Friday, July 31, 2009

Walker on Developing Style

Lars Walker, author of The Year of the Warrior and West Oversea, posts at Brandywine Books about how to develop your own writing style. Excerpts:

First, you find an author you'd like to be like. And you try to write like him (or her). This isn't actually part of the process as such. It's just where most of us start. You've got to start somewhere, so most of us start as imitators. When I was a kid, I tried to write like Poe, I recall. …

Secondly, you go to classes, or you read books, to learn about the craft. Pretty much every class or book you find in our time will tell you the same thing -- "Learn how to cut and prune your copy." …

Now here's the thing. As you're learning to prune and cut, to reduce your copy to its bare, Hemingwayesque, anorexic minimum, you will gradually develop a style.

It's a paradox. The more you try to meet an arbitrary standard prescribed by the transient tastes of our age, the more you will find your own voice. Because artists are formed in the struggle to master a form, to make recalcitrant raw material submit to rules that seem designed to crush your creativity. (This is why most modern art is such crap. The artists try to skip the struggle.)

If all this is too much work, or too painful, go into accounting. You're not a writer.
Read the whole thing. Walker's right: The move from imitation to originality (or simply competence) hurts. Years ago when I was working for The Magazine, I got taken into a back room and lectured about my writing deficiencies in list form, one fault rolling into the next and then into the next. Each correction felt like a hammer blow. Necessary, perhaps, but it still ached. Could this be why so few succeed at the craft, even those with a surfeit of potential? It's hard to maintain artistic sensitivity while taking your lumps.

(Picture: CC 2005 by

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