Lots of people are very worried about developing a unique writing style. They want to do it in both their creative writing and their essays for school and uni. So, they fret about it way too much. They spend their time thinking about unique or interesting ways to say everything in their work. Eventually, it consumes them so much that it drives the fun out of writing. That makes them give up.
I get it, though. We all want to be recognised for the way we write. That is the true mark that we have a unique style that no one else could copy perfectly. Or, if they do copy it, they’re making a statement! Of course, that’s easier for older writers like Shakespeare. After all, he speaks a whole different kind of English!
But how can you make the way you write sound unique? How can you do it in a way that you can keep up in the long term? Well, there are lots of different things you can do. The important thing is not to force it! A forced style is never going to sound the way you want it to.
Try out the tips below to help you develop a writing style that sticks!
Stop Trying to Make Your Writing Style Too Different
First of all, I want you to do me a favour: stop trying to be unique with your writing style. Trust me. People are going to notice how forced it sounds. That’s never going to make them want to read your work.
You don’t want to sound like you come from a different planet when you’re writing or talking. Well, unless you want to sound like Yoda for an effect, of course.
It just sounds like you’re more concerned with sounding different than with telling a good story. That’s not a reputation you want for yourself or your writing. It doesn’t work out for you well in the long run.
What you want it to seem like is that your story and the message you’re trying to convey are the most important parts of your writing. You should use everything else as a tool to help you to do those two things well.
That’s how you tell a story that people want to read. You don’t do it by wondering how you can sound like you’re not like other writers.
Plus, it’s also really hard to maintain over time. If you’re forcing the way you write, there will be random slip-ups that you won’t even notice. Those slip-ups won’t sound good because you won’t have done them on purpose. So, the chances of accidentally slipping up at the perfect moment to make a statement are next to 0. That would just be dumb luck.
So, be patient with yourself. Don’t force it. Don’t rush. I promise you that you’re already developing a writing style without even knowing it. Embrace that and keep writing.
Like almost everything in life, writing is a skill that you develop over time. Sure, you might feel like you have a natural gift. However, a gift is only going to take you so far. You’ve got to work at it to grow and hone your craft. Otherwise, natural talent quickly gets lost behind people who work hard, keep trying and study writing.
The good thing about writing regularly is that you slowly develop your own style. Over time, you settle into a way of showing your thoughts and ideas. It will be unique to you because who you are as a writer will slowly shine through.
To be honest, that’s true of anything you practice regularly. It takes some time to get over the phase where you have to consciously practice the skill. After some time, you’ll do the skill without thinking a whole lot. That’s when you get the chance to make it your own. You’ll put your own stamp onto it.
You might even notice it with something as simple as walking. I know I can tell who’s coming up the stairs by the sound of their footsteps: how heavy they are, how quickly the person moves, the gait… a bunch of reasons. I’m sure I’m not the only one who can tell that.
We all have a way of walking that’s unique to us. At face value, it seems like you’re just putting one foot in front of the other. There’s so much more to it than that, though. Once we walk enough, we find out what feels comfortable for us.
The same is true for our writing. You can’t develop a writing style if you don’t try enough. So, practice now. Practice every day – if you can! That’s how your style will come out.
Be True to Yourself
“Be true to yourself” sounds so damn cliché! It’s a little bit cringe, too. It sounds like the kind of thing you’d see on a booker’s Facebook profile. That doesn’t mean there’s no truth to it, though.
There’s no point in trying to copy another writer’s style. You’ll never do it as well as they will. If you try to copy them, you’ll end up seeming like a cheap imitation.
Sure, you might do an idea better than them. That doesn’t mean you’ll be able to sound like they do, though. You can’t bottle up their personality and pour it over your story. It just won’t work.
Of course, we all take inspiration from the writers we read – both consciously and subconsciously. That is something we can’t avoid. We see things we like, and that makes us want to create something similar. However, we put our own spin on it. We don’t copy it exactly. Plus, the things we’re inspired by are personal to us, too.
When developing your own writing style, don’t try to be like anyone but yourself. After all, it’s not your own style if you’re copying it! Instead, appreciate that works for other writers and why it seems so great. Then, move on.
The best styles come from authenticity. They’re special because they sound like someone unique speaking to you through the words on the page.
Learn All the Grammar Rules
Lots of writers try to break rules that they don’t fully understand yet.
