Have you heard of the story “Mister Squishy”?
It originally appeared in an issue of McSweeney’s with the name Elizabeth Klemm.
But some fans of a particular writer thought it had a distinct style, that it was so similar in tone, vocabulary and structure that it could only be him.
In fact it was David Foster Wallace. He sent it to them, expressing that he wanted it under a pseudonym and the McSweeney’s team went a long with it.
Wallace’s style is so crystal clear that his legion of fans knew it had to be him.
That’s amazing to me. I, of course, don’t have the audience that Wallace had but even if I did I don’t think people would know a particular piece of writing was mine. Not yet at least.
Style is a funny thing. No piece of writing is exactly the same, so it’s funny to me that a new creation could bear the hallmarks of an old one, even if the content is different. It’s about structure, about tendencies, vocabulary and a particular diction.
We know a Faulkner book when we see one. Same for Don Delillo. Or a Tarantino book and Wes Anderson.
What’s your style? I think I’m still working mine out. Problem is I don’t like some of my style. I’m constantly working out some “bad writing,” whether it be using the same words too often or making passive sentences.
I like using caps, I like diversions, I like parentheses (sometimes at least). Often, I don’t know whether to embrace my tendencies or get rid of them. That’s the hard part, I think. Knowing what to keep and knowing what to let go.
Successful writers are the ones who know what works, either by natural talent or by honed practice.
I’m still going at it.