5 Tips to Help Authors Find Their Voice

microphone-1428971-mToday’s post is all about the process of finding your voice as an author: what IS that process? How does it work? Does it work the same for everyone?

Well, I definitely don’t think the process unfolds the same way for each of us. And even those of us who progress in more or less the same steps do things differently. We need more time here or there; we pick up one thing pretty quickly but struggle with others.

Every writer has a unique voice, because every writer, every person, is unique. That’s not big news.

I like to ask writers “Are you a Hemingway or a Faulkner,” as a shorthand way to classify the two major TYPES of style, simple and minimalistic versus more ornate. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a myriad of possibilities to individualize your writing, no matter where you fall on the spectrum or how many other writers occupy a similar spot.

So, that’s my disclaimer: I do understand that finding your voice is a bit different for different people. That doesn’t mean that no general milestones exist as we go through the process.

You might do these things in a different order than I did. Or maybe one or two of them was just present with you from the start, so you’ve been able to take it for granted. (That’s AWESOME, by the way!)

If you feel like you are having trouble finding your voice, you might want to try focusing on one or more of the following things:

READ!

We have, have, HAVE to read. If we want to write well, we have to read. I’ve said that before and I will always say it.

One reason we need to read so much is that reading exposes us to all kinds of different styles. The more we read, there more we subconsciously realize, “I like this aspect of how this person writes. I want to try to do that too, just in my own way.”

Maybe, even consciously, we think, “This is good, but if the author added THIS to what he’s doing it would be so much better!” And bam, you’ve jump started the process of finding how you write.

WRITE WHAT INTERESTS YOU.

You might be surprised how much your topic, and how you focus on that topic, affects your voice.

What you are writing about influences tone. Your angle of approach definitely influences tone as well. Think of war as an example: are you going to be sarcastic? Wittily deprecating of the violence? Are you going to really delve into the psychological effects of warfare with compassion and care?

However you write about war, I’d be shocked indeed if your tone was one of utter disconnect or pure apathy.

There is a reason so many authors (at this point, including me!) stick to one genre, one KIND of story: it’s how they found their voice. They feel that their voice suits that genre and the stories they tell in that genre. They aren’t sure that voice will transfer to something else.

Can it? Maybe. Can we benefit from branching out? Absolutely, when we feel ready and inspired to do so. But leaving our established genre isn’t any kind of requirement. When what you know how to do is working well for you, why fix what’s broken?

SPEND SOME TIME FREE WRITING

Seriously: free writing is one of the exercises that most benefited me in my creative writing courses in college.

Find a topic, or a phrase to start you off, and for five, ten, or fifteen minutes, just WRITE. Don’t overthink things. Don’t worry about how bad your writing is (because in a lot of ways, it WILL be bad). Just write.

When we don’t get hung up on the little details and we put our insecurities aside, we leave room for our true writer to emerge in bits and pieces. Later on, when you read through what you wrote, you will find details that you really like: turns of phrase, or a way a paragraph flows, or how you somehow got entranced by the psychology of the topic and focused inward rather than on action.

All of this will help you discern what you do well and what you enjoy doing in your writing.

WRITE HOW FEELS NATURAL, AND EDIT TO MAKE YOUR SENTENCES FEEL MORE NATURAL

Don’t try to copy someone else’s style. Focus on writing what sounds “right” to your ear. I often read my writing aloud, especially dialogue: that helps a lot!

(I tend to be on the Hemingway/minimalist side of the spectrum, so reading aloud helps me find where I feel I am being wordy or rambling).

After writing what sounds right, and after editing for content, my final edits are all about making what’s natural feel even MORE natural. I promise: the more you write and read, the more you’ll realize, “this sentence would sound so much better without the three adverbs ending in -ly.”

A lot of what bogs our sentences down bogs them down because it isn’t needed for comprehension. Or it’s repetitive. A handful of such phrases or words you might decide to keep. You might understand that they enhance and enrich the feel or the tone of the sentence. And that’s awesome. Most of them, you’ll see, actually take away from what you want to jump out.

WRITE, WRITE, AND WRITE SOME MORE

There’s a reason people say, “practice makes perfect.” Now, no one’s writing will ever be perfect, but the fact is, we can only improve at writing by writing. Reading up on writing can help us learn to recognize errors, or “bad” constructions, but honestly, nothing helps us learn how to write the way writing does.

