Creating A Style Of Your Own: Why It's So Hard (And Easy)

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From an email from the folks at Psychological Marketing Business Tactics: Big And Small Business Ideas - Psychotactics - Big and Small Business Ideas.

I found this particularly instructional, inspiring and relevant to learning to write copy. Hope you do too.

- Rick Duris

PS: Comments welcome and appreciated.
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If you were to look at Picasso's work, you could spot it anywhere.

If you were to listen to Sting's music, you'd know it was Sting.

If you were to read Dan Brown's book, you'd know it was Dan.

So how come these folks have a style, and you don't?

You know you don't have a style, because if you took your cartoon or your article and placed it amongst another person's work, no one would be able to pick out your work as unique. And that's because it's not.

Imagine you're trying to learn how to cook a yummy dish like biryani.

Now biryani tends to be a very complex, almost scary type of rice dish. It's filled with a list of ingredients as long as your arm, and the process can be intimidating.

But if you're determined to crack the 'biryani code', you're going to follow the instructions in great detail. The exact ingredients, sequence and methodology must be followed to ensure that you replicate the dish.

And this means you're copying.

When you're copying, you're replicating the style of the person you're copying. But if you make this dish several times, additions occur. You may read about another type of biryani or may watch a few videos. And suddenly, instead of boneless chicken, you're using chicken with bones. Or instead of chicken, you're using veggies instead.

Sooner or later dropouts occur as well.

You stop referring to the recipe because you're comfortable with the sequence and ingredients. And then you create your own kind of dish. But you may forget some ingredients, add others, or do something quite different altogether. And if you mix, mingle, and keep learning how to make this dish, you soon get your own style.

Style is not about invention.

Style is about copying. About 'tracing', and 'copying' and 'then rendering from memory'. The more you trace, copy and render from memory, the more the concepts mix in your brain. And eventually one day-and that day isn't very far-you'll have a style of your own.

But you need to practice and mix and mingle.

If you slavishly copy one person's style, you'll soon become a replica of that person's work. When I first started out in cartooning, I used to copy Hagar the Horrible. And my work was a replica of Hagar the Horrible. But then I added other cartoons, like Dennis the Menace, Calvin and Hobbes etc. And my work became my own.

Today I have a distinct writing style, drawing style, speaking style etc.

And so can you. You already have a style that's quite your own in many areas of your life. And it's time to port over those concepts so that you can apply the style to your writing and your drawing as well.

So practice away.

Copy a lot.

Trace a lot.

And render from memory a lot.

And yes, make sure you copy from different sources.

And then, about six-nine months from now, you'll have a style that's quite different from anyone else. But if you keep doing what you're doing, without copying, you'll just become a copy-of yourself. If you want to continuously evolve, you need to keep tracing, copying and then rendering your own impression. That's the only way you'll keep learning and evolving your style.

So that when you make biryani, they'll say you made biryani.

But when I make biryani, there's a certain point of difference that makes it quite my own. Make it your own.

Start today.

P.S. Copying is different from plagiarism. If you're not clear about the difference, look up the dictionary.
#creating #easy #hard #style
  • Profile picture of the author angiecolee
    Fabulous piece, Rick. I may have to sign up for that newsletter.

    We grow up often learning by rote, and unfortunately today we don't really hear the stress on critical thinking - at least that's how I've been seeing it. I remember my teachers educating us on standards of knowledge, but one teacher in high school stands out in particular. AP English - oh, some people hated that lady.

    Every day in class, the first thing we did was a writing prompt. Ten minutes, timed. Usually, it involved analyzing a brief article or piece of literature. There was not enough time to think about what the teacher wanted us to say or to consider the "right" answer...there was only time to read and think and write. Then we'd discuss our answers - a brief summary of course, the grading came from the teacher herself.

