Replying to my newsletter signup welcome email, Rory asked about finding his blogging voice. My writing voice came so naturally to me that I had been writing for years before I met an aspiring writer who needed help finding their own.
To be sure we’re all talking about the same thing: “voice” is the unique way each of us makes word choices, uses syntax and punctuation and pacing, and blends and balances dialog and exposition.
While few of us will ever have the instantly identifiable voice of Raymond Chandler or Dr. Seuss, our fans should find something unique to recognize in our writing just as our loved ones recognize our voice, even through the heavily compressed medium of telephone voice services.
A few points about finding your voice:
- Write. A lot. You will never develop uniqueness at something you only do sporadically.
- Be patient. It takes time. Some of that time will be discovering your voice. Some of it will be developing your voice.
- Practice writing as if talking to a five-year old. It will remove grandiose words from your writing. Your voice is much more evident in how you arrange simple words than in your choice of fancy words.
- Read. A lot. You learned to speak, not by taking lessons, but by being immersed in a world where everyone speaks. Finding and developing your writing voice isn’t exactly the same, but there are benefits to experiencing a clearly-identifiable writing voice.
- Don’t try to sound like someone else. It takes a brilliant mimic to sound like someone else rather than sounding like you’re trying to sound like someone else. Sounding like you is more effective and in the end easier if you can learn to get out of your own way.
- It’s called voice because it is closely tied to how we speak. Good writers know that we can’t write exactly as we speak. Recording and transcribing your natural speaking voice sheds light on aspects of your voice you’re probably not even aware of. When you know you’re being recorded, even if you’re recording yourself, it’s easy to sound stilted and unnatural. Get a friend to help. Sit down with your recorder and tell them an interesting story or talk to them about your writing voice. Speak for five minutes and towards the end you’ll be speaking more naturally, possibly even forgetting you’re recording yourself. Go home and transcribe that recording verbatim. “Verbatim” means if you say uh, um, you write that down. If you restart a sentence three times before you say what you mean, write it down. Transcribe precisely what you said during that five minute recording. Now, read through it and look for things that could only come out of your mouth. The more you do this, the more you-isms you’ll discover.
The terrifying question: do you recognize my voice in my writing?