Whether you aspire to be a better writer, or you simply enjoy reading a well written book, blog post or magazine feature, you will know that all writers have a style that develops over time. It’s ever evolving and it’s the thing that dictates whether you like a writer or not.
So what makes a great writer stand out above their contemporaries and how can you be a better writer too?
If you enjoy writing yourself and would like to get serious about it, I really would recommend reading more. And if you enjoyed that read, try and reverse engineer what you enjoyed and figure out what it was about the story that hit the spot with you.
To get you started, here’s some of my favourite writers who I genuinely think have had an affect on my own writing style over the years.
Mel’s book, And the Revs Keep Rising, is a bible for anyone who aspires as a motoring writer. Forget about ‘Look at me driving the Stelvio Pass, look at me leaving clouds of tyre smoke as I learn drifting” as a style of writing.
That’s not what the very best motoring writing is all about. Mel’s writing style puts you in the position of peering over his shoulder.
His feature on driving Lamborghinis from the factory in Italy, through France to the UK is considered one of the best drive features ever written.
If ever I fear that my automotive writing style needs a kick in the butt, this is the book I take out and read a few chapters of.
I’ve written before about how modern motoring journalism seems to be going down the route of ‘Look at Me, Look at Me.” That type of self indulgent writing irritates me. It’s not about you. It’s about the car, the drive, the sounds, smells and feelings.
Mel reminds me how lucky I am to drive some of the cars that I do and how important it is to try and describe every nuance to the reader who would love to have been there with me.
Now sadly no longer with us. Brian Lecomber was an aerobatic pilot of some note. One of the members of the Rothmans Aerobatic Team, he was also a great writer, both as a journalist and author. Massively talented at the controls of an Pitts Special and then Extra 300, he was a great pilot and writer.
His features for Pilot magazine were always written with great humour and engaged you from start to finish. Additionally, he wrote three flying novels which in paperback form were three of my favourite publications.
He was able to write with great authority, great humour and, like Mel Nichol, had you there in the cockpit alongside him as the story unfolded.
Famous for his book A Year In Provence, Peter is single handedly responsible for the British passion for the South of France. He’s also the author of A Good Year, which went on to become one of my favourite films, starring Russell Crowe, Albert Finney, Marion Coutilard, Freddie Highmore and directed by Ridley Scott.
My 25 Years in Provence was written towards the end of his life and is a wonderfully warm collection of tales of his lifetime in that part of France, you can buy it in print or digital form by hitting the image below.
Peter passed away in 2018 though his legacy of descriptive writing and picking up on the small details, what things smell like, the light, the warmth, all transport you to that part of France.
There are times when he infuriates me. Clarkson knows his market and indeed panders to it at every opportunity. His term for a sequencial shift gearbox, Flappy Paddles, grates on me to this day. My on track lifetime instructing on supercar experience days was littered with customers saying “Oh, flappy paddles…..”
So whilst many times I want to throttle him – and there are a great many times – there are also examples of his journalism that stand out massively, which indeed is how he was able to take his opportunity for global TV fame when it arose. His ability to use dry humour without it being degrading and actually making you smile is one of his star qualities.
His skill as a presenter and personality is actually an extension of his journalistic style that made him so popular in print.
Yet in fact, Clarkson is at his best when not discussing cars. He’s actually written and presented some superb documentaries including one about the Victoria Cross and the work of Victorian engineer Brunel that are simply superb.
I look forward to the time when his Amazon Prime deal ends and he comes back to that style of great writing and presenting. Meanwhile, he does still continue to publish his written work in his distinctive style, in print and on your Kindle reader too.
The navigator to Stirling Moss when he won the Mille Miglia at a record braking average speed. The Dennis Jenkinson Mille Miglia article recounting the 1955 Mille Miglia sitting alongside Sir Stirling Moss was written in the hours immediately after the event. While Moss and the others were celebrating in the hotel bar, ‘Jenks’ felt compelled to take his travel typewriter up to his room and write exactly how it felt to co-drive the Mercedes SLR for 1,000 miles on the public roads of Italy.
You can read the full Dennis Jenkinson and Stirling Moss story on the Motorsport Magazine website here.
Just like the other authors here, he wrote in a style that puts you right there in the car, alongside Moss, with the blare of the open exhausts and the smell of hot oil mixing with the aromas of the Italian villages they blasted through.
The one thing that all of these authors have in common is that you can pick up their work and read it again and again. Each time, you’ll discover a new facet to the writing.
If you aspire to be a writer, regardless of whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, consider what it is about the great writers you admire that makes them so special.
Then try and reverse engineer that use of words into your own skill set. The next time you sit down and write, have that in your mind as you craft that first draft and push yourself that little bit harder to become more like the writers you admire so much.
It isn’t easy, it takes time. Yet on the occasions when you create something you’re especially proud of, or when your editor comes back with great feedback on your work, you know that it’s been worth it.