw I was most inspired by great comic book art and I copied/traced a lot of it. After a while I didn’t need to copy it, I felt horrible about all that tracing but now looking back at it I understand how it helped me to develop my own style. I do a lot of reading and have found that I’ve begun picking away at a particular authors styles, making notes of what I like and what I don’t. I never thought about it in terms of developing my own style until now. What a great article. Thank you for this, it’s been inspiring.

    • Prudence says:

      This was one of the first posts on finding style that I actually agree with.

      When I read your post, I thought to myself “Aha! That is totally what I did! I followed the ‘recipes’ of other writers and finally found a ‘dish’ that was all me.”

      Great artists borrow from those who came before them. Great thinkers borrow the ideas of others. Great marketers borrow from epic marketers. The list goes on. Thank you for giving people permission to “copy and trace.” I think many people don’t think they have the right to copy or trace, but this is solid advice and I think it’s probably critical advice for new writers.

    • Linda says:

      I think a lot of new writers try too hard to create a recognisable style, and their attempts to be original and different turn out to be just like those of many other new writers all trying to be original and different.
      As you say, it should be a gradual and evolving process.
      I was astonished when a magazine editor told me she liked my style. I didn’t know I had a style! As far as I was concerned I was just trying to write in a simple, straightforward way that would be easy for someone else to read and understand. I’m still not sure if I could recognise my own style, but the important thing is that other people seem to be able to!

    • Great deconstruction of the concept of style.

    • Hey there! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of my old room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this article to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

    • Violet says:

      That’s right. You copy the work just like xeroxed copy. Then when you read it the first time you find it too long so you shorten it. In the process you replaced some portions just like in a power point presentation you reduced 30 slides into 15 because you summarized the the slides and unconsciously you enter in some of your original pointsl

    • Julie says:

      How many books do you copy? And how do you replace the authors words with your own?

    • I’d never saw myself as having a style but on reflection I can recall comments about my personna made to me when I worked in Local Government so maybe I have a style and don’t know? Perhaps everyone’s style is a bit of another person’s or just the way they are naturally. Interesting and intriguing so will try and write a description of ME when visiting the hills on Friday again and work on the one folk are drawn in the most positive light as I don’t feel I have a style as such yet simply don’t know if this is correct. Yes it’s an important factor when people search for you. Thanks for this one. What am I really like? This will be title of project about ‘me’.

    • jamie says:

      This is a great post.

      Writers and artists are so often told to follow their passions and be “original”. What is often forgotten is that all the best writers borrow from and replicate their favorite authors as they evolve.

      We should recognize that we are standing on the shoulders of giants rather than trying to re-invent the wheel.

      Almost everything “invented” by Man has been inspired by, copied from or otherwise found in nature. To be truly original and unique – we must first learn the basics from the best and add our own ingredients as we practice our craft. Sean explains this perfectly with the Biryani metaphor.

      Thanks for the enlightenment Sean


    • Great points. Also really helpful to get a sense of other people’s perspectives without being too altered by them.

    • Ryan Urie says:

      Thank you for taking the pressure off! I’m constantly worrying about my blog starting to sound like everyone else’s, but I don’t want to do something ridiculous or sensational just to stand. It’s nice to know that I can follow other people’s example, stay true to my sensibilities, and still be working toward finding my own style.

    • Omar H Jama says:

      It is fantastic piece of work which motivated me to put in my comment.
      I will keep on and became an active member.

    • Great advice Sean, although I’m not sure that anyone would have recognized Stephen King’s style until he had several books on the market. A unique style certainly does take time to develop and you’re so right in saying that it requires willingness to do something different – to try on different hats and see what works for you. Thanks!

      • No, I’m not necessarily saying that.
        A child doesn’t always know which hat is suited for her.

        So she wears all the hats, at first. Then over time, as she grows, she develops a style. But yes, adults are more fussy. And they want results too quickly. So I recommend that you copy one style for a while. Then go to the next. And in a short while, often less than a year or two, you’ll have your own style.

