Style is a weird thing, especially in writing. I’m looking at a friend’s manuscript and there’s the sentence: “The September fields were still lush but strangely empty.” It caught my eyes as I was printing out the last pages of my current story and something she wants me to read. I looked at the page, saw that sentence and thought, “This is not my story.” I would never write this sentence, and not because I don’t know the words or because I never do description (well, I don’t do description much but sometimes), no, it’s because somehow that is not a Susanne sentence.
I have always taken personal style for granted. I read a book, the writer has a distinctive voice, end of story. There were styles that I liked and styles that I didn’t like, and that was it. Then I started meeting with these other writers, all of them amateurs like me, every one quite good, and exceptionally personal.
In the writing group we give ourselves assignments. Every month we are supposed to write a story around a certain topic. This month’s topic is “houses”, last month’s was “glass, beer, and fear”. Not everybody writes a story every month, and often we come to the meetings with stories that are only half-finished, or that are about something entirely different, all of that doesn’t matter much; still, every month we come to the meeting and read something for the others.
When a group of writers take the same topic the matter of personal style jumps out at you. All of us start with the same topic, and yet the stories are vastly different. We all marvel at each other’s ability to do certain things. For example the writer who puts his stories to abctales under the name of John Shade has this dense and intense prose, he’s always going deep, deep, and I marvel at his descriptions and use of adjectives that I’m only vaguely familiar with. He works on his stories for a long time, changing words here and there.
I’m in awe of that because my method of writing is to set myself an arbitrary deadline, set a timer and just go. I have become a bit better at this so more often than not I come to the meeting with a story that’s somewhat finished, and I don’t write on the train to the meeting anymore. Still, my writing style is loose and conversational, much like this blog, I don’t edit much, I just go. Both me and my husband have the vague feeling that this kind of writing is not really artsy or good. It reads fast, it’s mildly entertaining, and that’s it. But that writer made me realize that not everyone can do that kind of conversationial, la-de-da style. It’s not only something I can’t do, it’s also something I can do. It’s personal style.
If you want to get a feeling for the differences you might want to look at the place where three of us put their stories prompted by the topic “food“. Isn’t that interesting? And the writer who posts his stories on abctales under the name of nametaken is also a member of the group.
Our writing styles are also totally different from each other. I start late, scribble something into my computer but usually manage to tidy it up somewhat and print it out before the meeting. The other German in the group usually arrives with half a story in a lined moleskine notebook. Then we have two Americans who bring a chapter of a finished manuscript every month. Though we might have lured on of them into writing something new. I can’t wait to hear that.
So differences all around. But still, I never know when something I do is my endearing personal style, and when it’s an annoying inability to write properly. But then you can’t really say, can’t you?