Style is the most powerful tool at the writer’s disposal. It’s the first thing that a reader will notice, it’s the thing that a reader will fall in love with. To contend with the greats, you’ll need style. But where does style come from? How do certain words, placed in a certain order, come together to form something recognizable?
First, let’s establish what style isn’t. Style isn’t voice. It’s not inherent to you as a writer, it’s not the positions you take on issues, and it’s not something that will be completely obvious to every reader. Style is the choices you make. Style is malleable, not rigid, and it’s something that you can – and should – develop.
Read a Lot
Writers are readers, first and foremost. There isn’t a writer in the world who isn’t a reader, so, naturally, you should read as much as you can. When you’re reading, take note of the writing style. What are its distinguishing features? What are some things this writer does that others don’t? Mind, you can learn as much from a good writer as a bad one. Note the things they do that rub you the wrong way, and mark them as something you shouldn’t ever do. And, hey, if a bad writer can get published, so can you, right? Right.
Same advice goes for watching films. There are a lot of things a writer can pick up on in a film – even standard Hollywood schlock can be stylistically refined. Take note of what methods are used in the movie to establish the world and its atmosphere. How are characters distinguishable from one another in the way they speak? If you’re a fiction writer, you will be doing a lot of this wold-building stuff, and films are particularly good at establishing the universe quickly.
There is no substitute for writing. If you’re not actively creating your own style, then no amount of books read or films watched can help you. Ultimately, you yourself create your style, and there’s no other way but writing.
Try this: write short stories every day, and don’t look at them again for at least a month. After time has passed, look at them again, and take stock of what you’ve written. What would you like to change in the way you write? What would a writer you admire tell you about the way you’re writing? Most importantly, you should ask “does this sound like me”?
Resolve to regularly look at your writing from a qualitative point of view. The 10,000 hour rule very much applies here.
Copy Great Writers
“Good artists copy, great artists steal”. Since you’re reading a lot, you’re going to be copying others’ style almost inadvertently. Don’t fret, this is completely normal. Before you develop your own identity and style, you’re going to be looking toward others to get ideas from.
The trick is to do this intelligently. Look at who you admire and identify what part of their work makes it uniquely theirs. Take the parts you like, and discard the rest. If you want to build a car, it makes sense to take one apart first, right?
Getting feedback is always tricky as a writer. There is always ego involved, and no one’s ego bruises like a writer’s. Suddenly, everyone who tells you about the problems in your writing is an idiot, and everyone who tells you you’re good is looking for an angle.
Well, get all of that out of your head. Join a writer’s group, or even share your writing online (psst: use Write! to do it). Any critique, even made by someone you think is stupid and “doesn’t get it”, is valuable to you. When you get that big publishing deal, your world will become saturated with others’ opinions of you and your work, so get used to it sometimes being harsh.
It’s invaluable to get others’ opinions of your work, and it’s doubly valuable when coming from people who practice the same craft as you do.
Let It Happen
If you’re getting frustrated with your writing, you should just know that you will develop a style eventually. Just let it happen.
Know that if you work hard, never lose your passion, it will happen. Keep taking risks and trusting your gut. You’re reading this (presumably) because you’re a writer who wants to better their craft. That, and hard work, is enough.