Finding our style


Maureen McMahon


When we first begin to write creatively, we are like little children. There are no rules, no barriers. We dabble with words, filling scraps of paper with them, putting odd phrases together. Our writing is play – for our eyes only. We know what we mean. We know what we are thinking when we write. We can go back ten years later and still know what we meant, even though no one else would. This “child” stage of creative writing is where most people remain. It is only those who wish to share writing with others who will have any need or desire to advance beyond creative writing childhood.

The second stage of a creative writing career usually arrives when you make the decision to share your writing with others. Often it’s when you first join a creative writing group or class. You front up armed with a piece of your soul, certain that you have a most vital contribution. You listen to others read their work and slowly your confidence droops until, when it’s your turn to read, you lose your nerve and hastily apologize for not having brought anything. You’re simply too embarrassed to read what you now feel is not good enough.

This is the point that will either make or break you. Many writers become discouraged. All this time you’ve led yourself to believe that your work was great. Now you’re faced with the possibility that in the eyes of the world, you’re still a ‘child’ writer. Hopefully though, for most of us, this is the beginning of stage two: development of style. There is no end to stage two. Style development can go on forever. This is good because development is growth.

It’s important to know that everyone has his or her own style. We are born with it. Just as each of us perceives the world and everything in it in our own individual way, so too do we relate that perception. Our style is like our writing fingerprint – no two are ever the same. During stage two of your writing development, it is important to know that you cannot steal someone else’s style. No matter how hard you may try to write ‘like’ someone, you’ll never succeed, for your thoughts, and thought processes, are different, and cannot be copied.

After the first rude discovery that your writing is not perfect, you will begin to open your eyes and look at what the world perceives as ‘good writing’. You’ll begin to read more analytically. Hopefully you’ll not just say “That was a great story!”, but will ask yourself “What made it a great story?” In this way you’ll begin to polish your style. (For remember, you’ve had your own style from the start, even though it may have been raw.)

When you attend class, now, you don’t listen with a sinking heart thinking, “I’ll never be able to write like that!” Instead you listen and think, “That was well done. What made it work?” During this time it is helpful to keep notes on what sorts of things we see as signs of good writing. For instance:

- The first sentence is short and sweet.

- There is action in the first paragraph.

- Dialogue is quick and to the point.

- There is a minimum of description.

All the things you find in other peoples’ writing can help you to polish your own style and make it successful.

Never be afraid to ‘try out’ styles. This is important for your development as a creative writer. Stage two of your writing is an evolutionary stage. Even famous writers, if they have not allowed themselves to become pigeonholed, continue to allow their style to evolve. There will always be the signature – the fingerprint. That is the heart of each person’s style. But the presentation of that style can, and should, go through many transformations.

Here are some tips for developing your style:


- Read, read, read! Expose yourself to new tricks and tools.

- Analyze what you read. Why did or didn’t it work for you?

- Compare what you have read with your own work. Can you change your work by using some of the tools you have found that others use?

- Write, write, write! Practice makes perfect.

- Choose your best pieces and rewrite them until they are polished. Keep your original. It makes it less traumatic to edit if you know you still have the original.

- Don’t become discouraged. What you perceive as ‘not good enough’ is only your perception. Others will view it differently.

- Never stop striving to develop. Growth comes from awareness.

- Don’t allow others’ opinions to sway you. Write the way you feel happiest and most at ease.

- Let the child in you come out to play once in a while. All work and no play…etc. In other words, spend time just writing for yourself.

- And most important, remember that everything you write is worthwhile, in some way or another.

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