    That one class taught me to appreciate people's interpretations and ideas. I often had an answer I was proud of after ten minutes of furious scribbling (boy, did my hand hurt!), but I just as often found myself in awe of the other ideas and analyses my classmates posed. It was an angle I'd never considered, and it usually led me to appreciate the complexity of the piece we were analyzing.

    I think I intuited this lesson of rote memorization + tweaking the process from memory. I've been a musician for a long time - I started as a classical musician (clarinet, if you're curious). Everything in classical music is rigid and structured. I transitioned from classical to jazz, and from clarinet to alto sax. Those first few months were both awkward and hilarious, I'm sure. I had to learn how to transition from the rigid structure of classical to the improvisations of jazz, how to hear a riff in my head and play it moments later. I've gone even further with my experience as a blues singer - every time I do a song with a band, it's different. It's recognizable at its core, but we make it ours in the moment.

    I never applied that concept to my writing, at least not consciously. I do really like the idea though. Thanks for sharing!
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    • Profile picture of the author madison_avenue
      Style is not about invention.

      Style is about copying. About 'tracing', and 'copying' and 'then rendering from memory'. The more you trace, copy and render from memory, the more the concepts mix in your brain. And eventually one day-and that day isn't very far-you'll have a style of your own.
      Great post. Copying is actually like the learning process itself,. We now know about Synapses and Neural Pathways, the more times you do something, the better you get at it. This video explains it:

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    • Profile picture of the author Steve Hill
      The analogy to cooking is a good one. Every cook starts by copying simple recipes, then more complex recipes, then different styles of cooking, and after a while they've got their own fusion thing going on. With all the practice, intuition kicks in and a good cook just "knows" what blends and proportions of ingredients will (usually) provide the desired results.

      A beneficial side effect of developing a personal style is it unleashes the inner creative side. I've found when not confined to a defined pattern, the mind free-associates in ways it would not do otherwise.

      Originally Posted by angiecolee View Post

      That one class taught me to appreciate people's interpretations and ideas. I often had an answer I was proud of after ten minutes of furious scribbling (boy, did my hand hurt!), but I just as often found myself in awe of the other ideas and analyses my classmates posed. It was an angle I'd never considered, and it usually led me to appreciate the complexity of the piece we were analyzing.
      Great story there - I had a teacher that did the same thing, and experienced similar results. And just recently, a study group was discussing a relatively complex writing (Breakthrough Advertising), and the perspectives of others often gave new meaning to conceptual understandings.

      (Breakthrough Advertising is one of those books where understanding changes according to experience, so a study group is a great way to fully understand it faster.)

      Coming back to what Sean D'Souza was saying in Rick's post - in copywriting, the development of a personal style would seem to come not only from copying and learning styles (which is necessary in the beginning to learn structure and flow), but perhaps more important, from understanding the inner concepts that are embodied (such as when and why a particular writer uses an open loop, or another uses folksy sayings like "quick as greased lightning").

      It may not apply as much in learning a cartooning style, but it certainly seems to apply in learning something that has a mental framework behind it. It requires that extra dimension of understanding and study. What do you think?
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      • Profile picture of the author angiecolee
        Originally Posted by Steve Hill View Post

        Coming back to what Sean D'Souza was saying in Rick's post - in copywriting, the development of a personal style would seem to come not only from copying and learning styles (which is necessary in the beginning to learn structure and flow), but perhaps more important, from understanding the inner concepts that are embodied (such as when and why a particular writer uses an open loop, or another uses folksy sayings like "quick as greased lightning").

        It may not apply as much in learning a cartooning style, but it certainly seems to apply in learning something that has a mental framework behind it. It requires that extra dimension of understanding and study. What do you think?
        I completely agree. If copywriters were to study only Sir Gary of Halbert or Dan Kennedy or any of the greats, they'd have a very superficial view of copywriting, not because those guys weren't great, but because they have one perspective on how things should be done (albeit one perspective that really works!).

