How to Find Your Own Writing Style
Study successful writers and imitate their style for a while to develop your own
I took AP English, which focused on British literature, during my senior year in high school. That year, I saw a dramatic improvement in my writing.
My teacher that year, Mrs. Strange, was one of my favorite teachers ever. However, I can’t credit her with the writing skills I developed that year. Nor can I credit the greats of British literature like Geoffrey Chaucer, Jane Austen, and Charles Dickens.
Rather, my writing ability took off because I read the work of Bill Apter, Craig Peters, and Stu Saks over and over again until I practically had some of their stories memorized. Their three different writing styles blended together in my mind and I soon found my own writing voice.
What? You haven’t heard of Apter, Peters, and Staks?
They were the editors of the Pro Wrestling Illustrated family of magazines. I had discovered the fake sport at age 13 and was addicted to watching it on TV. I started buying wrestling magazines at the grocery stores and eventually got subscriptions.
Reading any form of writing — whether the classics or a monthly mag about “sports entertainment” — helps to develop the writing muscle. That is a topic we will explore in this article.
First, though, it’s time for a quick detour.
Before you continue, I want you to go listen to something: “The End” by The Beatles.
It’s track 16 on Abbey Road. Really, for best enjoyment, listen to tracks 9–16 which are a suite of songs designed to be listened to in sequence. However, if you're short on time or the Beatles aren’t your thing, just listen to track 16.
In particular, I want you to listen to the guitar solo, which is actually a combination of three mini-solos by the band’s three guitarists: Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and John Lennon. Author Allan Kozinn describes the solos in his book The Beatles (Phaidon Press Ltd., 1995):
McCartney, Harrison, and Lennon alternate brief guitar solos that highlight their individual styles. McCartney’s playing is fleet and virtuosic. Harrison’s is simpler, slinkier, and more bluesy, and Lennon’s is a chunky chordal growl.
I got an electric guitar as a Christmas present when I was in college. It took me about a year to figure out that I really know nothing about playing the guitar. However, I do know a thing or two about teaching.
If I were to teach a student musical composition for the guitar, I’d play a recording of “The End” over and over again, identifying the guitarist who played each mini-solo.
Then I’d tell my student to pick a tune, any tune they like.
“Now play that tune like Paul would play it.”
“Then play it the way George would play it.”
“Now play it the way John would play it.”
“Repeat that process over and over until you figure out how you would play it.”
Now port that exercise over to the world of writing
The Beatles exercise can be brought over to writing on this platform, or others. Just find 3 writers whose styles you admire. I recently published a list of my favorite top writers, writers who always deliver great value to the reader, in 15 Different Strategies for Reading on Medium. If I had to pick three, I might pick
If I were to teach someone to write successfully on here, I would tell them to go read a month’s worth of articles (minimum) published by each of the three writers listed above.
Then I would tell them, pick a topic that you would like to write about.
- How would Ayodeji write about it?
- How would Sinem write about it?
- How would Tom write about it?
You don’t necessarily have to write out an entire article for each, just a couple of paragraphs. Get a sense of what their outlines would be, what points they would make sure to drill home. Headlines are so important on here — what would each of their headlines be? How would they use the subhead to offer additional insight into what the reader will find?
Now find your voice. You’ve learned from three of the best. It’s time to assimilate what you’ve learned into your own style.
The best writers are voracious readers. Good writing is everywhere. Find a topic you love and study the best people writing about that topic — I recommend studying three different writers. The more of their work you can read, the better.
Then come up with a story idea and think about how the first writer would approach the story, then the second, then the third. Actually write a few paragraphs, as well as an outline, headline, and subhead.
As Pablo Picasso said,
Good artists copy. Great artists steal.
Here you’re not stealing content. You’re stealing style. By stealing several different writing styles, you learn to blend them seamlessly into your own unique style.
Who are your favorite writers whose styles you study and blend into your own? Let me know in the comments.
And in the end
The love you take
Is equal to the love
- The Beatles
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