I’ve been searching for my writer’s “voice,” which everyone says is critical if you want to be a successful author. Lately it occurred to me that it would be easier to find if I knew exactly what it was. So, here’s my take on voice, along with suggestions on how to develop it.
Voice is the flavoring, the scent, the signature style that makes your writing a reflection of you. Or me. Sounds easy; we all are different, so we all have a voice of our own. However, speaking (or writing) in our own voice doesn’t come naturally. We have a self-editor working overtime trying to make our writing sing, sparkle, shine, etc, etc. We want to be as good as our favorite author, as successful as a best-seller, so we imitate their style, or write the type of story we think will make us rich and famous. We ignore our own special view of life, or scrub away the traces of our uniqueness, to appear more like we think we should be. In doing so, we lose the very thing that makes our writing special. We sacrifice our true voice on the altar of success, hoping for a miracle—hoping to get published.
Voice is more than the style of writing we choose; it also involves our world view, our choice of words, and the way we use them to express ourselves. It is us, on paper. If the reader can’t see something special in our writing, we haven’t projected our personality into it. We could be anybody. Our writing could belong to anybody.
I used to think my voice was scholarly, informative, accurate, logical, precise. And it was, but that’s because I was faking it. I wasn’t using my own voice; it was the one that belonged to the woman I wanted to be. I thought if I sounded intelligent I would be respected, admired, and successful; if I wrote honestly, allowed all the silly, scatterbrained ideas I have to surface in my writing, I would be ridiculed. I would be embarrassed. I would be a failure. And that’s a possibility. But the more I write for myself instead of others, shoving that neurotic self-editor back into the corner of my brain where it belongs, the more fun I have and the more I like what shows up in my Word processor.
Here are a few ways to help find your writing voice:
1. Experiment by spending some time writing whatever comes to mind, without stopping to edit it. Set it aside for a few days, and then analyze it for strengths and weaknesses. After a few sessions of free-writing, you may see a pattern that reveals something unique about you: your interests, your style, your passion.
2. Read a variety of authors, in genres you like and those you don’t. Pick out things they do well, and imitate that quality in a short writing exercise. Pick out a passage that didn’t work well, and try to write it better. Thinking about what works and what doesn’t may give you a new perspective when you are writing your own stories.
3. Be honest. You can sugar-coat what you say, or tone down your passion, but always be true to yourself. Your characters can have different opinions, behave in ways you never would, but your voice should be recognizable in the values, themes, and style you use to write their story. Your personality should shine through the words so that even if you write about something that’s considered cliché, it will sound unique.
Have you found your voice? Has it changed over time, or stayed the same? Any tips for those still searching?