Any writer will know that finding a style that sounds fresh but also feels genuine is not always an easy task. You don’t want to labor over something that should come naturally, but you also don’t want to fall into a derivative style that you accidentally picked up from a cultural icon like Ernest Hemingway or Toni Morrison.
As a writer, you should have many styles at your fingertips and be able to shift between them depending on the demands of the project. Some writers even explore different styles within one piece of writing. The main things are to be clear about what you are trying to accomplish and to know your limits. Here are some tips for getting started.
Know your genre
This doesn’t mean that your style must mirror that of every other writer in your genre (and of course, they won’t all have the same style anyway), but understanding the expectations of your intended audience is important in determining how you will approach the task at hand. Understanding the conventions of your genre is a handy first step. Of course, you can buck convention if that is your wish, but you will have to have a thorough knowledge of what the conventions are in order to do so.
Don’t overthink it
Yes, you should know where you are starting from, but if you hover over yourself the whole way, you’ll never get into the groove of your authentic style. Let yourself go a little, and see what comes out. Don’t worry too much about minor details and inconsistencies—those can always be ironed out later when you start working with editors and other contributors, but for your first draft, try to loosen up and see if you like the outcome.
Know your limits
It’s important to know your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. You may recognize and admire another author’s style, but when trying to emulate it, find that you come up empty. Of course, emulating anther’s style should be avoided at the best of times, but the point is that one writer’s strength may be another’s weakness.
Over time, you should become familiar with what you do best, and carve out a path for yourself in accordance with those parameters. This is not to say that you shouldn’t challenge yourself, but always make sure that you’re not forcing yourself into something dishonest. If it doesn’t feel right to you, chances are, it won’t to your reader.
Robin Field holds a BA in English and Linguistics from the University of Cape Town where she is currently working toward her Master’s degree in Linguistics with a focus on gender and game studies.