Creating and refining your own unique style of writing is important, particularly in the modern Internet age, where a high content turnover means readers are constantly in pursuit of something original and clever. However, it's often difficult – especially when you're just starting out – to fine-tune the way you write and embody the qualities that make your voice distinct and innovative.
So how exactly do you tease out those qualities? How do you then apply them to the actual process of writing? Here are ten hot tips to get you started today.
1. Use experiences as a springboard
Start with what you know. If you begin your writing process in a world that you're familiar with, it'll generally be much easier for you to slip on your characters' shoes and immerse yourself into the setting of your story. In fact, J. K. Rowling herself based one of her best-known and most complex characters, Professor Snape, on her chemistry teacher.
Be inspired by real people, real emotions and real events. Reflect on your own journey as a human being. Reflect on small moments that seem to have permanently burned themselves into your memory, and let those reflections guide the philosophy that underpins your writing. As author Kashmira Sheth points out:
The emotional growth of your characters is one place where you can use your own experiences much more deeply. If you are writing about the summer between sophomore and junior year, then you can go back to your emotional state of that summer. Was it the summer of heartbreak, angst, rebellion, disappointment, or sorrow? How did you survive and persist? How did your emotions manifest themselves in your interactions with others? What did you learn? How did that one pivotal summer make you grow and change?"
If the content of your writing leaves you with deep and nostalgic feeling of been there, done that, then it'll more likely exude a profound sense of realism and empathy – one that will resonate and connect with readers more powerfully.
2. Be aware of what makes your observations unique
Everyone sees the world through their own unconventional lens, but not everyone is aware of the existence of those lenses. That's when it becomes important to take a step back and become aware.
For instance, if you're observing the way people engage in conversation, take note not only of the dialogue, but also of the silences, of the interruptions and of the speakers' unconscious habits like pushing up their glasses, adjusting the collar of their T-shirt or tapping their foot against the carpet. Ask yourself why those habits are emerging in the first place. Are they nervous? Are they scared of the other person's reaction to a particular piece of news? What does this say about their relationship with one another?
As writer Annie Evett argues in her article on observational writing,
Good observational writing utilises all of the senses in describing the event, character or item; transporting your reader easily into the world you are creating or describing."
That being said, one question you may ask is: how exactly do you utilise these senses?
3. Awaken all senses
When the reader takes a dip into the waters of your writing, they want to feel something. They want to immerse themselves in imagery that extends beyond a mere description of what can be seen. So it's your job as the writer to ignite as many of their senses as possible.
Let's say that you're writing about a bushfire approaching from the distance. You may initially choose to illustrate the way the fire rapidly gains speed, leaping from tree to tree, an angry flame that cannot be tamed. But wouldn't your setting be much more evocative if you gave the reader the capacity to hear by assaulting their ears with the strange silence that falls upon the forest, with the sudden roaring of fire as it tears through this silence, with the protagonist's faint coughs as her lungs choke up with smoke?
And wouldn't your scene be even more vivid if you also engaged the reader with descriptions of the scent of smoke blowing into her cheeks, of the vile taste of charcoal in her mouth, and of the soft fabric of her blouse battering against her skin as it fights a battle it knows it cannot win?
Writer of the Udemy Blog Margo Jurgens provides some further tips and advice on how to best approach writing sensory imagery.
4. Show with a spin
One of the most common pieces of advice given to writers is 'Show, don't tell' – but it's also important that you enact the 'show' part with a twist. Avoid using the same old words to paint a picture. Try adopting a different approach or perspective.
Let's take the bushfire example from above. Rather than using phrases like 'The fire roared' or 'Smoke billowed up into the sky', you might perhaps juxtapose the constant ticking of the clock inside the house with the comparatively erratic rhythms of the fire leaping from treetop to treetop.
You might also use a memory or an anecdote as the transition into your description of the fire's sudden approach: perhaps the protagonist recalls a time she watched a juggler accidentally drop his flaming torches, and contrasts how quickly the torches were extinguished with how impossible it would be to put out this monstrous bushfire.
5. Avoid clichés
It's sometimes very easy to fall into the trap of clichés – especially in times of doubt and uncertainty, when you find yourself borrowing the storyline of your favourite novel or imitating the writing style of your favourite author or poet. This can ultimately hinder your potential for originality.
How do you rid your writing of clichés? Writer's Digest's Peter Selgin suggests that the best way to avoid cliché...
... is to practice sincerity. If we’ve come by sensational material honestly, through our own personal experience or imagination, we may rightly claim it as our own. Otherwise, we’d best steer clear. Our stories should be stories that only we can tell, as only we can tell them."
Brian A. Klems gives 12 examples of clichés that 'need to be permanently retired', while Writer's Web provides some tips on how you can identify and avoid clichés.
6. Be intimate with details
Intimate details are the key to enhancing the vivid quality of your writing. Be specific in your characterisation and descriptions of setting. The subtlest of movements – your protagonist tugging at the hem of his shirt, your villain tapping two fingers against the table – can help build up the mood of your story or poem, accentuating the emotions experienced by your characters.
Being specific in your details means combing through your writing and paring it down, so that it includes only those words that (in some way or form) contribute to the meaning you're trying to convey to the reader. Word choice becomes crucial here.
Author Kristen Lamb highlights the importance of diction: 'She bolted from her chair' is much better than 'She stood quickly out of the chair', because the word 'bolted' holds a powerful sense of action and urgency that the phrase 'stood quickly' simply does not have.
7. Turn objects into metaphors
If you're looking for inspiration, an effective exercise to get your creative mind pumping is to turn random objects into quirky metaphors. Select any item in your line of vision – a pencil, a typewriter, a mug – and write about it in the greater context of life. This exercise gives you the opportunity to turn something mundane into something totally and utterly original.
For instance, you may decide to write about the blinds by your desk. Perhaps they represent the idea that we have control over the degrees of light and dark within us; when the world inside is cold and grey, all we have to do to warm ourselves up is pull open the blinds and let bars of light in.
Feeling creative enough yet?
8. Create strong, authentic voices
A classic example of writing with a strong, authentic voice is J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye – when you read that novel, you cannot help but hear Holden Caulfield's voice in your head. With the effective use of voice, the reader becomes so deeply submerged in the story, the characters and the underlying meanings that they forget a writer has fabricated this world.
Author Junot Díaz draws from his own characters as examples on how to strengthen the various aspects of voice. Blogger Lorrie Porter focuses more on how you can incorporate strong voice into dialogue.
9. Know the rules of writing, then break them
Don't be afraid to experiment and to test the limits of what you think you are capable of writing. Take Kurt Vonnegut's 8 tips on how to write a good short story, for instance. Once you understand his rules, you can start bending them and eventually start breaking them. As Vonnegut himself writes,
The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O'Connor. She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that."
10. Write a little every day
As the old saying goes, practice makes perfect! The more you write, the more you will grow conscious of your own writing style and thus be able to improve upon it. Blogger Leo Babauta presents a range of tips on how you can write daily.
You might end up writing a few sentences, a few paragraphs, even a few pages. Quantity doesn't matter; frequency does. So set aside some time everyday and get writing! A world of words await you. Time to turn on your mind and let your creative juices run free.