Your Style Is Good Enough
By Evan Braun
Have you ever finished reading a really great book—perhaps a classic, perhaps something written by your favourite author—and immediately felt energized to start doing some writing of your own? Maybe there’s a project you gave up on a while ago, or it’s something that has been languishing while “real life” got in the way.
In any event, you are feeling inspired and want to take full advantage of this burst of motivation. Nothing wrong with this!
But there is a side effect of a scenario like this one to keep your eye on. It’s possible that while you still have that other author’s voice in your head, which is a voice you love and one you respond to, you may start to subtly emulate it.
You might not even be aware you’re doing it.
Authors who don’t have a confident grasp on their own personal style of writing may be especially prone to this. They may not trust their own instincts. They may not feel their own choice of words “sounds” quite right.
In short, they don’t think their own voice is good enough to tell the story. And the result is that they appropriate someone else’s voice. After all, no one writes like Charles Dickens, J.R.R. Tolkien, or Margaret Atwood… so why not try to sound more like them?
Obviously, there is some logic to that. We study good writing to become better writers, and so it’s natural that we will, in the process of careful examination of great writing, take on certain qualities of others.
Let me assure you that this isn’t a problem, per se. A lot of writing techniques used by the greats are fundamental.
That said, everyone has their own quirks, both quirks of storytelling and unique turns of phrase. Think of it like your writerly signature. If your authorial voice is strong, then there’s a good chance that someone who knows you could pick up an anonymous piece of writing and correctly deduce that you wrote it. It just has that particular sound that is uniquely yours.
Every writer—every human, really—has this unique sense of style.
Unfortunately, when we don’t think we’re good enough, we may try to disguise our voice. Think of your voice like the beat-up antique hardwood floor in an old house. At some point, somebody moved in and decided to install linoleum over it.
Then someone else moved in, and maybe someone else after that, and eventually an enterprising new homeowner decided to do some remodelling, pulled up that peeling, discoloured linoleum, and discovered the beautiful hardwood that was there all along.
And no doubt they wondered, “Why on earth would anyone have wanted to cover this up?”
It’s a great question. Why would you?
Well, at the time that original hardwood seemed inadequate and unpolished when compared to those incredible homes in that shiny new subdivision right across the street.
The truth is that we do ourselves a disservice when we try to emulate other authors to the point that it subsumes all the powerful writing gifts we ourselves bring to the table.
Here’s the thing. Tolkien and Atwood and Dickens have written some amazing books, and they’re masters for a reason. Although they couldn’t have written the same book you’re labouring over right now. Or rather, they could have written the same story, but it wouldn’t have turned out quite like your version.
The key is to recognize and develop your own style. Yes, you’ll learn the fundamental techniques that make the greats so great, and you’ll gradually incorporate those techniques into your writing. But your style will still be uniquely yours.
So don’t try to sound all high and mighty. You don’t need to use fancy words that you wouldn’t ever think of using in real life. Or, alternatively, maybe you don’t have to water things down or keep things unnecessarily simple.
You’ll learn the fundamentals, yes, and gradually get better as you hone your skills. And everything that still remains? That’s you. Never run away from you. Recognize, embrace, and be proud of it! That’s the voice your reader wants—not your best approximation of someone else.
Believe me, your style is good enough. You may just need some time to figure out what exactly your style is.
Did you enjoy this post? You may also appreciate Finding Your Voice.
About this Contributor:
Evan Braun is a full-time author and editor. He has authored three novels, the first of which, The Book of Creation, was shortlisted in two categories at the 2012 Word Awards. He has released two sequels, The City of Darkness (2013) and The Law of Radiance (2015), completing the series. Braun is an experienced professional editor, and has worked with Word Alive Press authors since 2006. He is also a regular contributor at The Fictorians, a popular writing blog.