I used to not be able to read a book and write my own stories at the same time.
Unintentionally, my words and phrases would start to sound a lot like that published author’s words and phrases, paragraph structures looked oddly similar to those I’d just read several minutes before. The way I described things, characters’ inner dialogue; it was like I was copying someone else’s style without even trying or meaning to.
I could always tell it was happening the second it started, but could never figure out how to make it stop.
I’m not sure if any other less experienced writers have dealt with this, but I do know there wasn’t just one day where I could suddenly maintain my own style while deep in a work written by someone else. Establishing your own style and finding your writing voice isn’t hard. What’s difficult is strengthening it, so it can hold its own when up against different styles.
We’ll talk more later about how to refine and strengthen your voice. Before we get there, you first need to learn where your unique style comes from, and then, how to find it.
What influences our individual writing styles?
Many factors end up influencing the way we write. It depends on what we read, who we interact with, what our interests are. I read a lot of Meg Cabot when I was younger (still do) so if you look really hard you can find a little bit of her style embedded in mine (especially my very early blog posts).
There comes a point where we stop copying others’ styles and use the parts of their styles we really like to build our own. Granted, it has taken me years to define and refine my own style. I was a huge reader and had a huge group of friends when I was a teenager (that made me sound a lot older than I am). I was an early, circa 2008 Nerdfighter. But there’s a lot that fed into the way I started writing things and the things I started writing about, and I’m still building. Maybe I’ll go more in-depth on the details at a later date (if you’re interested).
How do you know you’re writing in your own style and not someone else’s?
This is actually a lot simpler than you might think. Ready? Close your eyes. No, really. Sit in front of a blank document with your eyes closed for a few seconds (or longer). Think about what you want to write about. It could be anything. Get a general idea in your head of where you want to start writing, maybe an idea of what you want your first line to be.
Open your eyes, position your hands on the keys and just start writing. Don’t even let yourself think about structure or spelling or any sort of technique. Just write what comes to you, in whatever way makes sense without too much thought.
Write enough to give yourself something to read back to yourself with substance, a few paragraphs, maybe even a page. What you’ve written just now in this stream-of-consciousness format is written in your voice. The way you phrase things, the words and metaphors you use, the way it sounds when you read it aloud, THAT is your voice.
Sure, it might not sound like your favorite author’s words sound when you read them aloud. That doesn’t mean what you’ve written isn’t good. Your voice is your voice, and the more time you spend allowing yourself to write in that voice, the more natural it will become.
Next comes practicing and refining that style. But what’s important right now is finding that inner voice and embracing it. Because our voice is literally an outward reflection of who we are, we’re not always going to like how it sounds. But we learn to. Eventually, we learn to let it shape our words, so we can tell better stories.
Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.
Meg is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine, a guest contributor with Lifehack and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. She is an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner and has also written for Teen Ink and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.