It’s because they see other, more experienced writers do it. They see that the writers they look up to know when to stick to the rules and when to break them. So, of course, they want to do the same.
However, in order to break the rules properly, you have to know what the rules are and how they impact the reader.
Lots of writers break grammar rules. When they do, their work sounds amazing! Why? Because they understand the answers to a few questions:
- How do you write the “correct” version of the grammar?
- What does the “correct” grammar say to the reader?
- Why are you breaking the rule?
- What does the broken rule say to the reader?
If you don’t have proper answers to all of those questions, it’s going to fall really flat if you ignore the grammar rule.
Take an artist, for example. Before they develop their own style, they tend to learn about important things like proportions, colour theory, shading, perspective and lots of other important ideas. They make sure they understand how these rules create meaning in art. Then – and only then – can they break rules for effect.
If it’s not done for effect, it just seems like a mistake.
As a writer, one of the things you need to understand properly is grammar. Learn the rules to break them. Otherwise, you don’t have a unique writing style on your hands. You just have some clumsy ramblings.
If you want to become a grammar expert, my other website, Shani’s Tutoring, can help you.
Learn the Conventions of Your Genre
Just like with grammar rules, it is important that you understand the conventions of your chosen genre(s).
Pretty soon, I am going to write a whole blog post on why cliché story parodies just don’t work. I’m going to explain why I’ve never read a story that uses a Mary-Sue on purpose and is actually good. Why? Because the writers who try to create these stories never really understand the conventions of the genres they are working in.
I mean, let’s be honest: most writers who say “it’s just a parody” are using that as an excuse. It’s a defence mechanism for people with huge egos who can’t admit when their writing needs work. So, when they get criticism, they jump down your throats and pretend it’s a joke. That’s not just true with writers, either.
Damn, I wish they read my blog post on why it’s so important to take criticism.
But let’s be honest here. You need to lean about genre conventions for the same reason you need to learn grammar. You learn the rules so you can break them with confidence. That way, you can explain exactly what you’re doing and why. It doesn’t seem like a mistake.
Genre conventions aren’t there to limit you. You don’t have to stick to them. Of course, you need to follow enough that people can recognise your story as part of that genre. However, it’s up to you which ones you choose to use and which ones you discard.
While your genre might not be part of your writing style, the two will naturally go hand-in-hand. You will want to match your language to the type of story you’re telling. So, think carefully about genre conventions. Check which ones you want to break.
Read Stories by Many Different Writers
I can always tell when someone obsessively reads one writer. It rubs off on their own writing in so many ways.
When someone only reads Skulduggery Pleasant, for example, they think they can write dialogue full of witty, self-deprecating one-liners like Derek Landy. They do that thing I was talking about: their writing style just becomes a dollar-store version of his.
Instead of finding their own unique ways of being funny, they end up becoming a cheap imitation of a writer they love.
You can see it happen with real-life speech, too.
Have you ever spent so much time with someone that you end up sounding like them? You use some of their usual phrases, and they use some of yours. You might catch yourself using a word you don’t usually word just because they do!
Well, the same thing happens when you read the same writer all the time. You just absorb their writing style. The only difference is that this is a one-way conversation. They don’t know you’re reading their book and you’re not rubbing off on them.
The best way to stop this from happening is to read lots of different writers.
Each writer should have their own writing style that you can learn from. That way, your inspiration comes from many places.
Just to be safe, I really recommend that you read lots of different genres, too. Some genres (like fantasy) have one or two main “parents” of the genre that all other writers look up to. I’m thinking of Tolkien, here. You might end up copying from copies if you aren’t careful.
We know that this doesn’t work for artists. It makes their work look strange and disproportionate. That’s why people always tell artists to draw from life. Do the same with your stories.
Consider What Writing Style Suits Your Genre and Message
As I said before, genre is not part of your writing style. However, every good writer thinks about how their chosen genre will affect the language they use. Naturally, that is going to have a huge impact on your style.
The same is true with the message and tone of your story. If I’m telling a sad story with a depressing message, I probably don’t want to use lots of happy language. Well, you might want to, actually. You’ve just got to know how that contrast is going to make the reader feel and make sure that’s the feeling you’re going for.
