Write There: Style is Not a Mystery

Today we’re featuring a guest post from Milli Thornton, writing coach and author of “Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers” (a copy of which is on my bookshelf ).

There are oodles of books and courses out there designed to help writers with style and voice. But sometimes trying to learn these things from an expert can be counter-intuitive.

Part of your style means doing it the way that feels good to you.

Sounds simplistic, right? But often the simple lessons in life are the ones we need to keep relearning.

If you have total acceptance for your own style, you might not even remember what it felt like to not know. But if you’re still wondering what your own style is, consider this: it might be right there (write there!) under your nose in black and white.

Style = The School of Learning

Recognizing your own personal style is not about being formulaic or resting on your laurels. As writers, we should always be seeking to learn more about our craft. The school of learning is never closed!

Recognizing your own personal style is about realizing you already know how to express your creativity in your own unique way.

Gaining more experience by practicing your craft (write, write, write), or learning the how-to’s (by attending writing workshops or studying books written by the experts) is simply the vehicle.

YOU are the driver. And, deep down inside, you know what you came here to do. The trick is to be able to recognize it.

OK, here’s the practical part. Open one of your writing notebooks—or that “My Writing” folder on your computer—and take a trip down memory lane. Read a selection of your writing, both recent and older.

As you read, pay attention to any recurring themes you might notice. Especially be on the lookout for things you’re uncertain (or ashamed) of that may actually be part of your own unique style.

Style’s All About Doing

Style is about more than just figuring out which genre(s) you feel most comfortable in. It’s about the DOING part, too.

Experiment. Mix it up. Try new things. Try things you think you won’t even be good at. That’s how I discovered I wanted to be a screenwriter. I held a belief that screenwriting was only for certain kinds of writers, and that I lacked any natural aptitude for it—but when I tried it I fell in love.

Doing is also where your platform comes in.

For instance, do you have a driving need to get your message out NOW? Perhaps online articles are the way to go for you . . . rather than the much longer process of having a book published (and one can lead to another, if you remain open to the possibilities).

Or you might have the makings of a renegade non-fiction author who self-publishes and then gets her book out to the people in a workshop setting. (Take it from me, it can be done—even if you’re very shy.)

You may just want to write for your own pleasure, or leave a legacy for your grandkids. Nobody says you have to compete with the levels of sophistication that the media and the Internet present as the ultimate.

Look at your writing with the eyes of acceptance. What feels the most right for you? And, just as importantly, what doesn’t feel right for you?

P.S. Don’t wait for the world to believe in you. Believe in yourself first. It’s faster and more efficient.

Milli Thornton is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli blogs at the Fear of Writing Blog, and coaches writers individually at Writer’s Muse Coaching Service.

About Patrick Ross

I'm a writer chronicling his commitment to living an art-committed life, which included a cross-country road trip meeting with creatives of all stripes.

27 Responses to “Write There: Style is Not a Mystery”

  1. Thank you for this.
    There are so many courses and workshops out there and many are geared towards ‘changing’ the way we write. Love ly to be reading about our uniqueness in the creative process.
    Maryse

  2. Everyone has their own style, but following a few trends or experimenting with some forms such as parody or satire can help you discover your style. Interesting post.

  3. I love this message: do it the way it feels good! Or, just do it! Which is sometimes the easiest–and the hardest–thing to do. Great post.

    • Charlotte, I’m so pleased you enjoyed the post.

      When I said “often the simple lessons in life are the ones we need to keep relearning” I was talking to myself as well as readers. When I sat down and tried to write this guest blog post, I was at first trying to write for Patrick’s entire audience (creatives at large) but I couldn’t make my muse sing. I actually ended up feeling depressed. Then I said “For Pete’s sake, just be yourself, Milli” and that’s when I knew what to do. And it felt so much better. Lesson relearned. :)

      ~ Milli

  4. Awesome post! I love reading my older work and comparing how far I’ve come with actual prose, while still seeing the same author style shine thru.

    • That’s fun, isn’t it? And along the line of Milli’s post above, it also allows me to see how I’ve long had a “voice,” but that voice has become more distinctive and, hopefully, enjoyable to the reader. :)

    • Thanks, PK. Me too. I was even able to read my first attempted novel (written 20+ years ago) with the eyes of acceptance. I could comfortably say, “Eh, that was some wince-a-minute writing in places, but hey I was learning.” It felt good to affirm myself even for the writing I used to judge myself heavily for.

      ~ Milli

  5. Its similar in the visual arts. I’m wondering … does your style change at all as a writer? It does with visual artists during the course of a career. Usually there is a thread that binds it all together, but visually the look can be very different. I have only been a professional for 11 years and the overall LOOK of my work changed dramatically. *I* know how it all ties together, but most people wouldn’t know from just looking at it. Are there similar shifts for writers?