That’s why I try to focus on a few simple precepts about writing on my blog and in my writer’s handbook, “Writing for You”

  • Writers shoot for constant and measurable improvement, not for “perfection”
  • Writers strive to write every day, but understand that life intervenes sometimes and that that is nothing to beat themselves up about
  • Writers are critical of their work without being critical of themselves as people (or as writers)

It took me quite a while to understand, accept, and incorporate those things into my own approach to writing, but doing so went a LONG way to helping me find my voice.

So, what has helped you find your voice (or is helping you to do just that?) Do you have any other advice or other kinds of exercises to recommend?

If you enjoyed this post, you can sign up to follow my blog by email at the top right of the page. The holidays have upset my schedule a bit but normally I publish every Sunday and Wednesday.

You might also enjoy this related post, “The evolution of a writer’s voice: how does it happen?”

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23 responses to “5 Tips to Help Authors Find Their Voice

  1. This is a really great post! I go back to some of these methods when I feel like I’ve temporarily lost my voice due to stress or a head-too-full-from-every-day-life. Avid reading, writing something completely different from what I’ve been working on, just to get into the flow again in which I recognize my voice… it helps.
    Mh… Not quite sure how I found my voice, but I guess it was the very thing you described: I read and read and read and slowly found out what kind of writing I loved, what touched me most (this is important to me – an ideally quite direct kind of writing which really takes me on an emotional journey), and via practice, I slowly figured out how to write like that – just, well, in my own way.

    • I’m totally with you! Reading has always been about the emotional journey for me. That’s why I don’t find literary fiction as boring as some other people do. I do love action, but if I have a rich character study or psychological situation that I can really unpack and use to grow and to challenge myself, I LOVE that. I try to do that in my writing. Not sure I fully succeed, but that’s always what I aim for.

  2. Thanks! This blog is more of encouragement for me than it instructs. I do all these things! For instance, this past year I logged between 500k and a million words! My laptop has certainly been earning its keep! I must have read about as much! Thanks for the encouragement! Perhaps 2014 will be my breakthrough year!

    • That’s incredible! Awesome! I didn’t get anywhere near that. I did a lot of editing this year and a lot of procrastinating editing. Not much writing. I need to get back on that and I plan to, though 🙂 I definitely hope 2014 is a breakthrough year for both of us, in our own way: me, just by writing again 🙂

  3. Love these tips and I wish I ran into something like this when I started writing. Especially the fourth one. There are so many pitfalls for young authors that you don’t realize until you’ve pulled out of them.

  4. Most writers, I think, are not aware of “their voice.” We always have it, because all us hold unique perspectives about life, based on personal experience. A writer’s voice grows stronger over time, until readers can recognize our books by the stories we tell and the subject matter we choose. No writer can strive for a certain voice, however; that voice must come from within or it will not be authentic.

    • I agree completely! Finding your voice is about feeling comfortable letting it come out than anything else. It is definitely always there with us, in our approach to life and our life experiences.

  5. Pingback: 5 Tips to Help Authors Find Their Voice | The Reviewer

  6. As I read this I kept thinking- Yes! This is the best one. Then I’d read the next and think, No! This is the best one.

    Really, when you look at the post as a whole, the advice that you are giving is basically : Invest yourself in it. Free write. Read. Figure the craft out. I think that writing what interests us gives us passion, which really fuels voice.

    Great advice as always, Victoria!

    • I think you made a fantastic connection there, Katie. It really is about investing yourself. The time, the energy, the courage. It is all about stoking that passion. 🙂 I’m glad you liked this one!

  7. Again, you are so amazing!

  8. Reading inspires writing, and perpetuates the art. Thank you for another inspiring post.

  9. Yes I did enjoy your post! I too had problems finding my voice as I was starting out but I read, read and read then wrote and wrote to see what and who I was in my writing. Great post!

  10. Apenteng Baidoo

    I would say that I am on the ornate side of the spectrum but as I wrote my application essays last year (and still write the few i am left with) I had to become a merciless minimalist in order to keep within the word limits. I kept having to do away with a good deal of embellishments that made whatever I wrote feel like mine and I found this to be quite difficult but I still managed. I am not trying to pretentious but I think I changed my voice to suit the circumstances. I need ask if you think that is possible.

    • It is definitely possible. Different KINDS of writing exist, for all kinds of audiences: academic, professional… Good writers are able to adjust to fit needed parameters, to achieve whatever the goal of their particular piece of writing is.

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