Recently, I’ve read some fantastic articles about the phenomenon known as a ‘writer’s voice.’ Writer’s voice is something that has perplexed me for a long time and still does to some extent. It is one of those difficult to pin down terms. Speaking of pinning things down, in this article I will attempt to wrestle (yes, I’m off to a good start) with this difficult concept. Let’s begin.
What is voice?
I’ve been taking writing seriously for a number of years now, and during those years I’ve been taught a lot of things. These lessons have systematically divided writing into several neat compartments in my mind: structure, style, language, lexicon, pacing, theme, and characters to name a few. Voice is none of these, and I think that is why I struggle with it. It doesn’t fit neatly into a box, and I find that stressful.
So, if I can’t put it in a box, can I at least explain what it is? Yes, I can, or at least I can explain what I think it is. Writer’s voice, to me, is the real you that you express on the page. It is the real, unique, and unrestricted words which you place into each paragraph. The ones that allow people a deeper understanding of you, your characters, or your passions. A deeper understanding of your hopes, dreams, fears, beliefs, and attitudes. It is your story, de-fogged, for all to see.
A more technical definition comes from a quick google search:
A voice in literature is the form or a format through which narrators tell their stories. It is prominent when a writer places himself / herself into words and provides a sense the character is real person conveying a specific message the writer intends to convey.
While I agree with this definition, it is actually Rachelle Gardener’s definition that I came across first, and is the one that I most identify with.
your writer’s voice is the expression of YOU on the page. It’s that simple—and that complicated. Your voice is all about honesty. It’s the unfettered, non-derivative, unique conglomeration of your thoughts
I believe that it isn’t just originality and passion that attracts readers, but honesty and the bravery to express that honesty. That’s the scary part about finding your writer’s voice. Honesty. We often hear people say that artists and writers ‘bleed their heart out through their pen’ or whatever instrument they are using to create art. I think there is some truth to that statement. It is this honesty and emotional attachment to work that makes it truly great.
Sometimes, these things can be difficult to express. I definitely struggle with expressing these things myself. We spend an awful lot of time presenting an altered version of ourselves. Whether it is to fit in, required for your job, or because you don’t feel comfortable in your own skin, most of us have, at some point, presented a faux-version of themselves. I’ll admit that, on several occasions, I have presented a different person to who I actually am. Whether it’s not wearing my three-piece suits casually, to avoid people’s comments; not telling people I aspire to be a novelist, to avoid their reaction; or, perhaps the worst sin, that I don’t always write what I want to write because I’m afraid people won’t like it.
I believe that finding your voice is all about cutting through this discomfort, peeling this figurative onion-layered-fortress we’ve grown around ourselves, and letting the things we want to write flow free.
Why is voice important?
There is something hard and unforgiving about words on a page or screen. A writer’s voice helps to detract from that by injecting some warmth and personality into that text. There is no inflexion of speech, no tell-tale body language, no quirk of humanity in text on a page. It is the writer behind it that creates the voice.
Jeff Goins, one of my favourite bloggers, has a fantastic reason for why voice is important:
The world is waiting for authentic accounts of life lived honestly — full of conflict and heartache, complete with passion and pain. Stories to encourage. Stories to inspire. Stories to change. Stories to let you know that you are not alone.
You have a voice. Use it.
How to find that voice!
Who are your favourite novelists, poets, and bloggers?
You like them for a reason, that reason will most likely be their voice. Observe, read, and learn. It seems like the go-to answer for writing related problems, but it really does work. Read lots, read more, and read outside your comfort zone. If you are a fiction fan, read some non-fiction, and vice-versa. Much like the phrase you are what you eat it could be said that you are what you read.
Write a blog
This is how I’m developing my voice. When I started blogging, I wrote almost entirely in short form and left little room for my readers to learn anything about me. I got fed up with it, it felt like hard work and writing shouldn’t feel like hard work. Now I’m writing about anything that I am enthusiastic about, Classical Rhetoric, Language, Publishing. Now that I’m passionate about what I am writing, I can see my voice beginning to form. So, write a blog! You never know what might happen.
This is another thing I learnt from Jeff Goin’s blog. Use three adjectives to describe yourself. For me, it would be Enthusiastic, Academic, and Disorganised. I’m a person who is in a state of perpetual chaos, enjoys learning, and often picks up tonnes of hobbies he can’t afford. This is reflected by the wide range of subjects on my blog and my often wandering narrative. My voice is going to be different from someone who is shy, sarcastic, and meticulous.
In the end, we are all unique. It is when we embrace this uniqueness that we can truly begin to find our writer’s voice.
Fellow bloggers and writers, leave me a message below and tell me about how you found/are finding your writer’s voice. I’d love to read everything you have to say.
I hope you enjoyed this article! It was something a little different.
Thanks for reading! See you soon.