        But the copying doesn’t stop. Plagiarism is bad.
        Copying is what you do forever or you stop getting better. Skills need both evolution and revolution. Evolution is where you keep at honing your own skill, you own style. Revolution comes from copying.

    • Nancy Terhune says:

      Here’s another point of view. It’s my POV, so it’s my opinion and not criticism.

      We all have a personal style. it’s already in us. And the more time we spend trying to be “writer-ly” and sound like the pros, the more time we waste getting to it. Think: What is it, really, that I admire about this writer’s writing? Deconstruct it. You mention Dan Brown, Sean. Good example. What makes his writing great? What would it mean to emulate his writing? Of course you know: he tells a whopping good story. And it’s super-easy reading. So where does the style magic come in?

      Take a page from one of his novels – a page that doesn’t have Robert Langdon or a masochistic monk, Masons, the Louvre, the Vatican, the Illuminati, or the Holy Grail. Read the page. Could be anybody, right? How great and how distinctive is the writing? It’s not. It’s all about the story – the substance, not the style. It’s about not letting style get in the way of substance. What’s supporting the story and making it quick, effortless reading are economy of words, short sentences, short paragraphs, short chapters. So I argue: Tell the story – or just know what you have to say; know the beginning and end and get there; write it; go back and edit it – a lot; cut the extraneous; make sure it tracks well; shorten things. If you’ve used lots of modifiers (adjectives, adverbs) or think it’s not zingy enough, substitute some words. Use the best words, because the best words nail it, and they don’t need dressing up.

      So make what you want to say good, then bring it home. Sooner or later, the strain of trying to be somebody else – either another writer or some sculpted creation – will get to you and you’ll have to be you. Being you is good. Have faith and don’t abandon yourself. You’ll see.

      Just my opinion.

      • It depends on what you’re writing. Some writing is more complex than others. It’s relatively easy to turn out an article, for instance.

        I think that people have deadlines in their brain. And while this is fine, it’s not how children learn. Children don’t have deadlines to learn something. And so they don’t feel the pressure that adults feel. Adults also feel it’s wrong to copy. And that puts additional pressure.

        Style can’t come from nothing. Copying is part of the process, pretty much forever. I’ve drawn cartoons for over 30 years and I still copy. I have a very, very distinct style, but for that to progress, I have to learn more or I get stuck.

    • RICHARD says:

      I feel after writing for six plus yesrs that I have developed a style of my own.

    • I can see how this would work. Adapting from others, not just one person’s style ensures that your it will be unique enough to not be a total replica of what currently exists. You know, if we even think about it, that’s how we even develop our personalities. I just never thought about it until I read this post. Thank you.

    • I LOVED this as a reminder to stay true to myself, and practice practice practice with my own writing. I read so much, get so inspired, see so many ‘ways’ I love, and have to keep remembering to believe in me, and my own style is in there waiting to come out : )

    • Stellamaris says:

      Thank you!. This is such a helpful, encouraging and clarifying take on developing one’s own style.

    • Maranna says:

      Excellent analogy. We are all a little of everyone else I think. Sometimes, when yu are stuck for a description it’s good to see how others couch the same idea. You don’t necessarily copy it, but you do emulate the sentimen to some extentt. It’s good.

    • Kath says:

      Enjoyed this, I read so many how too posts on the craft and this has a unique refreshing spin on it. Thank you I like the tracing idea as well.

      • Yes, I learned that quite by mistake, but EVERY child, given the chance to trace, will do it. Adults are silly. They think they’re copying and avoid it. But you learn from tracing, copying.

        That’s how you develop anything in life.

    • Wow! That is such a good explanation of how a unique style comes about.

      I think when we start out wanting to have our own style, we think we need to get as far away from everyone else’s work as possible. I never made the connection between copying and style until reading this.

      Your recipe analogy is so true. That’s exactly what I do when cooking. Now I’ll be more aware of it in my writing too!

      • You’re welcome, Jessica.

        And just like your cooking, what you “read” becomes the “dish”. I was a cartoonist for over 15 years, and I went about accumulating styles until one day I had my own style.

        You too can do ust that.

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