    • That’s a great question, Amy. I pondered it and felt unsure. I think I’m too close to my own writing to know whether (or how much) my style has changed over the years. I know I’ve changed radically inside, but I’m not sure how much this change comes across in my writing voice.

      This sounds like a guest blog post in the making. For either Patrick or me. :) You could pose that question at the end of your own story, and see what the various creative types say. Could be very interesting.

      ~ Milli

      • You know, until I met Patrick, I didn’t personally know any writers. Everything I knew about writers was from “The Artist’s Way” series.

        Getting to know Patrick and reading his blog has been a very interesting journey. I notice I had assumptions that there were lots and lots of similarities between all the arts until now.

        Now that I am starting to read writers thoughts on writing, I realize that I don’t really KNOW anything about a writers path, I simply have made assumptions. Now I’m getting curious about what a writers path is really all about. What fun to learn about other artistic disciplines, and what it really takes to produce/fulfill on our dreams! :-)

        • Amy, I know a little about artists from hanging out with artistic friends (plus being related to a couple). One thing I “got” from a particular artist friend after he read my book is that the fears can often be the same. He wanted me to write a “fear of painting” book, but I wouldn’t have known where to start!

    • It is a good question, Amy. I think I can see elements of my writing “voice” that I had nearly 30 years ago, but how I execute that voice (my style, I suppose) has evolved, and shifts depending on what type of writing I’m doing. I suspect much is the same for visual artists, right?

      • Hi Patrick! Sorry for the slow reply, didn’t have time to chew on my response earlier in the week.

        After coming back to re-read your description several times, I think it is very similar for visual artists. We are supposed to keep pretty consistent/creating bodies of work. The things that don’t fall within that body, the goal is to have it at least be recognizable as coming from the same artist. Usually, as style develops, that happens naturally.

        Does that make sense/answer your question? :-)

      • Ugh, I should have read this before clicking “Post Comment”! Now you know what my raw, unedited writing looks like.

        Tell me if it doesn’t make sense, I’ll completely understand. :-)

        • Hi Amy, I think your comment makes perfect sense, and a comment should be raw, it’s a digital conversation. I’ll also note that the time stamp says you posted this in the middle of the night, so that is more coherent than I could ever be!

  6. Wonderful post, Milli. I especially like the ending: “Look at your writing with the eyes of acceptance. What feels the most right for you? And, just as importantly, what doesn’t feel right for you?” Thanks for sharing your insights.

  7. I LOVE this: Don’t wait for the world to believe in you. Believe in yourself first. It’s faster and more efficient.

  8. Experiment. Mix it up. Try new things. I like that … about it making you want to do screenwriting and finding out you love it. The spirit of acceptance permeates this post!

    I chuckled when I read your suggestion to take a trip down memory lane because, as if by precognition, a couple days ago I was thinking of the very first story I Imagined, but never finished. I knew exactly where to pull the little 6-1/2 x 4″ flower cloth-covered diary (with it’s own bookmark) off the back bedroom bookshelf. The pages have light green scrolling flowers all around the pages outside border, with a beautiful Asian lady holding a lotus flower in every left hand page. On the first page of the diary I wrote “Begin March ’80″ and the title is “Saving Gerald.” I read through 18 pages that started in black ink, changing to blue, then pencil, then back to black on page 18, where all the way down to the bottom 1/4 it says “23 August 88″ in blue where 5 more pages picked up 8 years later continuing like I just left it the day before.

    Now that I am really writing, since I started your Fear of Writing online course last summer and have 15 short stories that I actually finished, I intend to continue “Saving Gerald.” And just like it left off and picked up after 8 years, 13 years later, I picked it back up and wrote the next sentence in my favorite color, green. And the next and the next. Then I saw exactly how I want the whole story to play out and made notes!

    So I guess that is one answer to the question Amy posed, “…does your style change at all as a writer?”

    Thank you for the inspiring post Milli!

    • Catherine,

      Thanks for the comment! Milli is inspiring. Also, watch her blog in the next few days, she has invited me to do a guest post. I’m quite excited!

      Patrick

    • Catherine, great snapshot of a story in progress – and how timeless these things can be when we let them.

      Glad the online course could help you get back to “Saving Gerald.” I’m glad you’re still going to save him. :) Your story title is certainly intriguing. Sounds like a fun (and colorful) project!

      ~ Milli

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Fear of Rejection « The Artist's Road - March 4, 2011

    [...] Fear of Rejection By Patrick Ross Every writer wrestles with the fear of rejection, their finely crafted words dismissed by agents, editors, publishers, readers, neighbors, spouses, children… well, I’ll stop there. But in a guest post I’ve written for Milli Thornton on the Fear of Writing blog, I discuss another case of fear of rejection, one I faced when embarking on a cross-country U.S. road trip interviewing creatives on camera. (You can catch Milli’s great guest post she wrote for this blog here.) [...]

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