viii

Finding your style isn’t as easy as I’d like it to be. I can pretty much write in any style, I’d guess, because it’s all just really about learning how the pieces fit together and the sort of picture they ought to produce. But finding the style which is ‘me’ is a lot harder than mere imitation.

It’s taken me 30 years to discover the ‘me’ in me (though those first 10 weren’t really much help) and I’m only now getting to grips with the idea that I’ve actually got developed political and cultural opinions or ideas, or that there are political and cultural opinions or ideas which I need to have opinions or… suffice to say I’ve been wrangling with a lot.

But on top of this, to find the style which is ‘me’ is both… well, no, mostly it’s just imposing and produces more than a little insecurity. What if I don’t want to write the stuff which I’m best at writing, what if it’s too small to take the scope of the theories and whatnot that I want to explore, or what if it’s not personal enough that they just become cold postulating with no resonance in real life?

Stupid really, because I’m ignoring what ‘style’ actually is, just as I spent God knows how long ignoring what that sense of ‘me’ actually is. There are a lot of writers out there who define a style, and whose style defines them – Hunter S. Thompson, James Joyce, Stephen King, Salman Rushdie… I guess there are ‘style’ writers, and people read those writers because something about that style resonates with them.

That said, Stephen King is more a genre writer than just style. And apparently Rushdie isn’t the only one like that, Indian literature as a whole has the feel that he does. I could put Jane Austen in as a style writer, though that’s only really true because of the era she wrote compared to contemporary style now. But I don’t think anyone could argue that there wasn’t a definitive style at the heart of Thompson’s writing.

Style just comes from the way in which those writers felt it most natural to express themselves. I find it hard to believe that any skilled writer who writes a lot in a distinct style – whether that be genre, like King or Austen, or complete style structure, like Joyce – can put it on or force that style on their writing without the cracks showing through. It’s why you see so many thrusting young journalists attempt to go Gonzo and fail – it’s just not in their blood, in their piss, like it was with Thompson.

I feel like Thompson couldn’t have written any other way. Or, more accurately, he could have but he never would have been so consumed by the writing like he was, and there’s no way he’d have become so successful. Same with Joyce – he was incredibly talented, but there must have been a reason he wrote like he did, and I’m not cynical enough to believe it was motivated by what he perceived would be successful rather than what he knew was the only way he could write with his full power.

There are hundreds of imitators, thousands of ‘ites’ out there writing to formulas. Creative writing classes use established styles or genres to teach writing, though if you’ve a good tutor they’ll be aiming to move you towards learning how you write, rather than how everyone else does it. And all the time we’re worrying whether the publishers will even read our manuscripts if they aren’t the next ‘whatever’ they’ve decided they need to find.

My biggest fear at the moment is that this is my style – rambling, semi-formal, quasi-lecturing, pseudo-philosophising navel-gazing that never really goes anywhere. I’ve deleted the next sentence I was writing because it’s far too self-deprecating, and while this might be meaningless that doesn’t mean it is useless. If this is my style then great, because every day, for half an hour or so, I’m going to get better at it.

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About Ben Catley-Richardson

Writer, reader, husband. Father!
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