So, we’ve talked about writing what you know (because, you know…you know it – 😉 I love bad puns), and writing what you are. The last step in finding your voice that I can help you with in making sure that what you write is yours. One of the worst pieces of criticism that I have ever received was contained in the phrase, ‘I don’t like it, it’s not the way I would write the story.’ This was a reply that I got on a story I wrote a few years ago and sent out to several friends. Don’t get me wrong, the story was not incredible, and will not see the light of publication without some significant revisions, so this is not me saying ‘my story was perfect, blah, blah, blah.’ However, you can only successfully write the way you write. It doesn’t matter how hard you try, you will never be able to write like anyone but you. You can grow your writing, expand the scope and breadth of the way you write, but what you write is still going to be written the way you write it. This really should be obvious, but for some reason most new authors (including myself) miss it – some for longer than others. The reviewer who gave me this criticism did not provide anything that could help me to improve the story or improve my writing. Instead the reviewer just said ‘you write the wrong way’ (for you editors and reviewers out there this is one of the worst things that you can say to an author. Be critical, but keep your criticism constructive. Remember that you’re job is to help the author make the story better.)
I use this example to say that the way you write is the way you write. If you have a dry, sardonic style then don’t try to write something that is all fluffy bunnies…you’ll fail. If you have a fluffy bunny style, then don’t try to write something that is dry and sardonic…again, you’ll fail. This is not to say that an author can only write one style – some authors can only write one style, some authors can write many styles – but that you shouldn’t let someone else tell you that the way you write is wrong. Authors have many different styles, and they all have readers that appreciate that style. J.R.R. Tolkien was very straightforward in his writing, Steven Erikson is much more verbose. Glen Cook’s writing is simple, gritty, and…I think chewy is a good word to describe it, but don’t ask me exactly what I mean by that because I’m not sure that I can explain. David Eddings, on the other hand, is much more complicated.
There is no wrong style of writing (however you might need to develop more skill in the mechanics of your writing), you can be dry, wet, short, circular, verbose, gritty, happy, sarcastic, etc. The key is that it is yours. Remember that you can’t write like anyone else. For the longest time I wanted to be able to write like H.P. Lovecraft, or like Stephen King, or even like my friend Melissa (who writes for Lantern Hollow Press), because they are writers that I admire, and they can all do things with their writing that I can’t. However, I can’t write like them any more than they can write like me. Any one of them might be a better writer than I am, but none of them writes in a better style than I do. This is because style is not better or worse, just different.
Listen to your reviewers, your friends, and your editors. They can give you some great advice that will really improve your writing. Let them help you grow and develop the way you write, but don’t let them convince you that the way you write is bad. Don’t let them change the way you write. It’s a fine line, and sometimes it’s hard for people on both sides to tell the difference, but you need to figure out where this line is for you, and then you need to live on it. Take as much criticism as you can, it will make you better, but you have to know when to accept something, and when to shove it off to the side.