“The most difficult trick of all is to learn when to involve the analytical powers and when to forget them and write out whatever inside you demands to be written out.”
—Analyzing Prose by Richard A. Lanham
The origin of style is you. The Writer. The Poet.
Writing is a reflection of your intuition, insight, imaginative leaps, inspiration, sensitivity, awareness, and that aha! moment when images appear in your mind’s eye or speak to you through your inner voice. Style involves this string of moments, stretched out as you begin to adjust to the fact that you are responsible for your style. This is to not to say that the first, second, or fifteenth poem or story you write establishes your style. You need to build the capacity for it to show up, to intrigue you, to implicate you in the perfection of it. Finding your style takes perception, practice, and perseverance. Then it’s yours to keep.
The first step toward the development of your style is a specific attraction to words, even a love of words, to shape them but also to let them lead you. Consider that words are the primary element that creates your style. It is like a formula: Writer + Words = Style. It’s very simple when you see the formula, and you adjust to the fact that words make the style and you are the judge of words, until words take over and you are both repository and guide. This is when you watch them and begin to appreciate how they transform you into a magician of syntactical experiments that flow into acrobatic tricks of phrases and clauses and compound-complex sentences and end up in a poem or story, essay or creative nonfiction narrative. You have not been tricked. You have experimented—listening and watching and letting go with words.
Writing means words take you on a journey toward play, like an experiment, to know them, then to shape them, and finally to thank them. The journey is how you begin to see why you write in the first place. Why you are drawn to periodic sentences over cumulative sentences. Why you listen to how certain words and sentences work together to form rhythmic patterns. How you hear the beat of the paragraph and those tricky transitions that flow into the next paragraph and the next one after that. Why you commiserate with your characters when they speak to each other or maybe you even judge them. How you listen to their voices that pierce the mood and you see the synergy that articulates deep meaning. Most of all, you know their creative presence interfaces with your words. Your style made manifest.
Style, after all, means playing with language, watching words work out as they practice simple or intricate, abstract or concrete, and ultimately, cohesive configurations. Of these configurations you wonder, Will they work? And then you ask, Why? or Why Not? At times, you give these configurations over to your imagination so your imagination can believe them, trust them, and finally judge them. Sometimes, these configurations get ahead of your style and you rip them up and throw them in the waste basket. Then, you start over because you’ve already had your practice run and you try again. Except this time, your imagination is in gear, along with your conscious thought to make your style work for you.
This is your origin of style.