As writers, one of the things we struggle with most (especially–thought not always–at the beginning of our careers) is settling into one writing style. It took me years of writing some very good and very bad pieces to realize that my natural voice is a humorous, first-person point of view with lots of sarcasm and parenthetical asides. It’s more commercial fiction than literary fiction (for the detailed differences in the two check out this great article by Pamela Samuels Young) which means it’s a little lighter in feeling and mood. Once I figured that out, my first novel came very easily to me. The story flowed without much mental anguish and the product has been well received.
So why then, have I spent the last three months trying to write my next novel like John Irving? The subject matter for my next novel is a little darker and more emotional than my previous work, and for some reason I got it in my head that I could only do this topic justice with an Irving-like style of literary writing. I struggled to wax poetic on this serious topic but it felt like casting Zack Galifinakis in a period piece. The fit wasn’t right.
Disappointed, I was about to give up on the novel last week when I had an epiphany–it wasn’t the subject matter that was the problem, it was the writing style. I’m a commercial fiction writer with a sense of humor, but that’s what could make this book unique. A lighter, more humorous take on a generally morose subject matter–it at least sounds interesting, right?
Last week on Duolit’s blog, I wrote about the important of writing what you know, but it’s also about writing how you know. It’s much easier to adapt your writing style to a subject than vice versa. Trust me.
So now I’m back on track, plugging away on my next novel with renewed vigor. If you’re struggling to write, you might want to take a step back and evaluate your overall writing style before you go any further. It may save you a lot of stress and headache in the long run!