Of course, most writers have a clear writing style. You can notice it over many different texts. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t tweak it for the story they’re telling! It would be ridiculous if they didn’t!
It’s kinda like listening to a band whose music all sounds the same. I’m thinking of the band that wrote the sounds for Attack on Titan right now. All of the openings are absolute bangers, but sometimes I can’t tell which one I’m listening to. They’re all very similar.
That works for some writers and artists out there. However, for most of us, our readers will get very bored very quickly. Don’t bank on being the artist that this just works for. They’re 1 in 1 million. You won’t be that kind of writer by thinking you already are, either.
So, don’t worry too much about making sure all your stories sound like they’re coming from you. They probably do without you even knowing it. Instead, worry about how you can adapt your writing style to fit the story you’re telling. That is going to make your work way better. It will also help you to develop your style over time.
Make a Bank of Words You Like to Use
There are some words I just love to use in my writing. Here are some of mine:
There are plenty more where that came from! Some of these words are more complex than others. I don’t really mind that, to be honest. I just like the way they sound, so I use them when they make sense in the sentence.
We all have some words we use often and other words we barely even think about. Have you ever had a friend or family member look at you with surprise when you say a big word? Unless they think you’re uneducated, it’s probably because it doesn’t fit the language you usually use.
We all tend to have some words that come to our minds much easier than others. It’s part of our speaking style and can feed right into your writing. That’s a big part of why our writing sounds like us. There are hundreds of thousands of words in the English language. We just have some we prefer more than others.
Take George R.R. Martin. When I first read the Song of Ice and Fire series, there was one description that stuck out to me: “half-alive”. He loves to use that!
Trust me: you have words and phrases that you cling to, just like Martin does. The good news is that you can actually add to and change your list on purpose!
Keep a written list of words that you like. I add words to mine when I like the sound of them. There are hundreds of reasons why you might add words to your list. Since liking and disliking words is so subjective, your list will make your writing style unique.
If You Speak Another Language, Use it to Inspire You!
People who speak more than one language have so many advantages in life. Growing their writing style is just one more to add to the list!
Other languages can enhance your writing style in many unique ways:
- English takes loanwords from many cultures and places. So, the language(s) you know will impact the vocabulary you use.
- Many other languages have very different grammar rules from English. You get to think about how word order impacts things like suspense way more!
- Different languages and cultures have their own unique idioms and legends. Imagine how you can use these in your work to sound unique!
- We all have different personalities in different languages. You get to think about how much of each personality you want to add to your work.
- When you learn more than one language, it strengthens your understanding of grammar.
To be honest, I just think that everyone should learn more than one language. Language and culture are gifts that can help us to grow as both people and writers. We get to experience new stories, schools of thought, and so much more!
Don’t let yourself get bogged down by one culture’s language and stories. It doesn’t give you as much opportunity to be unique. If you get your inspiration from many different places and cultures, you get a whole new outlook on life. That will have a huge impact on your writing style.
Plus, as I’ve said before, learning a new language is a great way to help cure your writer’s block. You can do it for free on many apps, so why not try? Even if you dabble in beginners’ courses for multiple languages! Learning new words and grammar rules will open your eyes.
Realise that Writing Styles Develop and Change Over Time
No writer ever has one single, static writing style. Styles don’t stay the same for a whole lifetime. It’s impossible. That’s because we don’t stay the same person for our whole lives. We change and grow.
To be honest, we change so often that it’s hard to keep the same writing style over a single book! At least for me, anyway!
These styles change really drastically when you are a teenager and a young adult. When you get older, the changes usually become more subtle. Unless you have a huge, life-altering event happen, of course! Then, your style might change completely – no matter how old you are!
It is natural for your style to change over time, though. Don’t fight it. That shows that you are growing as a writer and that your thoughts and ideas have changed. Readers appreciate that because they grow and change just like you do.
Take the Harry Potter series, as an example. Before Rowling started saying things that hurt trans people, many people my age loved the stories. Why? Well, for many reasons! One of them was that the stories grew and changed as we did. The first one was obviously written for a child. By the time you get to book 7, the themes and language have become very adult. That’s beautiful.
If you don’t feel like you have much of a writing style at this point in your life, don’t worry. You probably do, anyway! Even if you don’t, it’s something that grows with practice and experience. It changes for the same reasons, too! Keep a record of what you write, and watch how your style grows up with you.