Listen to your writing

Style is the sound your words make on paper, wrote E. B. White.

I struggled for a long time to find my writing style. I used to type out the words of my favorite authors, hoping to absorb the way they use language.

So much of writing is about listening. Listening to the voice, the tone, the character or attitude of your words. It was only when I trusted myself to listen that I discovered my style.

I write nonfiction. I’m better at details than the big picture. I’m a quiet writer, though I can get emotional and cross the line into sappiness. (I’m always a work in progress.)

I like to write in the first person. It’s like chatting with a friend. But if I’m working on a story that doesn’t involve me, I step aside and write in the third person. As William Zinsser said, write the story, and keep your opinions to yourself.

Many writers swear by outlines. Or swear at them. I find outlining tedious; too much planning stifles my creativity. Instead of writing an outline, I write in my head what I want to say, before I put any words on the page. I write the ending first, then the lead paragraph, then the middle part. I’ll usually rewrite the lead a few times. But I’m very loyal to the ending. If the ending changes, I start over.

Part of finding your style is knowing who you are. When I sit down to write, I bring along everything that makes me unique, my likes and dislikes, my beliefs, my past experiences. It’s all there, on the page.

Trust who you are. Listen to your writing.


These books will help you discover your writing style:

The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White
On Writing Well, by William Zinsser
Still Writing, by Dani Shapiro
Telling Lies for Fun & Profit, by Lawrence Block