I’m always intrigued by the way writing appears, on the face of it – to be easy. It’s taught in school, so it must be easy – right? And then the reality of it is that it’s actually incredibly difficult, unless you put in the 10,000 hours of practise needed to master a skill. For it is a skill, with many, many facets ranging from style to content to structure to – to – you get the picture.
One of the hardest things to do in writing is to emulate another style – or change styles – in a compelling way. I occasionally see attempts by authors to do it, and inevitably they’ll slip. But control of style is one of the key skills authors need.
Basically, if you can control your style – and the best way to learn that is to practise emulating other ones – you’re in the default position of having control over your words at all times. So try this:
- Pick an author (let’s say Ernest Hemingway).
- Read that author. What’s unique about the style? (Clue: Hemingway did NOT just write short declarative sentences).
- Make some notes about the uniqueness of the style –sentence length, phrasing, paragraph structure, use of grammar, nature of vocabulary, and so on.
- Now sit down and try to write a sentence – then a paragraph – in that same style.
- Repeat the exercise with our own writing. Do they match?
- Try it again…
This technique doesn’t address the content – which is another aspect of what makes any author’s work unique. It’s designed only to practise the style. And, of course, the material that emerges is intended to be thrown away afterwards. Concert pianists don’t record and publish their learning sessions – and you shouldn’t, either, as a writer.
Does it work for you? Do you practise writing in ‘other styles’?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015