No doubt you have some favorite authors.
It’s likely that one thing you love about their books is their writing style.
Many commercial authors have a very simplistic—almost superficial—writing style.
Other successful authors write in a wholly unique manner unlike any other.
There is no right or wrong, good or bad—only personal tastes. We can all name writers we can’t stomach whose books are bestsellers.
But what do you need if you want to learn how to find your writing style? Here are some tips:
1. Whom Are You Writing for?
First, think about the genre you are writing in, if you’re writing fiction. Genre determines a lot.
Novels are a product you are producing for a consumer: the reader. When you describe your novel on sites that sell your book, you have to provide a description for it. This is a way to accurately define your novel so a reader can see what you are marketing to them. Armed with this information, they may decide to purchase your product or not.
This also applies to writing nonfiction, whether memoir, self-help book, or historical biography.
By defining your target audience and examining other books aimed at reading markets similar to yours, you can get an idea of the writing styles appropriate for your book.
You may find this a distasteful way to approach the writing of your book, but it’s not far from how a literary agent or publisher is going to consider your work. For the bottom line in the publishing industry is “will this novel sell and who will it sell to?”
If you’re writing a novel solely for your own enjoyment, or plan to publish or print it just for friends and family, that’s a different matter. In this case, you may care little about whether your writing style fits a certain genre or fits the expectations of a particular audience.
So ask yourself: Who am I writing this book for? Do I want to appeal to a wide audience? Do I want to brand myself with a trademark style?
2. Deliberately Tailor Your Writing Style
The answers to these questions are important because if you hope for commercial success, you are going to have to tailor your writing style to be somewhat similar to other authors writing in the same genre.
If you write in different genres, as I do, each novel will have a different writing style, to a certain extent.
Yes, you can write any old way you like, but you first need to keep in mind whom you are writing for and what genre you are writing in.
3. Start by Imitation
Often, when learning to write a novel, a writer may spend countless hours focusing on getting the basics in hand: plot, structure, characters, and all the tricky components that take time to master.
Usually writing style is ignored at first, and a writer’s early attempts to just get words on the page are often clunky and/or derivative. This is just part of the growing process.
Just as a toddler begins to speak by listening to and imitating the adults who speak to him, a new writer will often try to copy the writing style of other authors. Which is a great thing to do—at first.
By studying and imitating the writing style of great writers in your genre, you can get a feel of how to write your stories.
4. Emulation Is Fine for a Time
At some point, you will have to let go of your tightly gripping hand and cross the street by yourself.
There is probably no magic moment in which you suddenly have your own writing style, but I can recall many moments when I felt my unique way of writing beginning to emerge.
I started taking chances, letting my imagination wander freely. I shut off the infernal internal editor and experimented.
More and more moments came in which I was writing freely, with flair, unhindered and unburdened by the “supposed tos” that were nagging me from the bleachers.
I think by about my fifth novel I hit my stride.
5. It’s Just a Learning Curve
This process is similar to learning how to dance, do gymnastics or play basketball.
There is a huge learning curve at first, but with diligence and a measure of talent and ability, you “get the hang of it.”
Note, though, that this is not something you get and then are stuck with. Your writing style is fluid, versatile, adaptive. Or it should be.
Even better is the fact that you can have various styles—as many as you like.
How to Fine-Tune Your Unique Writing Style
There is no secret formula to developing a trademark writing style, but here are some suggestions that may help you:
1. Read something terrific before you start writing.
A half hour spent reading exquisite prose can often inspire you and jumpstart your stalled creative flow. Read a diverse assortment of great books to immerse yourself in many styles.
2. Be specific about your tone.
Tone is a subtle thing, and it overlaps sound, style, and voice. Whereas voice is really generated and inspired by your characters, tone is something more consistent throughout your book. It’s the overall feel you give the narrative and story.
3. Consider how much “author” presence you want to seep through.
Some writers are very present in their stories, giving their opinions on what they write about. But sometimes that’s not appropriate for the genre or type of story being told.
4. Be true to yourself.
When you write, try to listen to what your body is telling you. There’s an uneasy feeling, a discomfort a seasoned writer feels when she veers away from a true and honest writing voice and starts forcing the style for one reason or another.
5. Allow yourself to freewrite and experiment.
Turn off the infernal internal critic and play with your thoughts and words.
6. Read your work out loud to yourself or someone else.
This can help you hear the cadence and rhythm of your words. Getting feedback from a listener can also help. (Just be sure to pick someone whose opinions are constructive and insightful.)
So, if you want to develop that trademark writing style, spend some time considering your genre and audience, and study successful books that are similar to yours to see what kind of writing style the authors employ.
Play around with your writing and give yourself some freedom to experiment. Then trust your gut to tell you whether you’re being genuine or derivative or phony.
In time, your beautiful trademark writing style will emerge.
What challenges have you encountered and/or overcome in searching for a strong, honest voice in your writing? Please share in the comments!