There’s something amazing that happens when we read.
The more we do it, the wider our eyes open to the infinite possibilities of storytelling.
Something that happens when you’re first testing out what you can do is a writer is a form of copying. You mimic the way other writers structure and carry out their stories. It’s not a bad thing at all: you have to learn how other people do something before you can create your own way of getting it done. If that means writing in the same voice as your favorite author, well, it’s a necessary starting point.
Many writers do eventually grow out of this style-mimicking phase. It becomes easier the more writers’ works you read. But some writers struggle to break free of it. They read something written by an experienced writer they admire, and – without realizing it, usually – write their stories in a very similar way.
It happens because it’s comfortable. It also happens because it’s easy to believe that one style of writing is the style you need to write in if you want to be successful.
That’s not the case, of course. But even John Green fell into this trap. You know, John Green, of TFIOS, Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska fame.
He addressed this very concept – this phase of writing stories the way other people write stories – in his talk with Ransom Riggs (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children) at VidCon this past June.
You’re welcome to watch the video in its entirety – it’s an interesting 45-minute discussion about writing and creating things, failure and success – but the part I will discuss further below starts around 24:30.
Green recalls: “This writing professor invited me over to his house, and he said, ‘You know … you’re trying to sound like a writer. You’re writing the way that you think writers write. If you could just write the way you tell stories … you would be much better.'”
The way you tell stories is the way you tell stories – think of all those times you’ve sat down with your friend or called someone on the phone and launched into a story about something that just recently happened to you. What kind of language do you use? How do things flow together? Aside from the likes and umms, the backtracking to fill in the gaps you missed, the dangling conclusions, that should give you an idea of how you structure stories. And in terms of writing itself, there’s a pretty easy way to figure out, at least in part, your style, language and voice.
It’s my favorite kind of writing. The kind where you open to a blank document on your laptop and just start typing. We write so many stories no one ever sees because we have to practice. We have to let ourselves write our way into a flow state, and stop worrying about whether or not the sentences sound good or the language is colorful enough or the metaphors pop.
That all comes naturally, eventually. But you can’t write well, in your own style, until you give yourself permission to write even when it’s bad. Because every good story starts from nothing, and suffers from plot holes and flat MCs and chapters that don’t fit together. You don’t have to sound like a writer. But you do have to sound like you.
Write the way YOU tell stories. There really is no right or wrong when it comes to voice and style. Wouldn’t you rather be unique and memorable in the way you write your stories, instead of trying to write like everyone else? You’re trying to stand out, after all.
We all gather small bits and pieces of other writers’ methods and styles as we’re forming our own, but from that we’re creating something original. The idea is to create something new, not copy something someone else has already done. Eventually, you stop falling into the habit of using the same voice other writers use, and stick to your own.
All new writers struggle to “find their voice” and figure out their own style. The best thing you can do for yourself is write your way to both things. It sort of just appears, perhaps gradually, but it comes to you, and once it’s there, it’s yours to keep and hold close forever.
You are unique. Every writer is. Don’t worry about whether what you’re writing is good or bad. Focus on whether or not it’s truly yours. The rest will come together in time, as long as you keep writing.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.
Image courtesy of VidCon.