One-Minute Book Reviews

May 10, 2007

How Does a Writer Develop a Style? Quote of the Day #23

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:06 am
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Ernest Hemingway said that perfection of style is a writer’s road to salvation. But how does a writer develop a style? Here’s an answer from Tomie dePaola, who has written and illustrated many children’s picture books, the best known of which is Strega Nona:

“When I was a student at Pratt in the 1950s, studying illustration, I remember a fellow student asking one of our instructors, ‘When do we learn about style?’ ‘We won’t learn about style,’ he replied. ‘Style happens naturally. If you keep on working, eventually the way you can and want to express yourself will surface. Meanwhile, do the assignments, listen to the critiques, don’t miss your drawing classes, painting classes, design classes and by all means look at everything. Go to the galleries and the museums. Your own style will surface.’”

Tomie dePaola in “Voices of the Creators” in The Essential Guide to Children’s Books and Their Creators (Houghton Mifflin, 2002), edited by Anita Silvey.

Comment by Janice Harayda:
Tomie dePaola may have been talking about illustration, but his advice applies equally to writing. Many writers try to “find” their style by imitating great writers. But you don’t find a style so much as release it, or allow it to emerge, in the way dePaola describes. If you keep writing long enough, you’ll see what your style is. Imitation may give you ideas about your style could be but won’t provide it for you.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. All true. I even find it hard to read something completely through once I see the authors style. For instance, a few months ago I began Desert Solitare by Edward Abbey. As soon as I read a few pages I had to stop for a few days and write about my own experiences in the desert west.

    I simply wanted to be able to say…’Yep, I know how you feel, I wrote the same idea down, my sunrise looked the same, my dry desert is like your dry desert…etc’.

    It’s the Ralph Waldo Emerson Idea of: “In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts, they come back to us with an alienated majesty”.

    I don’t want to read something, write something and be accussed of style copying. And doing this is my personal ‘Genius Verification’ 🙂

    I wrote about the Secret years ago, before it was a secret. I’m telling you!

    Style is something like that. I can recognize something that is *close* to my writing style, but style…is all your own.


    Comment by P — May 10, 2007 @ 4:51 pm | Reply

  2. This is the best part of Tomie dePaola’s answer: “don’t miss your drawing classes, painting classes, design classes and by all means look at everything. Go to the galleries and the museums. Your own style will surface.” Writing is a visual art form. And noticing what is around us in great detail is paramount to developing style. If we keep showing up, and noticing what is around us, our styles emerge beautifully.

    Comment by QuoinMonkey — May 10, 2007 @ 9:10 pm | Reply

  3. P: Love that Emerson quote (and heard it before). Emerson is so right. A variation on his idea, which I have heard elsewhere, is that great writers are always explaining us to ourselves.

    QuoinMonkey: DePaola goes on (in the part of the interview that I didn’t quote) to make almost exactly the point that you did. Observation is king. How can you write about in your own way if you haven’t looked closely what it is?

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — May 10, 2007 @ 10:03 pm | Reply

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