Bad Choices, Evolving Voices

I used to start my writing like a hailstorm. Jump cuts. Sentence fragments. Images assaulting the hood of your car, leaving tiny dents until you stare at it from your living room window and think, “Well there goes the resale value.” But really, you have no intention of ever selling that car. You’ll have it till you die or it does, and sure, the monetary value has fallen, but its character value has risen. My writing didn’t have to be coherent. It just had to have a feeling and a flow. The hail melted and ran into the gutter. The reader, I hoped, could ride a raft down the rapids of my stream of consciousness.

Then I chopped up my sentences. Less imagery. Less flow. More how your thoughts work. Like hopscotch. I’m not a huge fan of this style. But I’m sure you can see its origins. It was more talky, straightforward. Perhaps like having a conversation. I liked it because it felt raw and real. It felt like smoking in a bar and saying things like, “Another, please,” instead of the grammatically correct, “I’ll have another please.” It felt a lot like deja vu because of all the repetition. And because of that, it felt a little obnoxious.

Change is nothing more than the death of something old. My old way of writing died, and I mimicked Chuck Palahniuk’s style. If you’ve not read a Chuck novel, you should. It’s worth it. But it has been known to make people cringe. Think of biting down on a metal file and then pulling it out as quickly as you can. It’s like that, but with repeating pseudo-philosophical mantras tossed in like croutons in a salad. He has natural rhythm. He likes short sentences. He likes repetition. So it agreed with my previous stylistic incarnations. I enjoyed writing in his style for a long time, but soon it became stale. I knew what I was doing was nearing death. I could see its wrinkles, its liver spots. It was dying, changing. And change is nothing more than the death of something old.

Steven sat at his desk and logged hours clicking at his keyboard. He almost always had a coffee, made from freshly ground beans and brewed through a cone filter. He couldn’t write until the coffee was there, sitting on the desk like a loyal dog after years of hunting with its master in the field. He transitioned to the third person and experimented in realism. Instead of starting a novel with nothing more than a thought, he spent hours building characters, storyboarding, plotting and outlining until he knew how it was to end. He aimed to be methodical, building upon the natural rhythm of language, and hoping that each sentence, though long and perhaps a bit complex, could be something read with little more than an afterthought. He loathed repetition and sentence fragments and commas and tried to use it all as little as possible.

And that’s been my journey. At least when it comes to fiction. My non-fiction is written in what I believe to be my natural voice. Only it’s smoother. Because, if you talk to me in person you might notice that I have trouble forming decent sentences. Instead I just use swear words and sarcasm because that’s way easier. Anyway, this post was inspired by the I Write Like web site. It’s been around for a while, but it never loses its fun. You can enter a chunk of text and it tells you who you supposedly write like. I don’t think it’s all that accurate. I consistently get L. Frank Buam and H.P. Lovecraft, but I don’t see it. My goal was to have each paragraph in this essay come up as a different writer, but my Palahniuk paragraph didn’t come up Palahniuk! I mean, what the hell? My point is, it’s great to have evolving styles, especially when some of them were pretty bad. I find it fascinating (and a bit cringe-inducing) to read my old work. But I love seeing how much I’ve changed and I hope I continue to evolve into a better writer than I was before.


Steven E. Athay is an aspiring story designer and connoisseur of all things awesome. Follow him on Twitter at @steveneathay, or read his blog Afflatus.
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