What Makes Writing Stand Out

authors houseA discussion on Facebook page and the painful awareness that, for a number of reasons, I have not yet finished resurfacing the foundation of my house, sparked a train of thought on writing I’d like to share with you. I know that seems a stretch but hear me out. All will be revealed.

From my previous post discussing how home repair is like editing (and the other way around), you will recall that I learned the rudiments of a few skills, the results of which are in the picture here.

I scraped the old paint and crumbling mortar off my brick walls, learned how to point them, and painted them. Then learned how to remove loose bricks in the foundation, re-lay them, and resurface the foundation. All it took was one lesson from the handyman next door and some encouragement. The most important element, in my case, was the encouragement. I never would have started without that.

The result is not bad for a beginner. I’m pretty proud of that accomplishment. But would you hire me to do it on your house? Not likely. It would take me too long, therefore cost too much, and the results may not be exactly what you would accept from a seasoned pro.

Skills take education, practice, and time. I think the same must be applied to writing. Education, tools, practice, and encouragement – those are the elements that can lead to eventual success.

Just as it took an expert to show me what I needed to get started on my house, it takes a certain amount of education to learn how to write. And it takes encouragement for most of us to persist. Those factors alone will, in many cases, help us to become competent writers.

The problem is that competent writers are a dime a dozen. I know many aspiring writers who continue taking classes, who listen to the latest guru who “teaches” the latest “rules”. These perpetual students try to apply the latest trend, i.e. the guru’s advice, to their own writing style in the mistaken belief that doing so will help them break into that elusive success. After all, it worked for “that” guru.

And therein lies the rub. That guru found his or her own, personal route to success. It’s not “your” route. While you may pick up a few new tricks from all those classes, they will not help you succeed. They may improve your skills to some degree but in my experience (from groups I have participated in) the result is prose that becomes more stilted, formulaic, and loses the flow it began with before the class got in the way.

Classes and new rules will not help you stand out. And, unless you stand out, you will never find true success as a writer.

As with every other skill, to become a master, to gain recognition as an artist, to “stand out”, there comes a point at which you must discover what makes you unique. You must find “your” voice. There is no class in the world that can help you find it. It comes from allowing that inner guide, call it your muse if you like, to guide you, from trusting it, following it, honing, and sculpting it.

Yes, practice makes perfect, skills improve over time. But they have to be yours, not someone else’s. Once you make friends with your individual voice, you will discover that your prose acquires a flow, feels more comfortable, and becomes more readable. Once you follow that voice, and let it grow and mature, you will find that you have a style that is uniquely yours, a style that keeps getting better the more you use and trust it. The wrinkles smooth out and the writing even becomes easier. Why? Because you are no longer fighting who you are, you are no longer trying to fit your square peg into the latest expert’s round hole.

And that is what will make you stand out; that is what readers will look for and fall in love with.

So, take classes, learn the basics, practice all those skills. But in the end, you must find your unique voice. Once you have found it, leave the advice of the latest experts behind. You don’t need them anymore. Allow your own personal voice to develop and flourish. Only then will you find success.

Author: Yvonne Hertzberger

Yvonne Hertzberger is a native of the Netherlands who immigrated to Canada in 1950. She is an alumna of The University of Waterloo, with degrees in psychology and Sociology. Her Fantasy trilogy, ‘Earth’s Pendulum’ has been well received. Learn more about Yvonne at her blog and her Amazon author page.

28 thoughts on “What Makes Writing Stand Out”

  1. You say, in closing, “Once you have found it, leave the advice of the latest experts behind. You don’t need them anymore. Allow your own personal voice to develop and flourish. Only then will you find success.”

    This is so true. I have found if I violate this “rule” my writing stalls and I become unhappy with my work. Once you have the basics, do what is right for you. That’s what I have found works.

    Thanks for the great article.

    1. That’s certainly the way it has worked for me. And if you look at all the greats you’ll see that they each had a unique voice and broke rules. Thanks for dropping by.

  2. This is excellent advice. I would add that you sometimes need to let your characters find their voice(s), too. This is especially true when writing in first person, but even in close third person the voice of the POV character needs to reflect his/her personality.
    PS I’d like to re-blog this but you don’t have a re-blog button. May I post a brief intro and link on my site?

    1. Thank you Frank. By all means, I’d be honoured to have you share this on your blog. There are also several ways at the bottom to share it on various social media, should you feel so inclined.

      And I agree that each character will have their own voice and we as authors must give heed to them when they make themselves known. When I began to write I thought I was crazy for feeling they spoke to me, but I’ve learned since then that this kind of madness is quite common among writers. Grin.

  3. While we’re on the metaphor gig, a great karate master once said, “You spend your first five years learning the forms. You spend the next five years adapting the forms to your own personal style. Then you spend the rest of your life working back towards the original forms, because you finally understand them.”
    Just saying’ 🙂

  4. Personally I like to see other people’s takes on writing techniques or process, even if I only pick up a minor little point. But if that course costs hundreds or thousands of dollars and gets sold with vivid suggestions that you’ll suddenly be a huge success, chances are excellent that you’d be better off saving that money for something else. (There are an awful lot of those in indie author land, always with beautifully-written sales copy this old direct mail copywriter recognizes for its craft. And it always makes me wonder — if you’re doing so damned well with your writing, why the heck do you need to sell these courses? And why, if you’re already such a success, must you charge your fellow writers who haven’t made it yet such breathtakingly high fees? Could it be THAT’S actually how you’re making your $$$?)

