What Every Writer Needs to Know About Finding Your "Voice"

What Every Writer Needs to Know About Finding Your Writing Voice

Voice is one of the most ambiguous, confusing, and highly sought after elements of writing. “How do go about finding your voice?” is a common question of young writers. It’s one even experienced authors aren’t always quite sure how to answer.

Everyone seems to have his own opinion on just what voice is. Is it our subject matter? Is it the way we construct sentences? Is it the instinctive tenor of our words—or is it something we have to learn?

What Is a Writing Voice?

Your writing voice is something that is inherently you. It’s your literary fingerprint. No one of us, no matter how similar our personalities or geographical or social upbringing, will ever put words on paper in exactly the same order. There will never be a second Hemingway (though many lit students like to attempt it), a second Austen, or a second Vonnegut. Even better, there will never be a second you.

Therefore, the answer to whether or not voice is something you can learn is both yes and no. Yes, in that your voice will change, mature, and sharpen as you study and grow in the craft. No, in that it is something inborn within all of us. Katherine Anne Porter wrote,

You do not create style. You work and develop yourself; your style is an emanation of your own being.

How Can You Go About Finding Your Writing Voice?

In light of this inherency, it’s surprising how many young authors worry about finding their voices. Many of us go through growing spurts in which we attempt to shape our writing to the pattern of one of the masters—and therefore try to force our own styles to conform to his. We think if we can learn what worked in the voices of classic writers, we can reach the same level of success.

But the best and truest way to find success is to embrace our own voices.

Allen Ginsberg and Janet Burroway, respectively, agreed:

To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard. Renounce that and you get your own voice automatically. Try to become a saint of your own province and your own consciousness, and you won’t worry about being heard in the New York Times.

Voice and point of view are closely intertwined; therefore, it’s the hardest thing to teach. What I mainly do is say, “Don’t worry about it. Don’t look for your voice; just say things as clearly and as vividly as you can say them, and that will be your voice.

To first discover your voice and then perfect it, the best thing you can do is simply tackle writing head-on. Start putting words on paper, start figuring out what works and what doesn’t.

But, more than anything, be true to yourself. Dig down inside and don’t put your fingers to the keyboard until you can write from a place of deep honesty. If you can read back over what you’ve written at the end of the page and admit every word of it is you, then allow me to congratulate you. You’ve found your writing voice.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What was or is your journey to finding your writing voice? Tell me in the comments!

What Every Writer Needs to Know About Finding Your "Voice"

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. I think finding the writer’s voice is something we have to relax into.
    The more we strain to find our voice, the stiffer it may get. I liken it to telling a story to a friend over a long, long cup of coffee. THEN edit out the extraneous schluck.
    My friends have told me that when they read my novels they can hear me speaking the words. So I guess I’ve found my voice.
    K.T. will tell anyone that the voice is effective.
    (Sometimes we take opportune moments to crow a little)
    :))

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I agree. It’s a good thing to be conscious of, in order to keep an eye on how it’s progressing and developing. But ultimately it’s something that just happens as we align all the other aspects of our story.

      • It’s so interesting, K.M., that this small detail of writing technique seems to be overlooked. I would have expected an avalanche of responses, hands in the air, “Me, me! teacher! pick me! I found my voice !!!”
        I wonder if writers even think of ‘voice’. On Amazon I’ve ‘looked into’ numberless novels where the opening pages sound like a rote of numberless other opening pages, where the writing is so without personality that it reads like a grade 8 homework assignment.
        We know that the writer is completely unaware of the problem.
        And note I said the pages ‘sound like’, because we hear the writing in our minds as we read.
        When I try to help new writers, my first instruction is to write as if the writer is sitting with a friend over coffee, telling the story.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          I just read a quote from a literary agent who said that voice was the only thing she found truly non-negotiable in submissions. Everything else, she said, was fixable. Totally agree.

  2. one problem I have when I attempt to explain/discuss voice (and don’t you know I will be referencing this article from now on :D) is the confusion between style and voice. You can change your style to suit different works and needs….but voice is intrinsic. It should be an expression of yourself, as you noted. Explaining that difference can be very difficult.

  3. On one hand, completely agree! On the other hand, I don’t know that I want every main character I write to sound like a “brand”. Chuck Wendig does this with intention probably better than anyone. In the first book I read – cool! By the end of the 2nd, I didn’t want to read a 3rd. I mean, he’s successful, and I ain’t, so — I should maybe just shut muh pie hole.

    Than again, a voice – an authentic voice – isn’t something you can change like socks, so maybe I’m pining for a level of voice I may not even be capable of and I’m just being naive. We’ll see.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Honestly, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Just focus on writing well and vividly, and your own personal style will emerge. As for the voice of individual books, that *is* something that should change at least slightly, depending on the individual voice of the POV character.

  4. Great Lesson! Loved it head to toe. Including the image at the end. The quote was tasty as well.

    This was spoken like a true master. Of course, we all appreciate your voice because we know it’s you. And obviously you know you’re you. Great. No question about that. But when it comes to us, we demonstrate a lack of confidence, uncertainty, or identity, and would rather be like someone we appreciate. Simply because we don’t appreciate ourselves, or hiddenly despise something in us. Bah humbug. What a scrooge!

    This is probably one of the hardest lessons to learn for a new writer, or perhaps a seasoned one. I’ve had both experiences. Having the delusion of wanting to be like others, and realizing that I’m just me. Which isn’t so reassuring all the time. Kind of reminds me of the horrors of Highschool. You’re growing; having tons of experiences, mood swings, hormone hurricanes, identity crises etc. Until you grow up, realizing and accepting the truth of who you are as a person. Which comes only by experience.

    Why do we always want to be like someone else? Measuring ourselves by what we see in them? It’s almost like a disease eroding the fabric of our own identity. What a trap! Took me a long time to realize and accept myself as a person. Guess writing is no different.

    “There are perhaps many kinds of voices in the world, and not one is without significance.” (1 Cor.14:10)

    Thanks

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Hear, hear. I think this is a very applicable topic to add to the discussion of voice. It’s important for writers to understand that the most valuable thing they bring to their writing *is* being themselves.

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