How to Find Your Writing Style (And Why That’s Even a Thing)

Abi Wurdeman
April 20, 2023

It kind of feels an abstract, vague, and challenging quest, learning how to find your writing style. Even receiving this article assignment re-awakened the panic my younger self felt when I had to “explain why my voice is unique” on writing fellowship applications.

Old anxieties aside, there is a lot of power in finding and defining your writing style. Not just because someone will eventually ask you to describe it, but because it helps you build a thriving career

When you know your style, you know how to sell yourself and your work. More importantly, you’re able to set yourself apart with a voice that is fresh, engaging, and uniquely your own.

So how do you get to that point? 

You’re about to find out. But first, let’s clarify what we mean when we talk about how to find your writing style.

What Does “Writing Style” Even Mean?

Talking about writing style gets a little tricky because many people define style as the combination of voice and tone. And in writing, we often define “voice” as your personality and “tone” as your attitude about the topic at hand.

What the heck are you supposed to do with that as a fiction writer? If you write one novel from the first-person perspective of a seventy-year-old anthropology professor and another from the third-person omniscient perspective of an angel, won’t those two books have a completely different voice and tone?

Probably. So let’s set aside the answer of voice and tone and look at the smaller elements that contribute to the overall “vibe” of your writing. You know, things like:

  • Diction
  • Rhythm
  • Sentence structure
  • Sentence length
  • Pacing

Your style can also include your personal values and perspective, the themes you gravitate towards, and the devices you use to tell your stories.

Both Britt-Marie Was Here and A Man Called Ove follow the protagonist’s perspective and voice closely. But they do so by way of author Fredrik Backman’s signature moves: constantly sharing his character’s thoughts, focusing on themes of connection and loss, and giving his main character a symbolic obsession with a seemingly trivial thing, like baking soda.   

In other words, there’s a lot going on when it comes to your writing style. So let’s go find yours, shall we?

How to Find Your Writing Style

I writer sits on a coach holding a notebook and staring off into the distance.

Before we talk about how to find your writing style, I want to make something very clear.

There’s no such thing as a “good” style the same way that there's good character development or good scene description or good dialogue. This process is less about mastering a skill and more about refining what’s unique about you.

Still pretty abstract, I know. But this will get easier as we go. So let’s jump in.

Analyze Your Content

This is one of the quickest and simplest strategies for finding your writing style. Read what you’ve already written. Do you notice any patterns?

Ask yourself:

  • How long and complex do my sentences tend to be?
  • What do I notice about my diction? Do I tend to use more formal language or do I keep it casual? Are my descriptions detailed and visceral? Or am I more inclined to keep things stripped down?
  • What moods or attitudes come up a lot? Do I tend to communicate with a tone of cynicism? Amusement? Reverence?
  • Does my writing have a noticeable rhythm? Is it quick and clipped? Slow and flowy? Bright and bouncy?
  • What specific strategies do I use to clarify character or evoke emotion

Now, you might find that your current approach feels less like a writing style and more like a generic attempt at writing well. That’s not at all unusual, especially among new writers. We all go into writing with heads full of everything we’ve ever been taught about “quality” writing.

It’s hard to find our unique voice underneath a giant pile of rules, and that’s why I’m going to tell you to set all the rules aside for a minute. These next two tips will help you step back from all those high school language arts lessons so your own style can shine through.

Let It Flow

The question of how to find your writing style gets a little tricky when you consider that you’re hunting for something that’s kind of already part of you. The entire point of a style is that it’s uniquely yours. It’s your authentic self on the page.

How do you actively search for something that’s supposed to come naturally?

Start by allowing yourself to just write. Let the words flow. Don’t worry about whether your style is “engaging” or “smart” or “worthy of a five-star rating.” Write the way you do when your only goal is to indulge in the joy of expression.

To get there, you may need to set aside your novel manuscript, as it might come with a lot of built-in hopes for glory and success. 

Instead, write a journal entry or a short story you don’t intend to do anything with. Blast out some words about something you feel passionately about… something that invites you to get lost in the content without worrying about whether it’s good.

Then review what you wrote. What do you notice about the words you choose? What about your sentence structure? Do you tend to use short, direct sentences? Long, lyrical sentences? Is there a rhythm to your writing? A clear tone or personality?

If that exercise doesn’t help (or even if it does), try this one:

Tap Into Your Voice

Black and white image of a child yelling into a microphone.

Your speaking and writing styles will always be a little different. After all, you don’t have time to dress-up your word choice and syntax mid-conversation the way you can when you’re writing.

Nevertheless, if your current writing style feels a little forced, empty, or flat, try writing the way you speak. Do you use a lot of subtle humor or colorful, expressive language? Are you all about keeping it brief, honest, and direct?

Try a few writing exercises, doing your best to write more or less the way you talk. What do you notice?

Odds are, what you produce won’t feel like a perfect writing style for a novel. It’ll probably feel more suited to a blog post or irreverent self-help book. But you may notice elements of your speaking style that can be incorporated into your one-of-a-kind author voice.

