12 Ways to Write with Style
By: Glen Binger
Ha! Did I get you? Did you fall for it? Are you here for a listicle of condensed information that you may or may not be able to utilize for your aspiring writing career? 12 measly sentence fragments that can improve your style?
Well, too bad. This article isn’t for you. And there’s no way I can condense that amount of information into 12 bullet points. This article is for those whose writing juice is not from concentrate. They prefer fresh-squeezed, maybe with a little Absolut too. Their voice is sometimes pulpy, but they’ll find it eventually.
Or maybe they won’t.
Yes, writing is something else. It has many different connotations for many different people. There are hordes of contrastive genres and methods and every single one of them has rules or guidelines you’re supposed to follow. If you ask my students about it, they’ll be sure to moan and groan. And if you ask the professionals about it, you’ll get a similar response.
Writing isn’t easy. Writing well is even more painful. And writing with style? Finding your voice? C’mon man. No way. That takes years. Who has that kind of time? Forget about it. Really. Give up.
Chances are, you can’t. I’m sure that’s why you’re still reading. I wouldn’t have listened to me either. Something about writing clicks for you and helps you process the world around you. It helps you feel better, see clearer, think in the most optimum of conditions. It might even provide a little sense of accomplishment – maybe it’s just how your brain works.
Either way, you’re like me. And you’re like hundreds of millions of others – a community so large that an entire industry, spanning centuries and generations, has built up around it. Our world is pre-programmed with words and language, and sometimes numbers, and the only way we can process it all is to write.
Language is the proof of our human evolution.
So how do we stand out amongst the crowd? How do we rise above those who are only in it for the money? The fame? The fortune?
Style. Voice. A sense of self.
“I guess coming to terms with why I keep writing at all. The more you get into it, the more you realize that even success feels like shouting into a void, so how do you deal with that and stay sane?”
– Joshua Isard, author of Conquistador of the Useless.
Write for yourself, first and foremost. Creativity stems from the heart and the mind. If you’re skipping over that then I can guarantee you that your product will never truly satisfy you. It might for your publisher or your editor; hell; it might even make you a few bucks. But it won’t make you feel the way Vonnegut did after Cat’s Cradle or Hemmingway after The Old Man and The Sea. Or Coelho after The Alchemist.
Yes, it will take time and it will feel like you are shouting into nothingness. But don’t let it stop you. Don’t let that keep you from finding yourself. Don’t do what everyone else is doing to “find success.”
The last thing you should be doing is trying to imitate someone else. Finding your voice and your style is part of the same tree. By studying “the game” to see what other authors are doing and how they’re making money, you’re misusing valuable creation time.
Please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. I am NOT saying that you should stop reading books to find inspiration and direction. You HAVE to do that. In fact, anytime you AREN’T writing you should be reading. As Stephen King said in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”
Writing is hard. Writing about writing is even harder. The former is a skill that we’re all taught in school, but not everyone masters – even though we all use it nearly everyday.
“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.”
– Stephen King, author of On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.
There’s some lexicon buzzing around the literary community recently that needs to be put into place. “Branding,” “Marketing,” and “Clickbait” are a few that come to mind.
To me, these terms and those thereof, have derailed linguistic and artistic expression. They are killing all sense of style. Somehow they bled over from startup business models into aspiring authorial endeavors. In all the podcasts and articles churned out in this open-sourced digital age, the advice is always the same: “build a brand” or “find your platform.”
These terms are being slung around as if they were the Craps centerpiece. Nearly every forum I’ve encountered recently mentions building a ‘platform’ or an ‘audience’ through various social medias while optimizing reader networks.
What the hell? Since when did #amwriting turn into #ampromoting?
I get it. I realize that traditional publishers have taken ten [thousand] steps back in this regard, and I realize that traveling down the self-publishing route has its pros and cons (one of which is the marketing). But since when does the act of promotion become more important than the act of creation? Don’t writers see what it’s doing to the industry? To the craft?
It is choking the integrity of authors everywhere. It is brainwashing countless writers into selling out; into conforming to the new industry. It is smothering style.
There aren’t enough words worth reading if you don’t appeal to your audience. Be sure you use the proper amount of hashtags – no more than 3. Make sure you link to your website in your Twitter bio. Don’t use an unprofessional thumbnail photo. Remember to space out your Instagram posts.
… yet here I am, left wondering if my reader will understand my millennial-soaked idioms.
I am not saying that the act of self-promoting is something you shouldn’t do. All I’m saying is that you shouldn’t sacrifice your focus of what you really signed up for. And that’s to write. Right?
We all dream of getting Huffington Post big. We want to end up like J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, and James Patterson. (Okay – maybe not Patterson…) Hell, we’d even settle for Kurt Vonnegut or Junot Diaz. We want our story on the cover. I do too.
But when you get there, remember what it was like to open a New York Times bestseller and say, “That was awful” upon finishing the first chapter. Agents are expensive for a reason.
“Don’t get too caught up with branding, look more to the unorthodox. Branding takes far too much time away from actually writing. It’s a writer’s trap. It’s funny really, how you can buy your brand in fake followers and likes. A false hope that if someone has a ‘large platform’ it will help them to achieve something other an addiction to procrastination.”
– Roach Adams, writer at Animals of Progress.
If you are catering your art to meet industry standards, it is no longer art. It is a business. By turning your name into a ‘brand,’ you are crossing that threshold. You are relinquishing the notion of innovation and focusing your efforts on financial gain. A brand’s purpose is to make money. That is the industry. Publishing on a global scale. And if that’s what you’re going for, then fine. Just don’t sit there and tell me you’re an artist.
Producing clickbait does not make you a writer.
“Books come from the soul. Experiences lead to expression… the human condition.”
This is a dying art in the current literary lights. Don’t fall into it. Don’t tumble into the struggle of whether or not to focus on the writing or the branding. It distracts us from the skill, the love, the passion of creation, the labor of tying words together in knots. Remember why and how you fell in love with the craft.
True, honest writing comes from the soul – to repeat Paulo’s message. Artistic expression (whether it’s using words, paint, pixels, or clay) is an extension of the human condition.
Write about what moves you, what keeps you up at night. Write what you know needs to be heard. Progress the idea of the human condition. Contribute your ambiguity. Share your experience. Chances are that it hasn’t been done yet. That is your style.
Your readers aren’t dumb. Let them discover and exercise their imaginations the same way you do while writing. The rest will come in due time. You just have to keep grinding. Don’t see it as a “get-rich-quick” scheme, because it’s not. It never will be.
Writing is a means to understanding. It is a method of expression; a form of communication. It should bring you a sense pride – a breath of life. It is something to accomplish, a therapeutic meditation. It is mindfulness in itself. It takes practice (a lot of it!). It takes motivation (a lot of that too!). You have to find your method, your voice and style. That is what builds audience. That is how you brand yourself. Marketing comes afterwards. Look at Stephen King. He’s done this SO well that he’s got to use a pen-name anytime he wants to step outside of his horror genre limitations.
So the point of all this?
Probably: don’t ever let anyone tell you how to write. Find your own style. All the advice you’ve ever read is bullshit. Don’t listen to anything I just said. Because I sure as hell haven’t figured it out yet either.
Just get started and check out some other ways to get over your writer’s block.