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Writing Voice and Style

Rob Parnell

A writer asked me a question this week about writing style.

He thanked me for a couple of the courses he'd taken but thought he needed extra instruction on prose style and finding his unique voice.

To be honest I was a little flummoxed as to how to respond.

My belief is that style is one of those things you can't really teach.

Yes, you can correct stylistic errors. Yes, you can make suggestions as to how to structure writing for best effect. But ultimately your own writing style is entirely dictated by a set of (sometimes unconscious) decisions you, the individual writer, make throughout your career.

It's like playing an instrument. You learn the basics - where all the notes are and how to play them in the right order. You practice daily until your technique is fluid. But as some point, your style dictates your interpretation of a musical piece.

And if you kept asking, say, Eric Clapton or Slash how to play something better, you're only ever going to end up sounding like them. 

Being a musician is not about copying other people's technique - not forever anyway. It's about gaining enough confidence to step out and play like yourself.

The same is true of writing. 

You may want to copy other writers for a while - because you're impressed by the way they create atmosphere or by the way they can effect their readers. But there comes a point when you need to focus on your own unique talents - and hone your own style into something that is recognizably YOU.

This is something you can't really teach - because it requires work on the part of the writer.

The best way to acquire - if that's the right word - a writing style and unique voice is simply to write more. Your mind will show you the way. Once you know all the tricks and tips and techniques that other writers can offer you, then you need to stop relying on those other writers to inspire you.

Luckily this happens naturally to writers. The act of writing every day eventually takes over - and sets off an inevitable chain of events whereby you 'find' your own writing style - not by consciously creating it, but by allowing the way your mind works to shape the way in which you relate ideas, concepts and information through words. 

It's about trust.

You need to trust your subconscious mind - the source of all your potential creativity.

You have a unique voice already just because you're you.

That's your advantage over every other writer.

The only person who can get inside your mind is you - and only you can truly express yourself in your own way.

Constantly hoping that you'll be able to learn a style is to misunderstand what writing style is. Style is your personal means of expression. 

It's the reason why Eric and Slash sound like different guitarists. 

I mean, why would you buy one guitarist's music over another if they all tried to sound the same?

Isn't the same true of writers? Why would you buy a book by a certain author over another if everyone aspired to write the same way?

There's no such thing as the perfect style. Only a myriad of individual voices - some good, some bad, some great - that populate the universe. Just as it should be.

It's like the very old joke about getting to Carnegie Hall. There's only one way. Practice, practice, practice.

Without constant practice, the musician can only ever aspire to being an audience member. With constant practice, the musician can hope for more - the chance to perform and give pleasure.

The same is true of writing.

Without practice, you remain derivative - and can only hope to be the best reader in the world. 

But with constant, daily, practice, your writing begins to take on a life of its own. Your confidence begins to shine through. Your technique improves immeasurably and your own unique voice gets stronger and more apparent.

I always tell new writers not to worry about their voice and their individual style. It's not something you can force.

It's something that solidifies the more you write.

It's often not apparent to you - and perhaps is all the more powerful when it's not!

Because when you become self conscious about your style, then that will become apparent to your reader. 

You best writing style is unique, recognizable, but essentially invisible.

Till next week,

Keep writing!

Rob at Home
Your Success is My Concern
Rob Parnell's Easy Way to Write


"Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree."
Martin Luther King

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Article: "Can You Be Too Old to Write?"
Writer's Quote by Nathaniel Bentley

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