Guest post by Doug Schwartz
Wait a minute … why wouldn’t people know how to write like themselves? Do you know how to write like yourself? Be honest. How familiar are you with your own style of writing? Do you know it well enough to instruct someone how to write in your style?
I was recently introduced to Katherine Luck’s How to Write Like… blog. Soon after reading a few of the posts, I questioned my own writing style. I asked Katherine if I could write a guest blog entitled “How to Write Like Yourself.” The concept fascinates me. How could someone objectively deconstruct their own style of writing? We write what we know, but do we really know how we write?
Once Upon a Time
We are introduced to stories at an early age. We learn that stories are all around us in a variety of forms, like picture books, newscasts, or sitcoms. Around this time, we learn to read and write. Then, at some point, the storyteller in us emerges and the itch to share our own stories nags at us. For those daring enough to encounter our inner-author, we begin to find our own writing voice. The foundation of our style begins with the awakening of that inner-author.
Inspiration can originate from anyplace. After listening to another storyteller, maybe you thought, “I like this person’s stories. I bet I could do that.” Maybe you discovered a particular book or author that created fond memories. Maybe you awoke from a deep sleep filled with fantastic dreams. Or maybe an impactful experience motivated you to educate others on the injustice of the situation. Whatever the inspiration, the author in you awoke and had one or more stories to tell. Before putting pen to paper, or fingers to keys, these experiences start shaping the writing voice that will speak one day.
Through the Looking Glass
When figuratively looking at our own writing in the mirror, we don’t always view it clearly. Sure, we see strings of words and know what we meant to say, even when we don’t say it well. Whether or not we finish what we started, our opinion of our own writing may range from thinking it’s the most masterful collection of words ever assembled to believing it’s a mountain of steaming excrement so horrendous we should probably go slam our fingers in a door and never write again. Our mood might sway our opinion. Most likely, what we wrote was nowhere near that good or that bad. And mood is only one factor that can impact your style of writing.
The next time you sit down to write, consider the other external factors that might impact the way you write. What time of day do you write? How are you feeling when you sit down to write? Do you have a large window of time for writing, or do you write in short bursts whenever you find the time? Are you easily distracted or deeply immersed? Often, when I write before breakfast, I tend to slip an element of food into my stories.
Our writing habits impact our writing styles. People who read a lot might develop a more colorful writing language, while those who stick with what they know might produce more simple stories. Writers who work off an outline may provide more structure to their stories, or may create a story that sounds forced. On the other hand, writers who write more free-form may produce very imaginative works, or something that comes off as rambling or even sloppy.
How do your writing habits and environment impact your writing? When holding our writing to a mirror, it’s not always easy to objectively see what is right in front of us.
In the animated Chuck Jones version of The Cat in the Hat (not the creepy, live-action version, or the original illustrated children’s book) the Cat tries to locate something by figuring out where it isn’t. To better understand what goes into your style, you might consider what your style avoids. Have you ever tried writing something outside your comfort zone? If you write horror, you could try writing romance. Do you prefer fantasy? Why not try your hand at historical fiction, or maybe even science fiction?
Understanding why you avoid writing certain genres may highlight areas of improvement, or may explain what aspects of writing you don’t enjoy. Maybe you don’t write historical or science fiction because you don’t enjoy research. Maybe you don’t write romance because you struggle with writing characters in emotional circumstances. You can use what you avoid writing to either figure out areas that need more work, or to build a better appreciation for what does go into your writing.
One of the most difficult hurdles to overcome as a writer is sharing your stories with other people and learning how to handle their response. If you write for yourself, then your style of writing is whatever suits you best. When you make your writing public and someone challenges your style, you can either improve as a writer or you can become set in your ways. Criticism from other people is a strong tool for shaping your style of writing, depending on how you choose to use it.
Feedback can be subjective, but the constructive bits can make you a stronger storyteller. There are strict guidelines when it comes to grammar, spelling, and punctuation. The more subjective suggestions offer ways to improve, yet still allow the writer the freedom to tweak the work while holding true to their own tastes and style. Just because you learn to tell a story in a better way does not mean you must abandon your writing style. In fact, it can help bring it more substance.
If you are inspired by another author, reach out to readers familiar with that author’s work and ask them what it is they like and dislike about that other author’s work. Their opinions may also shape your style. Imitation may be a form of flattery, but the intention isn’t to impress the original but to complement it. Work inspired by another may attract readers who also appreciate your original work. Let that other author be an inspirational guide, but use your own voice to make your work stand on its own.
Why Imitate Yourself?
You are the original you! So, why imitate yourself?
There are benefits to understanding the factors that go into developing your own writing style. For one, being more aware of your writing habits, excuses, mentors, inspirations, and so forth help you grow as a writer. Your goal is to improve areas where your writing is weak, understand how your mood impacts your stories, and realize when feedback from peers is not adequate and you need to seek fresher minds elsewhere. It’s also a good idea to reflect on how far you have come as a writer and where you still may need to go.
Another benefit to understanding your writing style can be seen when you present your stories to the public. When you tell someone you have written a story, whether it is short fiction or a trilogy of novels, it is one thing to summarize the plot, but it is another to connect with someone about what they enjoy reading and why they might enjoy your work. It’s okay that not everyone is going to appreciate your style. You may use rich, colorful language, but some readers may want something simple and easy. Or you may write lighter works, but some readers want to be challenged. The more you know your own style, the more you will know which readers to pursue and which may not be a good fit.
Who knows? You might inspire someone with your style. When that happens, you can teach them how to write like yourself.
Doug Schwartz helps Keep Austin Weird with his light, whimsical fiction. He heads a local peer writing group at Wells Branch Library, where he is also an at-large board member of the Friends of Library. One day, he hopes to find balance between his day job (currently as a QA Engineer) and his passions for writing fiction and designing tabletop games. May the Schwartz be with you at checkeredscissors.com.