Monday, July 19, 2010

Speak up! Finding your voice

The most confusing thing to me, when I was writing for a living, was when an editor talked about voice.

It's something with which a lot of writers struggle, especially beginning writers. I mean, they're our words, our ideas - so what's the problem?

For some of us, the issue is we fall in love with a favorite author, and suddenly? We appear to be writing with the same tone, the same cadence, the same use of metaphor.

Or maybe we're not writing with authority. We're trying out different things and searching for something that feels authentic.

Truth is, we all have our own unique voice. There is no one on earth exactly like us, and we carry our original selves into our writing.

But our writing voice isn't necessarily the same as how we speak. For instance, you may be a loud, extroverted bawdy girl. Your writing? Is gentle and introspective. And vice versa.

Think of your favorite novelists. Why do you like them? If they have written more than one book - even about completely different things - what do the books have in common?

Now think of your favorite or some well-known bloggers. Could you read an excerpt and know for sure it was Dooce or Pioneer Woman?

The two have very distinct voices: Heather Armstrong of Dooce uses a lot of run-on sentences, a lot of smilies, a lot of ALL CAPS. Ree Drummond of the Pioneer Woman uses approachable conversational snippets, always illustrating her pictures with running commentary.

They don't try to be who they're not. They are just themselves, when it comes to writing.

And that's also who you must be.

What are YOUR biggest issues with finding your voice? Do you have any great advice on the topic? Let's start a conversation.



  1. bravo cheryl! you did a great job with this!

    i've never had too much of an issue finding my voice. in the beginning (we're talking 6th grade here) it was rather rough but now that i'm a little older and have, well, actually read more, i feel that i've gotten a grasp on voice. i usually worry, however, that people might have a hard time connecting with my voice as a writer. but i suppose that's a fear most of us have.

  2. I think I end up pushing for funny. I tend to go for the laugh before I'll go for the hurt, and in doing so often end up with pieces that feel superficial. I haven't found a way to balance the two yet...

  3. I have so many voices, it's hard to pinpoint. And I know it's b/c I have up and down days. Still, it's hard when you try something new, and it flops. It's real easy to become something b/c people always expect that from you....

  4. Sara - Interesting thought. Have you tried to write a piece in the "hurt" voice? You might try it and see what happens, to see if it feels more authentic to you.

    Empress - I know what you mean. You need to write like no one's reading. Write for yourself. Sit down and write something for 10 minutes and see what you get. It is VERY TOUGH to find the "real you" sometimes. But you're a lovely writer and I personally think you DO have a voice. Confidence is half the battle.

  5. I definitely have that problem. I think blogging is helping me find my voice. I guess just writing more often helps.

  6. I think I have a pretty consistent voice when it comes to my writing on my blog. It's me. What I struggle with is the voices in my fiction. How to make each one distinct and real without them turning into caricatures of my own voice. That's the tough part.

  7. This is definitely something to think about. I'm not sure what my answer is. I feel I still have a lot to learn about my writing voice.

  8. Jessica Anne: I think blogging is actually a great exercise in finding voice. It's hard not to be yourself on there!

    Michele - I get what you're saying. Character voice involves really getting into their heads, and knowing all there is to know about them so that they sound authentic and not, as you say, like a caricature.

  9. Cheryl, great post! I read somewhere that without a strong voice, we are doomed as a writer but everything else can be 'fixed'.

    The trick is, like both you and Michele mentioned, making sure each character in our work has a unique voice.

    I love your blog and thank you for the opportunity this weekend to post our work and meet new writer friends!

    ~that rebel, Olivia

  10. For me, I was a shy, introvert girl throughout my high school.. the pig-tailed, first bencher, YUP! that's me.... Once i finished high- school things that happened in rapid speed... hyper active mode... like living all by myself, away from the city where i grew and in a new city which was completely opposite to what i was... it was only then that i learnt to put my thoughts into voice and then my voice into words... and Hallelujah! it is still working.... :-)

    Great post Cheryl.... Learning a lot from you.... :-)

  11. I think you want to differentiate "voice" and "style" a little bit. For me, what you've described is style, which is just one component of voice.
    Voice is more about becoming one with the POV character, to portray the world through their eyes. If you can step outside of "I'm the author and I'm telling you a story" into "I'm character X and here's the world as I see it" then that will go far into creating a unique voice.
    This is very critical in 1st-person narratives, but it's also important in 3rd-person limited views.
    Then when you change into different character's viewpoints, the voice will change from scene to scene or from project to project.
    But usually a given author will have a recognizable style that stays relatively the same.

    Now of course there's another aspect to voice. "Finding your voice" can also mean "how do I express myself? How do I make my work meaningful?"
    I think that gets into the heart of conflict. Make your characters struggle with really hard, intractable problems. Think about your own struggles and wonder about what would happen if things had worked out differently. For me, "finding your voice" is about figuring out what you really want to say about the world.

    Sorry for the long comment...almost a blog post worth there! :)

  12. I've been told by real life friends that I write exactly as I speak. Not sure if that's a compliment, but I often take it as such. They say they enjoy reading my blog because it feels like a conversation with me. So - I think - I've done okay with my blogging voice. Sometimes I read old posts and see outside influences, but mostly what you read is all me.

    What I'm really struggling with is transferring voice (and style) to fiction. Obviously, every character can't sound like me. Can you even imagine that book? Ha. So how do I stay true to my style and still create believable fiction?

    By the way, if you want to visit my blog and get to know my voice a little, I would love that. Just don't do it today. I'm having major hosting issues and working on changing hosts as a I type... Fun. ;)

  13. Clearly, I didn't read all the previous comments (I thought I did, but I missed some - I'm blaming the internet, though, because this has not been my day, technically speaking). So I echoed some other comments. Sorry for the repeats!

  14. Andrew (is my brother and since he has two sisters, he feels quite comfortable chatting among the girls) made some excellent points.

  15. I thought I had no problem finding my blog voice when I wrote with a pseudo (how I did my blog for two years) - I wrote exactly how I felt, letting the audience come along for the ride if they liked.

    Then I came out of the closet, and have been struggling. I can see it as I read back over older posts. What once flowed now feels stagnant as I wonder about the "what ifs" when I think of real-life friends reading my words.

    A confidence thing for sure that I hope to work through.

    Will work through.

  16. This is great! I wouldn't consider myself a writer, but boy would I LOVE to be one :) I just write what I'm thinking. I wish I had a beautiful way of describing things or a little wit to make things more interesting. So I love this blog because I'd like to learn a thing or two about writing.

  17. I think I am just now finding my voice in nonfiction. I am struggling to refind my voice in poetry. The two are so different. I have the added pressure of having a bipolar husband. I think that his illness changes my voice a lot because I am afraid to reveal too much. I am afraid to write about him and his illness. However, I know I need to. My voice needs to be less censored.

  18. Hmm. I don't know! When I first started blogging lots of people told me that I write exactly the way I talk. This was actually a detriment to my work while I was in school as my teachers often didn't feel a research paper should so conversationally. For my fist blog, though, it was wonderful (Livejournal!). That blog is a FO blog, though, and I've found that since starting a public blog with a goal in mind, I'm having a very hard time figuring out my "voice". I write the easiest when I'm writing about my passions and the things that I love. But I find it hard to build an audience that way. How does one find the balance between "voice" and what the audience wants to read?

    Maybe I'm just totally confused, lol. Great thread, though, very informative.

  19. Thought provoking post - you got some really great comments too, I'm pretty certain I can't respond any better

    (Read, I'm not sure how to answer, cause I haven't found my own blogging voice yet.)


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