How to Develop Your Writing Style

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Your writing style is the manner in which you express yourself and it evolves naturally over time. It develops from a combination of your personality, your reading choices, and conscious decisions you make while writing. So, what can you do to develop your writing style? Thinking about it too much can result in mannered, stilted prose, but you can do some basic things to help develop your style naturally.

Read

Read voraciously, read broadly, and read the classics. Great literature can be your best teacher, but don't be afraid of contemporary or genre fiction either.

"Young or beginning writers must be urged to read widely, ceaselessly, both classics and contemporaries, for, without an immersion in the history of the craft, one is doomed to remain an amateur," Joyce Carol Oates wrote in "The Faith of a Writer."

Write

There's no substitute for simply writing as much as you can. In the beginning, don't worry so much about publishing; that can come later. Attempt different genres. Nonfiction and especially poetry have something to teach as well. Again, don't worry about influence in the beginning and don't worry if what you're writing seems bad. Write because you love it and trust that you'll grow into your style.

Use Words That Come Naturally to You

Though you should strive to enlarge your vocabulary, stick to words you use in real life. If you're using a word only to sound impressive, you're likely to misuse it or use it awkwardly. In other words, don't allow a desire to use a particular word or phrase to drive your writing. The needs of your writing should dictate the words you choose.

Be Clear

Your goal is to communicate. Make sure each sentence is as direct and simple as possible. You want to make it easy for your readers, so they have the pleasure of getting lost in your prose. Awkward writing takes readers out of the fictional dream you're working so hard to create.

Avoid Cliches

Though it's hard to avoid cliches completely, struggle to craft original sentences, metaphors, and expressions. Think twice before going with the easiest turn of phrase unless anything else would sound unnatural.

Be Concise

Experiment with individual sentences, seeing if they can be rephrased to use fewer words. Don't say, "He walked across the sidewalk with the cracked cement to the field," when you can say, "He walked across the cracked sidewalk to the field," for instance. Or, for another example, don't say, "Make sure each sentence is composed as directly and as simply as possible," when you can say, "Write each sentence as directly and simply as possible."

Be Precise

Clear, detailed writing makes your prose come to life. Struggle to find just the right words for your descriptions. If necessary, do a little research. There's great pleasure in knowing the names for things and in using those names. Saying that "the gray-haired woman sat by the window tatting a doily," for instance, is more descriptive and more vivid than, "The old woman sat in the corner working on something." Precision is not a matter of filling a sentence with modifiers, however. It's a question of choosing the best, most accurate nouns and verbs.

Pay Attention to Word Choice

The English language has at least 250,000 words, more than "most comparable world languages," according to the folks at Oxford. Because English is such a mutt of a language, we almost always have synonyms at our disposal. Buy a good thesaurus and make the most of our rich linguistic heritage.

Use Basic Literary Devices

As a writer, you also will make choices about things like figurative language. While you're thinking about style, review some basic literary terms, such as metaphor, simile, and irony. Getting familiar with the tools at your disposal also will help you develop your style.