    1. Yes, it doesn’t hurt to see what others are doing as long as you have a firm grip on your own style and voice. But I think there comes a stage at which you have to say, “I know what my voice is and don’t need a guru any more.” I worry about the perpetual students who never take that plunge.

  5. Candace above makes a great point. It’s necessary to know what the rules are, but at some point you need to recognize what shortcuts and techniques work for you.

    Writing is a lot like cooking too. At some point you move from following a recipe to understanding just how much of an ingredient to add to get the taste you’re going for, and it’s those improvisations that get your dish noticed at the potluck instead of the one made following steps on the back of a box.

  6. Hi Yvonne. Thank you for your article, absolutely spot on and for me very timely.

    I wonder if you have any thoughts on finding your unique voice, I seem to have misplaced my passion and somehow my voice with it!! I can write well and what I write seems to be enjoyed but I know something is missing – it is me!

    Any help would be much appreciated. Thank you. 🙂

    1. I’m sorry your voice has taken a holiday, Vicky. Perhaps you need to go back and replay what helped you find it in the first place – inside yourself. I don’t think it ever leaves once found. I hope you find your passion back. Good luck.

  7. No one becomes a master…Hemingway said so, and I believe him. Writers should learn the “tricks of the trade” and practice honing their skills. After that, they can break the rules, as long as they understand why.

    If you’re true to yourself as a writer, you will find your voice. It may not be a voice that all readers want to hear, but it will set you apart from other authors.

    Great post, Yvonne! Pinned and shared. 🙂

  8. Interesting take on writing and classes. The trouble with writing courses are that you need to know if you’re ready to take that particular one. I spent thousands on a 10 month course years ago and going along with what Gordon said earlier, it wasn’t until years later that I read back through that course and went, Ah, that makes sense now.

    And I am so impressed that you learned those house renovating skills and actually are putting them into practice. Good on you. 🙂

    1. You’re right. Sometimes hindsight can be very useful. Timing is so important.

      And thanks on the house comments. I actually enjoyed learning and doing those things, though I wouldn’t want to make a career of them.

  9. Great advice, Yvonne and all true. I’ve done some handywoman jobs myself, and I know I wouldn’t hire me, not yet at any rate. 🙂 Which leads me to Gordon’s point about time. I wrote manuals for about ten years before I started writing fiction. I thought I knew how to ‘write’ – at least the basics like spelling, punctuation, grammar etc. But it’s taken me another 15 years to learn what I want to do with my fiction. And I feel as if I’m only just beginning. Perfecting skills takes a long, and I truly believe there are no shortcuts. Do. Learn. Rinse and repeat. That’s the only formula that works.

    1. Yes, different skills are needed for different kinds of writing. When I began I had written only academic papers for university. Fiction is a completely different animal. And when we stop striving to improve we will lose the skills we have gained.
      And isn’t it good to know we can do things ourselves and that we need not always rely on others? I think this a mind-set we women need to develop more.

  10. You’re dead on, Yvonne. I fully believe writers can only go so far with learning the mechanics; at some point, it has to break loose from the confines of the “rules” and become a free spirit, a living thing, even Frankenstein’s creation. I know when I’ve reached that point that I have no idea what my characters are going to do, or when they continually surprise me, that I’ve reached that magic place. If I spent my writing time worrying about the rules, the trends, the latest advice, I’d never produce anything. I’m convinced good writing comes from the heart, not the mind.

    1. Thanks, Melissa. I love the magic of having my characters take over, too. Call it the muse, the zone, whatever. You know when it happens it’s going to be your best.

  11. Hi Yvonne,
    I Liked your article, direct to the point thank you.
    To sum it up Shakespeare said with Hamlet “To be or not to be that is the question.” When it comes to writing I say “Do It, Don’t Just Dream It, for that is the Quest.”

  12. Some really great advice you’ve offered here.
    As the head of a small publishing consulting firm, it is a constant challenge for me to edit the work of another without altering that author’s voice.
    Originality is our most precious commodity.

  13. Interesting article, thanks Yvonne.
    I think before a writer has any chance of finding that elusive ingredient called “voice” they need to first be confident that they have found a style. Style can be readily cultivated, practiced and perfected and you can alter it for the different types of stories you write but always knowing that you are comfortable with your sentences’ form, length, punctuation, rhythm, etc.
    When you can write comfortably with a personal style then only through intimate relations with your characters and stories can you hope to find an individual voice.
    It’s that little person inside your head telling you—you’ve written a perfect sentence, but do you know what would be so funny here? or put the bejeebers up them there? And then doing it with a small flourish that adds a special personality to that already perfect sentence.
    In other words, it’s you, in your groove, making 2+2 somehow equal 5.

    1. Thanks, Kevin. I include style as an important element of voice. And it is so important to keep perfecting it, as you say. That elusive perfect phrase or sentence that is “you” and works so well. The more we listen to that inner “little person” the better it gets.

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