Have you ever been in the middle of a writing project and felt a little lost? Not just in the direction your plot is going, but in how everything is structured?
Well I’ll let you in on a little secret: one of the best ways to ground yourself as a professional writer is to create your own personal style guide.
If this sounds intimidating, just know that your guide can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be—it’s yours. The point of a style guide really is to outline a standard for yourself to follow, for everything from grammar to design elements. The way large companies stay on brand no matter who is writing for them is by creating style guides and making sure their content creators follow them. In writing and in marketing (and you will be marketing yourself!) consistency is key, and a style guide is one of the best ways to ensure consistency.
Because style guides are so specific to you and even to your project I can’t give you an exact step by step process of creating one, but I can certainly give you some things to think about.
- It is more than ok to follow someone else’s style guide, as loosely or as closely as you want to. Many writers base theirs off of the Chicago Manual of Style, or some are more comfortable with the AP Style Guide. In general the AP Style Guide is used more for journalistic purposes, but if you’re more comfortable with it because it was preferred by your teachers and guided your early understanding of writing, that’s perfectly fine. Before beginning your own guide, I recommend perusing several different guides to get a feel for what you want your own style guide to be like.
- When putting your guide together, start with a table of contents. Unless your guide is only a page or two long (which frankly would be surprising, but you do you) you’ll want some organization and a way to find answers quickly. Familiarize yourself with some of the ways word processing softwares (i.e. Microsoft Word) automate the process to make this process extra easy. If you’re really bougie you could also add an index at the end.
- Set your standards. This is the time to get as picky as you could possibly want to be. What words do you want capitalized? How should the beginning of a chapter be stylized? If a word can be spelled multiple ways, which is your preferred version?
- Create don’ts as well as do’s. Get specific, and note things that you never want included in a work of yours. If/when you have beta readers, make sure they are aware of your preferences so that no wires are crossed.
- Pick your preferred fonts, and don’t pick stupid ones. The production team at your future publishing house is nodding in agreement with me right now—don’t you dare rock up with comic sans as an approved font. Readability is the most important factor, and I recommend staying in one font family. You should also think about when to use bold or italic text, how you want to use punctuation, and what kind of headers (if any) you want to employ.
- If you’re fancy pants enough to need to include images of any kind in your works, you should definitely have a plan for those included in your style guide. How big should the images be? Where are they sourced from? Will you have captions? All these details should be noted.
- If you write for more than one purpose, you may want to create more than one style guide. For example, your editorial decisions may differ between a romance project and a science fiction one. To avoid confusion, having more than one style guide on hand is a good way to remind yourself of the decisions you’ve made for each genre.
- Create a checklist for yourself at the end of your guide. Have you followed all the grammar rules you’ve set for yourself? Are all numbers spelled out or in numerals? Either way is fine, as long as you’re consistent the whole way through. I’ll say it a million times because it’s true: consistency is key!!!
- At the end of the day your guide should at minimum answer the following questions:
- Formatting standards (incl. Fonts, spacing, headers etc)
- Writing best practices
- Tense, voice, and point of view preferences
- Understand that your guide should evolve with you as you grow as a writer, and be updated regularly. I’m sure you would agree with me that your writing now versus when you first began is at least a little different, and you may have made new decisions regarding things like the oxford comma. Your guide should reflect those changes! And for the record you’re not my friend if you diss the oxford comma.
Remember, style guides are specific to person and situation. A company’s style guide will be pretty different to a writer’s personal guide so please don’t think you should be keeping up with a style guide intended for hundreds of writers to follow. Good luck, and happy style guide creating!
P.S. If this helps you at all, reach out and let us know! We’d love to see your guides.