Writing Your Way

You can’t write like them. You can only write like yourself.

Janni Lee Simner
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Published in
4 min readJan 18, 2021

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Person writing in a notebook on a table covered in papers, with a coffee mug nearby.
Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Sometimes I wish every bit of writing advice — every talk, every blog post, every one-on-one conversation — began with a disclaimer:

This worked for me. It might or might not work for you. Give it a try. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, don’t worry about it. Move on.

When we begin writing, there’s so much we’re trying to learn that it’s only natural to look for rules. And well-crafted stories do have some things in common, beginning with the fact that they all engage at least some readers, some of the time.

But beyond the basics of bringing words and characters and plots together, it all gets more complicated. Each writer not only tells different stories but also tells them in different ways.

Some writers outline; others jump in knowing nothing; others do something between or sideways of both these things. Some writers write multiple fast rough drafts; some write one slow, steady, careful one. Snappy dialogue or lush, descriptive prose. Advance research or learning what you need as you go. Writing every day or writing in passionate bursts of activity. Elaborate writing playlists or complete silence. A book every three months, a book a year, a book every five years.

No matter how you write, there’s someone out there who writes completely differently from you. And for many of us, there’s a voice inside our heads that, seeing that, begins to worry: Am I the one doing it wrong?

This voice is loudest on the days the writing is going badly, of course. If your messy draft took you five years to revise and you just found yet another rejection in your inbox–and if that’s the day you come across a blog post by a bestselling writer explaining that if only writers outlined, they’d waste less time — it’s hard not to wonder if they don’t have a point.

Ditto if your critique group just told you that your carefully outlined novel lacks voice, and then an award-winning author gives a talk about how the only way to find the heart of a book is to stop planning, plunge in, and listen to the story.

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Janni Lee Simner
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Novelist = Creator of impossible worlds. Blogger = Trying to understand and improve the possible world we humans share. https://www.simner.com/fiction/