How to develop a unique writing style in one lifetime or less

In a recent e-mail exchange, Brian Clark from Copyblogger said my writing style was similar to his. And in a variety of comments, readers of this blog also have mentioned my style.

Years ago, I thought a lot about writing style, probably because I didn’t have one. These days, I don’t think about my style at all, though apparently it has evolved into something unique.

When did that happen? And how did I do it?

Here’s what I think: You can’t develop a writing style on purpose. You can mimic someone else’s style. But you can’t put on a style like you put on a hat.

Developing your style comes naturally from developing your writing skill. When you’re a novice, you bask in your own words. Your writing is affected, verbose, and shallow. You have little to say, but like a cat walking on piano keys, you love the random noise.

As you mature (if you mature), you become smarter and wiser. You have more to say and a greater desire to communicate something important to others. You think more about what you’re saying and less about how you’re saying it. If you develop into a good writer, you become obsessed with clarity. You edit ruthlessly. Over time, your writing becomes natural, crisp, and deeper in meaning.

In other words, as you stop trying to create a style, you create one. It just happens.

When I look back at things I wrote years ago, I’m shocked at how different it sounds. My writing today is leaner and more clear. How about you? How has your style evolved? Do you think about style as you write, or do you think about what you’re trying to say? Have you reached the point where you can appreciate what Strunk and White were trying to tell writers in The Elements of Style?

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6 Responses to “How to develop a unique writing style in one lifetime or less”

  1. Shama Hyder on January 28th, 2008 1:37 pm

    I try to write everyday and find that my style changes over time. I think that’s a good thing!

  2. Janice C Cartier on January 28th, 2008 1:59 pm

    Perfect post. In all the hubbub of online mania, clarity resonates as a touchstone.

    It is like my favorite scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. You know the one …where the enemy in the marketplace is brandishing a flashing machete…Indy takes out his pistol and nails him…

    Anyone who hasn’t bookmarked, printed out, copied and pasted, or memorized your excellent guide to copywriting on copyblogger last week, needs to run now and do so.
    Thanks, Jan

  3. Dean Rieck on January 28th, 2008 2:29 pm

    Janice: Yes. That Raiders scene is one of my favorites too. I like to think of myself in that way.

    I’m also fond of quoting Yoda from Star Wars, where he’s training Luke Skywalker. “Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.” But when I say that to my wife, she’s not so fond of it.

  4. Janice C Cartier on January 28th, 2008 5:27 pm

    Still chuckling…probably a common problem for masters of the universe all over the world…
    Thanks. JC

  5. Brian Clark on January 28th, 2008 5:39 pm

    >>>In a recent e-mail exchange, Brian Clark from Copyblogger said my writing style was similar to his.

    Dean, I hope you didn’t take that as an insult. :-)

  6. Mary Schmidt on February 4th, 2008 2:47 pm

    Writing is like anything else – the more we practice, the better we (should) get. It, however, never gets “easy.” (Just try writing a short, yet insightful, useful blog post! We know how that goes, don’t we folks?)

    I’ve found blogging has helped me immeasurably. Even if nobody ever read my blog – it’s a great writing exercise. (But, unlike those scam exercise commercials on television – you can’t just sit there and get results. You’ve got to put some effort and sweat into it.)

    And, yes, my style has changed – I’ve become more “me” as I’ve blogged for nearly three years.

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