Nathan Bransford, Author

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How to find a writing style that works for you

With National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) just days away, here's an excerpt from How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever, on sale now!

Rule #3: Find the writing style that works for you

I’ve always been fascinated by other writers’ creative processes. When I first decided I wanted to be a writer, I studied. I observed. I felt that if only I could divine some common thread in the creative lives of the writers I admired, I would then be able to emulate these individuals and be as good as they were.

Going to an Ivy League school and marrying a socialite worked for Fitzgerald, but should I do that?

Volunteering for wars in exotic locales worked for Hemingway, but should I do that?

Drinking and drugging themselves into oblivion worked for most of the writers of the Western canon . . . but do I really have to do that?

Even apart from biography, I delved into the writing process itself. Did they lock themselves in a room? Did they outline? Did they write stream of consciousness?

How did they do it?

Then, after college, I had the good fortune of working for a literary agency, where I had the opportunity to closely observe the habits of some incredibly successful writers, many of whom I had admired since childhood.

And I discovered this: there is no single way to write a novel. There’s not much of a common thread that links great writers. The only thing they have in common is that they somehow, at the end of the day, find a way to get the words onto the page.

Yes, this may seem like odd wisdom in a book that claims to tell you how to write a novel, but it’s true. There isn’t one way to write a novel. There isn’t a formula.

Now, before you scurry for a refund and write a nasty review, please trust that this guide will most definitely help to steer you in the right direction. I will help you avoid the pitfalls, and I will help you channel your innate tree-killing thirst, you ritual destroyer of trees at the altar of books.

But you have to figure out how you write best.

Po Bronson writes in a closet. Hemingway wrote standing up. Vikram Seth once told me he traveled to India and intentionally stayed on U.S. time because the disorientation of jet lag helped his creativity.

Are you an outliner? Are you a seat-of-the-pantser? Do you need peace and quiet? Noise? Do you need to write in a cafe? Would you rather work in a closet? Do you want to write on a computer? A typewriter? Pen and ink? Do you want to write quickly and revise a thousand times? Write a near-perfect first draft slowly? Do you want to write every day? Only on weekends? Do you want to stay up late and burn through fifty pages? Do you want to write during the daylight hours and agonize over five words at a time?

It’s all completely up to you. There are no common threads shared by great writers other than hard work and talent.

Even the ages at which authors become awesome varies tremendously. Some start young and flame out. Some people arrive at writing late. Some start young and work at it for years before achieving a breakthrough.

I hope you are absorbing the enormous freedom presented in this chapter. Let me say it again: there is no single way to write a novel. You don’t have to be constrained by the styles of other people. Don’t let other writers get in your head, and don’t let anyone tell you that you’re doing it wrong.

You don’t have to force yourself to outline if you don’t want to. You don’t have to write every day. (You hear me? You don’t have to write every day. I certainly don’t.) You don’t have to love every moment of writing. You don’t have to find it all agonizing drudgery, either.

You just have to be yourself and find what works for you.

All that being said, it is beneficial to be aware of what kind of writer you are because it will allow you to develop a writing rhythm, which will help you feel normal and comfortable, and it will help you to better enforce this rhythm when your attention starts to wander. Whatever style you adopt, you must be diligent and productive.

While everyone is different, every writer falls somewhere on the spectrum between total planners and total improvisers.

The planners outline, plot everything in advance, choose their words carefully, and tend to write a little slow. They go into the writing process with a pretty clear idea of where they’re going. But when they’re finished, they usually (but not always) have less revision time waiting for them.

The improvisers go in blind, let their instincts guide them, move through quickly, and might not even know where their novel is going until page fifty. They write and write and write until they find the story, and the mere notion of planning everything would stunt their creativity. When they’re finished with a draft, they usually (but not always) have a lot of work to do, as they must go back, rewrite everything, and stitch it all back together.

A lot of people are somewhere in the middle. And everyone is doing just fine.

So if you’re a planner, just know that it’s okay if you move slowly. It’s okay that you feel as if you’re plodding along, even if your improviser friends have written whole novels while taking a bath.

If you’re an improviser, just know that it’s okay if you don’t know exactly where things are going all the time. It’s okay to write in terrific bursts of energy and just get it all on the page, even if it doesn’t all make sense or fit together at first. You can trust that you’ll figure it all out.

Don’t let other people control your writing style or make you feel inferior because of the way you go about it.

As long as you’re getting words on the page, you’re doing just fine.

Read the rest of How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever. On sale for just $4.99 at:

Amazon Kindle
Apple iBooks (coming soon!)
B&N Nook


abc said...

This helps me feel better about my own process of writing furiously about 3 days a month and then doing nothing for a long time!

But, hey there, I'm kinda protective of Zelda. Was she really a psychopath? Maybe just manic sometimes (part of that pesky mental illness Bi-Polar Disorder) and spirited, creative, and married to an alcoholic. OK. OK. I'm being touchy.

But all of your advice is seriously awesomeness slathered in awesomesauce.

Nathan Bransford said...

Meant that as hyperbole! I don't think she was really a psychopath. Sorry if that didn't come through, I should probably change that.

abc said...

I accept your explanation. Hyperbole it is. I might be dense today (and many days).

Anonymous said...

Wonderful excerpt! I have a huge house with rooms I never use and I write in the unfinished part of my basement because I have no distractions and that's where I feel the most comfortable and creative...sigh :)

At first, though, I thought you would get into writing style in a more literal sense. I often see readers slam good books in reviews because they don't understand writing styles. In other words, romance readers who tend to get used to over-written narrative with too many adverbs and said bookisms, don't get it when they read a tight novel that practices word economy. And as an end result they wind up reviewing books poorly because they don't know the difference between writing styles...or what many would consider bad writing. I know that's off topic, but I thought I'd mention it in case anyone else ever experienced that.

I'm also hoping you have a chapter on topics like this...said booksisms, bad dialogue tags, etc... so we can use these examples as points of reference.

Ryan Morris said...

Definitely in the planner category. I think about pretty much everything before I write it. And it's a lot of that "awake in bed with novel on the brain" type thinking. Night after night after night.
It's true though that when I've finished my manuscript it already feels as though it's been through the editing stage. I may move some chapters/scenes around and adjust a bunch of dialogue, but everything is basically there.
It works for me!

Jamie said...

This is a great post! Really it's great advice for pretty much all things in life - it doesn't matter who you are or how you do things - find your groove and be diligent and productive..... look you've found the secret of life!!!

Abigail Cossette said...

Loved this excerpt! Need to find someone with a kindle to buy it! I definitely fly by the seat of my pants. I typically know how the story ends, and maybe a thing or two in the middle, but everything else is usually a surprise. If I get stuck for a while I'll brainstorm a plan but then everything changes once I start putting the plan into effect.

And thanks for the "you don't have to write every day" thing, it's a freeing reminder.

e.m.eden said...

"Do it & do your own thing" is what my mentor said to me - though it took me a while to really 'get it' - and it's good to be regularly reminded, so, Thanks Nathan.

good point made above re writing styles.

Micheal Thompson said...

For me, it doesn't matter how it is being written. The more important for me is the uniqueness of the content and the quality of it. Thanks for this useful article.

Manuscript Editing said...

I totally agree. You should love what you're doing, feel happy doing it and also be confident about it.

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