Happy Friday, Writers! Welcome to Free Topic Friday where we cover everything writing related.
Today’s Free Topic Friday is all about Developing Your Writing Voice.
Finding your writing voice can be a challenge, whether you’re writing a novel, flash fiction, article, or a blog post. You might even ask, “What is a writing voice?”
Let’s start by recognizing a few things writing voice isn’t. Voice is not style. It’s not technique. It’s not branding. It’s not a decision to write in first or third person. It’s not just the dialogue of your characters.
So, what is it? Your writer’s voice is the expression of you on the page. A writer’s voice is something uniquely their own. It’s the way you write; your voice, in writing, is as natural as everyone’s speaking voice. Your voice should be authentic and all your own, even if you borrow a sense of style from your favorite author. It makes your work pop, plus readers recognize the familiarity when they read multiple books authored by the same writer.
One of the most common problems with fiction by new authors is the lack of a unique voice on the page.
Luckily, writers can develop their voice.
Despite what you might have heard or read, a writer’s voice is learned and developed rather than “found” or “discovered.” And just as you can learn a new language or skill, you can craft your writing voice. How can you develop your voice? Below are tips and exercises to help you develop your writing voice.
Tips for Developing Your Voice
- Grow a writing portfolio. Writing is a muscle that requires daily exercise. Write often covering a variety of topics and genres. Save all your writing, creating a portfolio.
- Read widely. And don’t read only the kind of stuff you write; read it all! If you’re a self-help writer, read fantasy fiction or romance, for example. The poet Billy Collins spoke at the White House Poetry Student Workshop about how to find your voice. He believes you must “Read widely, read all the poetry you can get your hands on. And in your reading, you’re searching for something. Not so much your voice. You’re searching for poets that make you jealous.” Then he suggests you key into these poets, mimicking the ones you admire until their influences weave and combine into something new: your voice. Study these texts by other writers looking at details, word choice, and sentence structures.
- Let go of fear. Write your rough draft like nobody will ever see it. Just relax and let go of perfection. Then go back to edit.
- Let your personal style shine. The more you write, the more your style emerges and becomes consistent. Do you swear a lot? Swear in your writing. Use slang? Write it. Have a few regional expressions you like? It’s all up to you. You can facilitate voice by giving yourself the freedom to say things in your own unique way. You don’t talk exactly like anyone else, right? Why should you write like everyone else?
- Check your drafts. Is the attitude and tone consistent throughout? Are words or phrases repeated? If you stumble while reading your own writing, work on that section until it flows smoothly.
- Be confident in the basics like grammar and punctuation. When you know how to put any kind of sentence together correctly you’ll feel free to experiment and let loose with your storytelling.
- Be aware of what draws your attention. Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gassett said, “Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.” What are you passionate about? What drives you nuts? What images draw you in? What sentences touch your soul? What quotes speak to you? What words do you love—or hate? All of these can be sources of your voice. Create a Pintrest Board of all the things draw your attention to get to know yourself.
- Don’t edit while you write. Your voice won’t fully mature if you edit as you write. Try producing new material without deleting as you go. Leave a string of your not-quite-right words and ideas. What happens if you erase your first thoughts and ideas? You interrupt the flow that will soon lead you to what you really want to say. Tidying as you go cuts off your process. Learn to tolerate seeing the mess so your voice has room to grow and permission to show itself.
- Focus on your reader. Have an authentic audience in mind because purpose is key. Are you writing for a bored housewife? A business person? A child who is just beginning to learn to read? When the audience is a specific person, group, or organization, writers can choose details that create personalized context, word choices that resonate, and varied sentence structures.
- Create a lexicon for your project. Research the setting of your novel. If you’re novel is set in the past, research the era that you are writing about to insure your voice and facts provide authenticity. If you’re story is set in a specific region of the world, educate yourself on everything about the location. Search poetry, history, guide books, and novels. Write down only what attracts you. This is nourishment for your voice and your project!
- Read your writing aloud. You can’t recognize and then strengthen your voice if you don’t hear it—and hearing it in your head isn’t the same as hearing it spoken aloud. Get in the habit of reading what you write out loud.
An Exercise to Find Your Voice
- Describe yourself in three adjectives.
- Answer the question: “Do these adjectives describe how I talk?”
- Imagine your ideal reader. Describe them in detail. Then, write to this reader, and only this reader.
- Make a list of at least five books, articles, or blogs you enjoy reading. Spend some time studying and comparing them. How are they alike? How are they different? What is it about how they’re written that intrigues you? Often what we admire is what we aspire to be.
- List your favorite artistic and cultural influences. Are you using these as references in your writing, or avoiding them, because you think people wouldn’t understand them.
- Ask other people: “What’s my voice? What do I sound like?” Take notes of the answers you get.
- Free-write. Just go for it. Write in a way that’s most comfortable to you, without editing. Then go back and read it, asking yourself, “Do I publish or want to publish stuff that sounds like this?”
- Read something you’ve recently written, and ask yourself, “Is this something I would read?” If not, you need to continue to work on developing your voice.
I hope you find these tips and exercises helpful for developing your writing voice. Do you have more tips or ideas to add? Tell us in the comments.
We will see you Monday, for Motivation Monday.
Write On, Writers!