Style Creep, Keeping your Voice Pure

A famous author once told us that she reads books by other people when she is in a writing phase. But she has plenty of author friends who don’t because they get infected by the styles of the writers they are reading, and these voices creep into their own writing. For beginning writers, this can be a good thing because it is a way of experimenting with a style that is not yet fully developed. But later on, when you have honed in on that voice that is yours alone, you don’t want anyone else interrupting.

Style creep can also be an issue if you have a job that requires a different style of writing from the one you indulge in at your home computer. This was recently the subject of a blog in the New York Times Draft series of blogs on writing. Author Michael Erard works in a think tank during the day and on short stories, news articles, essays, reviews and nonfiction books at night. He says the think tank writing is decidedly “less juicy” and he has to work to keep it out of his other writing.

Erard calls the problem of voice creep “priming” as in what you are primed for when you start the writing process, what style is stuck in your head. He warns, for instance, about staying off the Web: “Each time you look at Facebook or Twitter, you get primed with another kind of language, whether it’s your friends’ or your own.”

To unprime yourself, Erard suggests that you read things that are very different from what you have been writing.  Or, he says, you might try  imitating a writing style different from your own. This is hard and gets you out of whatever you have been primed for.

We like to start writing early in the morning when our minds are empty of pretty much everything, including other people’s writing styles. Another technique is to reserve a special place where you only think about your writing, in your voice. And you should always, always revise, review to be sure you are saying what you want to say and in a voice that is true to you.