Still struggling to detect anything distinctive about your writing style? This next tip might help.

Compare Your Writing to Other Writers, but in a Good Way

Read a page of one of your favorite authors. Then read a page from one of your other favorite authors. Then read a page of your own work.

Write down the differences you see between the three passages. Is there something you’re doing that they’re not? Something they’re doing that you’re not? 

When you’re really tapped into your voice, it can be hard to recognize your own writing style simply because it’s so familiar to you. Kind of like how we’re always the last to notice our own BO. 

But if you look at your writing alongside someone else’s, you’ll start to see what makes your work unique.

An added benefit of this exercise is that it can help you refine your style, too. You might really like some of the style choices you notice in the other authors’ work. You might discover new approaches to storytelling that align with the way you like to communicate. 

That brings me to this next strategy:

Play Around

Two children play with an art piece depicting characters with mix-and-match bodies.

You’ve learned how to find your writing style by observing what you’re already doing. Now comes the part where you actively create it.

If that’s a little confusing, I get it. I just spent so many words talking about how your style should be natural and unique to you. And now you’re just supposed to invent a voice?

Not exactly. This is about fine-tuning your style. It’s about trying structures and techniques that you’ve never explored before. You might discover new tools that enhance what you’re already doing or help you break free of a generic style that’s rooted in what your ninth grade teacher said was good writing.

So how do you experiment with new styles?

One easy way is to imitate the techniques of other writers. Pick an author with a distinctive style and rewrite a scene of your current project the way they would write it. 

The goal is not to make their style your style. Instead, it’s to see what it’s like to write in poetic and descriptive language like Toni Morrison or keep it witty and playful like P.G. Wodehouse. 

How does it feel to try on someone else’s style? How does it change the way your story reads? Is there any aspect of their approach you’d like to adopt for yourself?

You can also start every writing session with a quick exercise in which you use one stylistic  choice that’s new to you. You might try something like:

  • Writing in short, active sentences
  • Experimenting with flowery language
  • Telling a story through half-page vignettes instead of multi-page scenes
  • Breaking an outdated grammar rule that feels restrictive and pretentious
  • Writing the same paragraph four times, using a different tone each time
  • Using long, complex sentences

Keep anything that works. Then:

Separate Style From Habit

Now the question of how to find your writing style comes full circle. When we began this journey, I encouraged you to set aside everything you were taught about what good writing looks like. 

That’s important for unlocking self-expression. We can’t find our authentic voices if we’re constantly worried about whether our authenticity aligns with someone else’s rules.

But once you’ve found the writing style that’s natural to you, it’s time to examine that style again, this time noting the difference between style and habit.

For example, I love a well-placed sentence fragment. I enjoy starting the occasional sentence with a conjunction. And I live to stir up the emotional panic of a narrative with short sentences and a lot of repetition. 

While I stand by those style choices, I also know I have to be careful about overusing them. Because I absolutely do. (Just did the conjunction one. Now the fragment. Do you see what I’m talking about? Do you see it? Do you?)

Our most beloved strategies can easily become crutches that prevent us from finding new and better ways to communicate our ideas. More to the point, these style crutches turn our prose into a dull, repetitive hum that puts the reader to sleep.

Not a desirable outcome.

Read and Write Every Day

A person in a jean jacket reads a book at an outdoor table next to a stack of books.

This is the absolute best advice I can give you for how to find your writing style.

So why did I put it at the end? 

Because it saves me about a hundred words. I don’t have to explain why reading another author’s work and regularly writing your own helps you sharpen your own style. We just covered that in all the preceding tips.

The only thing I have to emphasize now is the importance of making a daily habit of reading and writing.

When you engage with words every day—even if it’s only for ten minutes at a time—you immerse yourself in the craft. You activate your creative mind daily, which keeps it whirring in the background, even as you live your busy life.

That continuous, consistent exercise helps you tap into your natural, authentic style without overthinking it—without constantly reaching for what’s “good” instead of what’s you.

That’s what this is all about, after all. Finding a voice that’s all your own.

Need a Little Extra Help?

Finding your style is very much a “learning by doing” thing. My primary goal with this article is to help you understand what exactly you’re looking for. The search itself is up to you. But you don’t have to search alone.

Here are a few articles that can help you experiment, explore, and refine your style:

I also recommend signing up for the Dabble newsletter. This newsletter delivers fresh inspiration and advice to your inbox every week.

Think of it as an automatic reminder to keep writing relentlessly. It’s the best way to find your style. 

Abi Wurdeman

Abi Wurdeman is the author of Cross-Section of a Human Heart: A Memoir of Early Adulthood, as well as the novella, Holiday Gifts for Insufferable People. She also writes for film and television with her brother and writing partner, Phil Wurdeman. On occasion, Abi pretends to be a poet. One of her poems is (legally) stamped into a sidewalk in Santa Clarita, California. When she’s not writing, Abi is most likely hiking, reading, or texting her mother pictures of her houseplants to ask why they look like that.