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I want to write in lyrical styles, not only in conversational styles, but often when I attempt that, in a rush to be done, my writing does not flow. Am I a bad writer, or am I just not editing enough?

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    What are lyrical styles and conversation styles? Generally, one writes using on style at a time. Why are you using esses there?
    – Lambie
    Feb 25 at 16:55
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    Every good writer was once a bad writer Feb 25 at 20:58
  • Can you first name for us three or four writers whose style you admire, and another three or four whose style doesn't work for you? Feb 26 at 21:08

7 Answers 7

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Assume you are a bad writer.

Good writers edit, editing more may help you become a better writer.

The other route is practice. Write more often. Write every day.

Stephen King on a talk show was once asked, what advice do you have for people that want to write?

His answer:

Start writing. You have a pen, you have paper, start writing.

But he followed up:

Most people that tell me they want to write, do not really want to write at all. They only want to have written. They want a bestseller, and royalties rolling in forever, and to be invited on talk shows to espouse their philosophy.

But people that want to write, just write. They keep telling stories, even if nobody is listening. And that is what it takes to get there. You have to write, and keep writing, for years, for five years, for ten years, to get good enough to actually start selling your work.

I wrote every day for many years before I sold anything. And I still write every day, because I love writing. And I would still be writing if I had never published anything."

End of quote (as I recall it).

The people that want to have written do not love writing, they are just willing to suffer through it to get to what comes after publishing.

If your writing does not flow, keep writing, and keep trying things to figure out what makes your good writing flow and what is missing from the writing that does not flow, whatever that means to you. And eventually, you will figure it out.

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Writing in a style that is not natural to you will always feel artificial and flow only haltingly. The writing style that flows most effortlessly is the one you employ in your thoughts and everyday speech. Developing a written style from one's own mental and verbal style will most quickly achieve a naturally flowing and efficient writing style.

If you want to write in a way that is distinctly different from the way you commonly think and talk (at least I assume you don't speak in poetry to your friends or at work), requires the same effort as learning a different language, with the added difficulty that you have to invent the language while you learn it.

If that is what you want, what you need to do is manyfold:

  • Practice, that is, write a lot.
  • Read writing in styles that represents or comes close to what you want to achieve, but don't blindly emulate it, instead analyse how it works and try to apply what you learned to your own literary voice.
  • Get feedback on your writing by readers who enjoy the kind of style you want to write in (feedback by others is detrimental, so don't ask people who don't like lyrical styles!!!). Trust the feedback you get and don't argue with your readers that they just don't get what you are doing. That's like telling native speakers that their feel for their language is wrong because you read something in a grammar book.
  • Don't expect to achieve mastery right away. You are making learning to write more difficult to you than the average writer (who writes in a style more close to his everyday language) and you will need more practice and be more diligent and hardworking and it will take you many more years to perfect, so prepare for the long run.
  • Expect a large part of the general public to reject your writing style because they will find it difficult and obscure. Don't expect financial success, as lyrical prose isn't very popular today and doesn't sell well (general fiction requires a language that is clear and unobtrusive, that is, the opposite of what you are attempting).
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Practice. What is needed is more practice.

One particularly beneficial form is to write pastiches of writers whose lyricism you enjoy. It teaches a great deal about how to get the words to jump through hoops.

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Read your work out loud.

Lyricism is an auditory perception (the etymology is "words set to music"); you can't really "hear" how something sounds unless you engage your voice, unless you physically experience the sounds of the piece.

Also, reading aloud slows you down and forces you into linear time, counteracting the hopscotch attention that can arise from visual reading. Quite often, when reading a passage aloud, I'll find missing or duplicated words that I did not see when reading (and re-reading) silently. So I think it's valuable for any kind of writing, not just for the lyrical.

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There is a book called Elements of Eloquence, it explains how English word order, cadence, and some other aspects help writing flow. This will help you. But writing read to others with immediate feedback helps a lot.

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Just to add to the other excellent answers:

  • Practice is king
  • Self reflection can help (you're already doing well on this front!)
  • Reading can help too

If you read something and think "that's great writing" then take a minute to re-read it and work out why it is good and if there are any techniques which you might be able to leverage next time you are writing. You might not get meaningful revelations out of every text but you should gain a nugget of wisdom every now and again.

Obviously, you'll need to practice, but you can bolster it with other actions.

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but often when I attempt that, in a rush to be done, my writing does not flow.

Let me preface this by saying that I'm a rank amateur whose prose skews heavily purple. I write for my own pleasure so that's not the worst problem to have, but reading back makes me feel like I'm just not getting the effect I want.

But it flows while I'm writing.

I can sit down and write a thousand words for the current chapter and the story is in those words. The characters are there, the events are playing out, the plot has advanced. All I need now is some spit and polish to massage the damn thing into something I'd actually enjoy reading.

I struggled with this for a while, trying to write stories that weren't terrible to read, before realising that getting the words out wasn't the end of the process.

How nice that editing has become such a simple thing. We no longer have to worry about running out of ink or blunting our last good quill, we can make any change we want in seconds. We've made the mechanics of editing trivial... even if the process itself is still torturous.

Am I a bad writer, or am I just not editing enough?

As a bad writer myself (trust me on this), I cannot extol the virtues of editing enough. You may be bad, you may not. But the most accomplished authors edit. And not for the fun of it, either.


That said, style is something you can definitely practice. Beyond just editing, try re-writing some of your existing chapters to be more in line with the style you're aiming for. You've already written that part of the story, now write it again - same action, same plot development - in a new 'voice.'

When you read works in the style you're aiming for, how does the text feel? How does it sound in your head? Who is the narrator telling the story? And more importantly: how would that narrator tell your story?

It's like writing dialogue, where you have to get into the feel of the characters to some degree. Casting the narrative voice as a character may let you switch style just as readily.

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