How to write in style – pt. 2 Why substance is sexy - direct ways to rock your copy

Katja Brunkhorst November 22, 2017

Hey ho wannabe writers (and those who’d rather not be) out there! Welcome back to some seriously good advice on how to write well – featuring, as usual, some literary heavyweights as well as a healthy dose of light-hearted yoga wisdom and a snottily empowering punk rock DIY attitude on the side.

how to write in style like a singer on stage

Worry not in case you:

  1. feel like a total fraud with nothing (important or clever or clear…) enough to say; or a text-book impostor even. And fret not if you
  2. seem like a hot mess to yourself, with the chaos of a million ideas running amok in your head, clamoring for your attention. Or maybe you’re being entertained by
  3. acute (as opposed to “a cute” – see how correct spelling and punctuation can alter stuff somewhat dramatically? ALWAYS invest in a proofreader if you’re not 100% firm here yourself!) overwhelm with just how on earth you can sort or structure the one idea you’ve picked – that your inner impostor hasn’t vetoed – into something legible, let alone action-inspiring.

Because, girlfriend (and dear male feminist readers), this is what we’ll be arming ourselves against in this instalment of your new favourite writing guide! So get reading and then: get writing like that F*CKING HEROINE that you truly are, obvs (otherwise you wouldn’t still be reading this, innit?)!

First, let’s deal with Ms Impostor. My current favourite quick’n’dirty fix to kick her to the curb is listening to Norwegian cult rock band Motorpsycho on full blast, with their empowerment tune called “A Song for Everyone” off their new album, The Tower. The music is hypnotic and forceful as f*ck, and the lyrics a mantra in their repetitive, beautiful simplicity (like all works of genius are):

There’s a song for everyone

And a singer for every song.

Please, dahling, take the stern-looking Norsemen by their word! SING YOUR SONG.

Second, let’s find out which YOUR song is at all.

Of all those chaotic voices in your head, which one wants to be heard the hardest? It is not necessarily the loudest.

She can be encountered during a simple ten-minute meditation (I thoroughly, and sadly non-affiliately, recommend the app Headspace if you’re a beginner) and she determines what your next blog post, or inspirational talk, or paper at a meeting should be ABOUT. My bookish bit on the side – next to my main man Nietzsche – Rainer Maria Rilke (who followed his mentor Rodin’s advice to WRITE EVERY DAY and to STUDY NATURE and to use SIMPLE WORDS, btw) has some wicked advice, in turn, in his Letters to a Young Poet.

rilke reading or writing outside

When said aspiring writer dude asks him for advice on, well, writing well, Rilke, in turn, just asks him a question, namely:

Do you have to write?

In other words: what keeps you up at night? What wakes you? What – literally – occupies your mind the most, holding it hostage? Which topic is so dear, or unsettling, to you it is somehow weaved into the very fabric of who you ARE (or seem to be, at that moment in time – our actual self is eternal and unchanging, the Yogis say) that you simply must try and communicate it – to be heard by kindred spirits? In other words yet again: what resonates within your soul to such an extent it will cause related souls to resonate with yours? And bingo. Write about that (again, stream-of-consciousness to start with; no vetoes allowed – let alone by Ms Impostor.)

And thirdly, we’re moving on swiftly to today’s pain point number three: structuring these nuggets of substance we’ve just thus dug up. It is here that I’d like to let the master stylist of prose par excellence take over again, old F. W. Nietzsche. Funnily enough, his advice on how to write in style was actually his attempt at seducing the woman he had the biggest crush of his life on (but whose lover he never became – unlike Rilke, of all people), the awesome HEROINE Lou Andreas-Salomé. The following tips are from a letter to her written in 1882 and they still sound super fresh. They certainly ring truer than at least 99% of today’s “How to” lists and top five challenges on our internet:

1. Of prime necessity is life: a style should live.

2. Style should be suited to the specific person with whom you wish to communicate. (The law of mutual relation.)

3. First, one must determine precisely “what-and-what do I wish to say and present,” before you may write. Writing must be mimicry.

4. Since the writer lacks many of the speaker’s means, he must in general have for his model a very expressive kind of presentation of necessity, the written copy will appear much paler.

5. The richness of life reveals itself through a richness of gestures. One must learn to feel everything — the length and retarding of sentences, interpunctuations, the choice of words, the pausing, the sequence of arguments — like gestures.

6. Be careful with periods! Only those people who also have long duration of breath while speaking are entitled to periods. With most people, the period is a matter of affectation.

7. Style ought to prove that one believes in an idea; not only that one thinks it but also feels it.

8. The more abstract a truth which one wishes to teach, the more one must first entice the senses.

9. Strategy on the part of the good writer of prose consists of choosing his means for stepping close to poetry but never stepping into it.

10. It is not good manners or clever to deprive one’s reader of the most obvious objections. It is very good manners and very clever to leave it to one’s reader alone to pronounce the ultimate quintessence of our wisdom.

This is a lot to take in and just reading it will already start to set some wheels in your subconscious in motion, I absolutely PROMISE. 🙂 For now, I’d like to let you mull this over and will be here again next week to dissect this list and provide actionable examples for each of those ten vital points. Hope you join me then! Your only homework, if you wish to receive any, is this: Listen to Motorpsycho. Meditate for ten minutes. Then write sans censor for another ten. Then re-read Nietzsche’s rules for good style. For she who wants to write well needs to read. A LOT.

Got it? Any questions or comments: go; I would genuinely love to hear from you (kindred spirits and all that). Meanwhile, I’ll heed Nietzsche’s advice myself and let you, dear reader, pronounce the ultimate quintessence of my wisdom.


Namasté and rock on, beautiful!

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