How to Develop Your Writing Style

Is it magjc, or just practice? Yes.

Ben Putano


I recently saw someone on Twitter refer to writing style as "magic."

It got me thinking:

  • What is writing style, exactly?
  • Why should we care?
  • Is it really magic?
  • If not, how do we find and cultivate it?

I just got back from Mexico City, a place bursting with style, from its architecture to the art to its legacy of world-famous writers. It was inspiring to say the least, and it gave me time to ponder these questions on style.

What is writing style?

Writing style, at its core, is creative problem solving.

The first job of style is to serve a function. If a beautiful building can't stand up, that's bad design. If your writing fails to communicate clearly, that's bad style.

The 'creative' part of the equation is a bit more interesting. How do you choose to communicate a message, to tell a story, to persuade a reader?

The options are endless, which is why no two writing styles are exactly alike.

Why should we care about writing style?

The comment about writing style being 'magic' came from a conversation about artificial intelligence.

The commenter called themselves a critic of AI writing tools because they would kill the "style and magic" of human writing.

I don't think that's quite right.

I believe style starts starts well before you pick up any tool, whether its a paintbrush or AI writing assistant.

So if you have a clearly defined writing style, it will be reflected when you use an AI writing tool.

But if you DON'T have a defined style, your writing will get lost in the sea of sameness.

We are about to see an explosion of good writing thanks to AI writing tools. But none of it will be GREAT. And great writing is the only way to stand out.

To take your writing from good to great, you need to refine your unique writing style.

Is style magic?

No and yes.

Style is an expression of your personality. It's your unique way of navigating the world.

So from the reader's perspective, style can look like magic.

How could any mortal person craft such a perfect sentence as Donna Tartt's opening line from A Secret History?

"The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation." —Donna Tartt, A Secret History Lesson: If it bleeds, it leads If you have a shocking story to share, jump right into it.

How is Frida Kahlo's iconic style and confidence not magic?

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But style is magic in the way The Wizard of Oz is great and powerful. It's what's behind the curtain that counts.

How do we find and cultivate style?

Style is an expression of our personality. Therefore, finding and cultivating your style starts with understanding what makes you tick.

Consider this insightful passage from Josh Waitzkin's The Art of Learning.

See how his personality was reflected in his style of playing chess?

A key ingredient to my success in those years was that my style on the chessboard was a direct expression of my personality. It is my nature to revel in apparent chaos. I’ve always loved thunderstorms, blizzards, hurricanes, rough seas, sharky waters. Since childhood, inclement conditions have inspired me, and as a young competitor I would guide critical chess games into positions of tremendous complexity with the confidence that I would be able to sort through the mayhem more effectively than my opponents. I often sensed a logical thread to positions that seemed irrational—playing exciting chess felt like discovering hidden harmonies. I was a free-flowing performer, unblocked by psychological issues and hungering for creative leaps.

But your personality is just one part of style.

As I said before, form without function is bad style. Josh had to learn how to harness his style into good chess. This took thousands of hours of practice.

You also need to learn how to hone your unique style into good writing.

Hone Your Writing Style in 4 Steps:

So here are my suggestions for finding and cultivating your own unique writing style:

  1. Know thyself. Get analytical about your personality (See exercise below)
  2. Write how you talk. Our style is reflected in our voice. If you struggle to make your words sound natural, try using voice-to-text on your phone.
  3. Edit for clarity. After writing your first draft, go back and ask yourself: What am I trying to say here? Is it as clear as it can be? Could my reader easily explain this to someone else? What's missing, unnecessary, and confusing?
  4. Get feedback. Finally, ask your reader if you hit the mark. Is your writing clear? What are the strengths? Where could you improve?

If readers are unwilling to give you feedback, ask a trusted peer.

Exercise: Take the Big 5 Personality Test

Some really smart people have identified 5 key characteristics that make up our personalities:

  1. Neuroticism
  2. Extraversion
  3. Openness to experience
  4. Agreeableness
  5. Conscientiousness

We each have a mix of these traits in high or low quantities. Regardless of what you think of personality tests, this is a great place to start to understand your writing style.

I just took the test again. It's fascinating to see how aspects of my personality are reflected in my writing.

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For example, I like to make my writing fun and engaging. This is a reflection of my high extraversion nature.

I also tend to share ideas without presenting them as facts. I invite discussion by qualifying my ideas with terms like "I think," and "I believe." This comes from my high levels of agreeableness.

Lastly, I love connecting ideas from far-flung corners of life, a reflection of my "openness to experience," which includes creativity and imagination.

How is your personality reflected in your writing style? Take the test for yourself and send me your results.

It only took me 10 minutes and 27 seconds to complete and it's FREE:

Writing style has never been more important. With the rise of AI writing tools, readers will crave authentic communication. You need to find your unique voice is a sea of sameness.

Whether or not you use an AI writing tool, style starts with YOU.