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How to develop your own writing style by Bob Lory

You hear a lot about this or that writer's style, usually because they have developed a signature way of expressing themselves. Hemmingway, Faulkner, Joyce. Columnists Russell Baker, Art Buchwald, Erma Bombeck. Among more recent fiction writers: Elmore Leonard, Tom Robbins, Donald E. Westlake. Who are your favorites? I'll bet you've said, several times, that you like their style.

So how do you develop yours?

Some writer's guides will tell you not to worry about it. Your style will come to be...naturally. Maybe they're right, but in my experience nature can take its own sweet time in getting things done. And we're all looking for the quick fix, right?

My recommendation: imitate the masters.


I play tennis at least three times a week. Most of the men I play with perform at a consistent level--which is to say their games next September won't be a lot different from what they were last September. Now and then, however, something happens: All of our performance levels improve--at the same time.

Right after the US Open or Wimbledon. Or the French Open. Or the Australian Open.

Why? Because we watch the top-rated pros play in these major events, and for a few days after--consciously or not--we're imitating (to the best of our limited abilities) what we've seen on TV.

In the beginning, most martial arts were intentionally taught in this way. Students carefully watched the master perform a series of moves and then practiced them--without any additional instructions as to what to do. While today's students get a lot more in the way of explanation, they also carefully study tapes or DVDs of experts in their art perform--and then duplicate them the best they can.

Painters, sculptors and musicians have long studied and imitated the recognized masters of their art. Why should you as a writer be different?

Answer: You shouldn't. Here's a way to get started:

o Choose a writer you enjoy reading, whose "style" you really like.

o Select a sample of his/her writing that uses a technique (narrative, description, dialogue, humor, etc.) that you'd like to master.

o Format your computer screen to look as close to your sample as possible (type face and size, column width).

o Type the sample (see it on the screen).

o Read it aloud (from the screen, not the original paper copy).

o Close your eyes. Can you get the feeling of the selection?

o Again looking at the screen, does the author have any particular thought pattern that comes through?

o Select another example and repeat all the above steps.

Now, continuing in the same document, write several paragraphs of your own on the same or similar subject. Notice a new "flow" in your writing? You should.

Want to be the next (name your own writer)? Repeat this exercise with his/her best stuff, and you'll come darned close.

Copyright (c) 2006 Bob Lory

About the Author: Bob Lory has more than 30 years of global PR, employee communication and ad writing experience and training professionals in these fields. His blog-- the stuff that works.

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