On Writing (Part 4): Oh so Stylish

I can recall back in high school and college that style was discussed as if it was some strange magic. Only those with the certain mixture of blood could actually achieve true style. And to do that, you had to write so many words, every day, for years and years, before you could unlock the magic inside your veins.

I would like to speak briefly about style, and also dispel the notion that style is magic.

What is Style?

I could cheat and steal someone else’s definition, but I’ve always found it’s better to learn about something through experience and then write your own definition. The definitions others give you should serve as starter points, but should not be the end of your learning.

Style is a collection of habits. Habits can be changed. Some habits are bad, some good. Some good can be abused.

A writer’s style is really just the sum of their experience, collected into various habits they developed through their writing experiences. The good habits are the things you hold onto in your writing, that always seem to help and keep you going further in your writing. The bad habits are the things you frown on after you’ve done them, and you shrug them off (I hope). But even the good habits can become abused to the point that your writing becomes repetitive or formulaic. When that happens, people may begin to tire of your works, because they know what to expect every time you write something new. Sure it’s new, but you never stray from your habits. And those habits are making up your style.

If you’re smart, like all things, you’ll continue to grow and mature your style. Don’t think of it as something you achieve, and then coast. No, instead always be looking for ways to create new good habits, ditch bad habits, and try not to fall into a rut with your habits. Habitual behavior can be… well, habitual.

Style is not Magic

So many things in life seem like magic to us until we pull back the magic layer. When we decide something is magical, we call it talent and claim we don’t have it, and then we decide we cannot do it.

Because. Magic.

But style is not magic. No more than music is magic. No more than acting is magic. No more than writing is magic. And yet, I’ve been told style is not obtainable by everyone. I’ve been told I was too young to have style (that was a long time ago). I’ve been told it takes years and years of writing EVERY DAY, and even then there’s no guarantee you will obtain it. It’s like obtaining style was on par with that wretched ring in Lord of the Rings.

No, style is not magic. It’s like acting, and almost everything else, it just requires hard work. Sure it takes time, sure it takes practice. That doesn’t mean only certain “snowflakes” can obtain it. I would have appreciated it more in school, if English teachers and professors would have focused on encouraging us to just work hard and develop good habits. Instead, style was magical. I had a woman ask me after a show once how I had done all of the various voices I had done through the course of a three and a half minute song, and I thought about the long version. The long version of the story was that I spent months practicing sentences, half sentences, and words in different voices and inflections. It took a long time, and it was very repetitive, but I eventually was able to perform a three and a half minute song with like 20+ different voices. It wasn’t magic, it was hard work, but there she was staring at me with a beaming smile and gleam in her eye. And I knew she was one of those who believed it was all magic, and I opted on the short version. I told her, “Well, I decided early on to commit to crazy.” Her smile faded and she looked confused, and I walked on. It’s not magic people, it’s not talent, it’s work. Hard work. With hours of practice.

I always cringe when someone tells me they’re writing a book, and I ask them how much they have done, and they tell me they’ve been outlining it for ten years. Ten years of outlining without doing any writing is like preparing for a performance by spending ten years writing the sheet music, but never putting a band together and practicing said music.

You’ve got to exercise the demons and grow. Your writing will never mature, never get better, if you don’t work your butt off.

If you came here looking for Magic, maybe this will satisfy that need.

What do you think? Do you have style? What’s your view on style? Has your writing matured with age? It should. Read something from ten years ago, bet it sucks in comparison to what you can do now. At least, I hope so.

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