        I have a colleague in a networking group that just cannot do hardcore sales in his business. The manager is convinced that all he needs to do is knock on 1000 doors and he'll be rolling in the commissions. I think that's a great example of having too narrow a mindset. What works for Halbert may not work for me, but it could teach me something about how to implement certain ideas. Same with the other greats. I don't want to sound like a cheap imitation of any of those guys - I want to be Angie, capable of sales in her own right. Same with my colleague - he can study proven sales-as-a-form-of-war numbers game tactics, or he can search for alternative methods, get a broader perspective, and make it work for him.
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        • Profile picture of the author Steve Hill
          Originally Posted by angiecolee View Post

          I completely agree. If copywriters were to study only Sir Gary of Halbert or Dan Kennedy or any of the greats, they'd have a very superficial view of copywriting, not because those guys weren't great, but because they have one perspective on how things should be done (albeit one perspective that really works!).
          That does bring up an interesting question - how did those guys develop their unique styles? There were probably fewer examples available in the pre-internet days, but no doubt they studied what they did have.
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          • Profile picture of the author copyassassin
            I attended a 30 person conference Sean lead in April of this year. The guy is the real deal. And when you meet him in person, he's the same guy you meet in the copy.
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  • Profile picture of the author WinstonTian
    I think you can borrow the same philosophy from a lot of
    disciplines, especially the aesthetics side.

    I did martial arts when I was younger, and there was one thing
    common among a lot of types of martial arts.

    Every martial art starts off with a strict disciplinary set of
    moves that define the art. Every practitioner would have to
    practice his moves to perfection, until every move is fluid and
    committed to muscle memory.

    However, once you start to master these moves, you move
    slowly out of the "muscling" phase into the more "applicative"
    phase.

    I agree with a lot of the science stated above. It's something
    along the lines of repeated conditioning, until the patterns are
    activated subconsciously when the right stimulus in the right
    stimuli field is presented.

    For example, if someone touches the shoulder of a trained judo
    master, that person is going to end up on the floor by reflex.

    Copywriting is a pretty diverse thing, and you can't break it
    up scientifically. Well, maybe you can - into linguistic memes,
    but that would be far too much into the range of memetics,
    which isn't necessary for us to produce brilliant copy.

    I can't remember where I heard it from, but a person once
    said that any skill is like driving a car. You don't need to know
    how the car works, just how to drive it.

    Hell, knowing how the car works and how it responds to your
    touch could be useful to a stuntman or a f1 driver, but to a
    good driver, you require a different "level" of understanding.

    Once you know how to switch the gears easily, and know
    where the hand-brake is... and how to control your clutch,
    accelerator and brakes skillfully...

    You simply just develop your own style of driving.

    Not sure if the newer-to-the-art people would catch my
    drift?

    Winston Tian
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  • Profile picture of the author colmodwyer
    Interesting. Though I wouldn't complain if I could exactly emulate Gary Bencivenga's style -- especially now that he's retired -- and never develop my own.

    Colm
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    • Profile picture of the author JacMer
      Thanks Rick,
      Some good biryani to chew on.

      Jack
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  • Profile picture of the author Jerome Y
    Gread read ! This really highlights how one can really systematically begin to create your own style.

    I am an advocator of copying and tracing other's style until one day it assimilates into your writing and becomes something new yet with hints of different styles all combined into this mix that is yours.
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  • Profile picture of the author NadiaChaudhry
    I agree so much. Copy the masters in any arena you want to do great in. Once you get the hang of it, then you can put your spin on it. There's no need to reinvent the wheel.
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    • Profile picture of the author RickDuris
      The thing I like about his description is he makes it perfectly ok to try new stuff and break some rules.

      And it doesn't matter whether you've learned the rules in the first place or not.

      Kinda reminds me when my daughter was 3 or 4, she made me breakfast one morning.

      Took EVERYTHING off the counter (and I mean everything) mixed it all together and said "Here Daddy, I made you some breakfast."

      Yum. Yum.

      - Rick Duris
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