What is Writer’s Voice

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.

Source

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

Rachelle Gardener

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.

Jeff Goins

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.

Describe yourself

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.

11 thoughts on “What is Writer’s Voice

  1. You know all those neat little compartments you have in your head for writing? Well, I think you create your written voice in the way you pull all of those compartments together to say what you want to say on paper.

    Yes, it IS very much what you explain in this post. I’m just trying to explain how the writer’s voice comes out on the page. It isn’t just writing about your passions or being honest – you can do that and still come across like a generic textbook.

    If you pay attention you’ll notice we have a “voice” when we speak too. Not just the one we hear, but the total package that goes with speaking. Body language, tone, pitch, speed, language (like US English vs. British), word choice, etc. All of that creates the speaker’s voice and makes them unique. It’s the same way for writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s very true. I suppose I am looking at writers voice as the authenticity behind the words. Though I agree, without all the little compartments and knowing how to use them, it would be impossible to articulate your written voice.
      It is something I am very much still coming to terms with. I think writing about something often helps me to process it.
      Thank you for the insightful comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I struggle with this too and am still searching, Jordan. People in the know tell me that it comes with time, that by writing, your voice will find its way out of you. I spent 24 years in nursing, writing notes that were “just the facts” and it is hard to steer away from that, to dig deeper and address the fears and feelings and reasons that drive the story. I must be your polar opposite, btw, as your words “shy, sarcastic, and meticulous” describe me to a tee. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Writing is quite the journey, habits are hard to break, but as long as we keep writing I’m sure we’ll find our way. I can imagine 24 years of writing a singular way can be a hard habit to shake off.

      I have nothing but the utmost respect for the meticulous person, I have no idea how to be organised. The only thing I manage to keep under control is my academic work. I think everything else suffers for it.

      As for polar opposites? These are the kind of people who work together best and have the most to teach each other. Thanks for the comment, Joan. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. When I was in grad school, the “New Criticism” movement (at least I think that was what it was called) was not yet dead. The belief was that we had to to analyze the work purely on its own with no attention to the author or his/her biographical background.
    I hated this approach. I argued that a huge part of of my reading was to “read through” the work to discover something about the real person/author behind it.
    The counter-argument was always that the real person writing can not be equated with the work’s narrator or “persona” or, possibly, as you express it here: “voice”…

    I don’t think it is the voice that matters, but the authenticity.As a writer, you can take on many voices – but the ultimate message should come from you. (Think of Colbert, using – or usurping – the conservative voice to promote liberal ideas.)

    All of this is a roundabout way of saying . . . try out different voices on the way to finding your own.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the fantastically insightful comment. I’ve heard a lot about the ‘death of the author’ which I suppose is the same as the ‘New Criticism’ movement you described. This is where you’re supposed to disregard the author and read the work purely on the merits of literary ability.
      However, I think both have their merits. Some poetry becomes completely different when you throw in the context of what was surrounding, interesting, or happening to the author at the time it was written. The famous poem ‘Limbo’ for example.
      There is so much to learn, so I appreciate your comment. A healthy discussion is one of the best way to learn something

      Liked by 1 person

  4. A writer’s voice makes his writing authentic and credible and therefore it is very essential to pay heed to our feelings and emotions. Listening to what lies within makes our writing spontaneous and effortless. A detached writing is too obvious and seems cumbersome.
    I write from my heart and most of my poetry is ‘my voice’…I may not be the real protagonist but I try to equate the person (I may have observed) with me, how I could have felt in that situation, how I could have handled the emotions yet poetry can be interpreted in various ways!

    Liked by 1 person

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