Time to wrap up The 25, folks! And we’re going to do it with style.
No, really. The last bit is style.
Writers sometimes speak of style as if it were an ingredient to be added to their story or poem or memoir. Instead, style is the thing itself. E.B. White said it best, writing, “Style takes its final shape more from attitudes of mind than from principles of composition, for, as an elderly practitioner once remarked, ‘Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar.’” The key, then, to developing one’s style is to write, as White states, “in a way that comes naturally.”
Sound easy? It’s not. In fact, finding the “way that comes naturally” can take a lifetime, and the way can change with each piece you begin. One key to beginning that journey is to think about style not so much as a matter of addition, but subtraction—casting off feelings of awkwardness and self-consciousness, affectation and pretension. Focus on presenting your piece clearly, in a way that connects with readers. For practice, imagine a single reader sitting across a table from you. Spend a half-hour relating your piece to that reader, as clearly and honestly as possible. Spend another half-hour striving to make the piece more clear, more honest, more affecting. Then spend another half-hour making the piece more clear, more …
I think the point Heffron makes is an insightful one. Style isn’t about imitation or any other kind of flattery to others. Because of that, I can understand why it’s one of the more difficult aspects of writing to make authentic, because it’s one of the age old bits of advice that people tend to find very difficult: Be yourself.
I remember being a child/adolescent/teen/undergrad and having people tell me that. “Just be yourself, Emmie.” As if it came second nature to them, but I suspect it doesn’t really come first nature to anyone, really. There is, of course, a lot of wisdom in those two little words, but if we’re all honest, we know that human beings spend a lot more time trying to blend in than stand out.
With a lot of things in life, I can see why we do it. It can be dangerous to stray from herd, especially when that herd is full of pubescent females who have grown massive retractable claws along with their burgeoning busts. Boys aren’t much better. We might go through a rebellious stage and put strangely colored things on our heads (or in our heads), but people have a massive drive to fit in.
Going against that grain is a painstaking uphill climb, and other famous cliches.
When you can take that advice, something changes in your life. I know we’re talking about writing here, but I’m going to give you a little of my history to illustrate how my style has grown because of those two words. I still have an evolving style (I might even call it a revolving style), but my writing now is much more interesting than it used to be. I spent most of high school just trying not to be noticed. I spent the first year of college realizing that people like what they expect, and get a wee bit upset when you do something that doesn’t jive with that. In my case, it was me beginning to realize that I didn’t believe in Christianity anymore — in my second semester at an expensive, private Christian university, no less. I lost a lot of friends over that. When it comes to religion, for all the prayer and convincing and Bibles and whatever else, there is this little fork in the road. One sign points at “You Believe,” and the other just yells, “BULLSHIT!” Three guesses which fork was me. You can’t force yourself to be something you’re not, so I quit trying. And I took off across an ocean.
In 2004, I moved to Scotland for the summer. I spent two months there by myself. Away from expectations, away from anything I was familiar with, yet I was home the second my toes touched the tarmac at the Prestwick Airport south of Glasgow. I spent those two months flitting throughout the country alone. I met people who are still in my life, namely a UT student named Marshall who is now a barrister in Leeds, and a fabulous Punjabi-Scottish man who makes chai from scratch and speaks Gaelic with equal facility called Jordan, but I just call him my best friend. He was man of honor in my wedding last month. I also met a young man named Pawel, who was the first Polish person I ever met. I heard the sounds of his language and had to learn it.
The next summer I flew to Poland with four other women, and I returned to Scotland, where Jordan introduced me to my soulmate, a beautiful, intelligent, hilarious woman named Julia, who joined him on October 2 as my maid of honor. She was just selected from a pool of hundreds of applicants to join an organization (the only organization) that does systematic research on the G20 Summit. I’m so proud of her I could burst. Six months later, I packed my bags and moved across the Atlantic. I didn’t come back for almost two years. Those people I met are still a part of me, a part of my life. None of them knew much about my life growing up. They met me in places I felt utterly at home and comfortable, and those were my first lessons about being myself.
It was then I began to write Elemental, the book I’m currently trying to finish for NaNoWriMo.
I knew I had something the moment I began it. You know the thrill, gentle viewers. The electric pulse that flits through you as the ragged curtains between worlds ripple back with an unseen wind and reveal a Story to you. I ended up realizing that that story wasn’t the beginning, and I put it aside to write Primeval, which is the first book in the trilogy. Now five years later, Primeval is getting ready for takeoff, and I’m writing the final pages of Elemental at last.
The point of all of this is that your style evolves when you put those two little words into practice. It will sprout out of what you thought was barren dirt and sneak tendrils into your skin. It will begin to take you over until who you are manifests on every page. I’m no Shakespeare, and I’m still a work in progress much like my writing, but there’s a lot more of me on the page than there ever was before.
So to wrap up The 25 (but certainly not my daily posts), style is what happens when you be yourself. Love yourself. The rewards are still untold, though I think I’ve gotten more from life than any woman deserves even now in the three people who form my personal triumvirate of true love. They’re what pushes me forward on this path. Who pushes you?
If I can do it, a girl who grew up with no pot to piss in (literally) and who kept her mouth shut for a decade — so can you.
EDIT: I apologize for the weird formatting on this post. I tried looking at the HTML for a whole five minutes before I gave up. Not really sure what happened — never had trouble with copy/paste resetting font before. Weird.
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