A Writer’s “Voice”

A couple months ago I asked some of my clients if there are terms they hear in writing and publishing that they wish someone would clearly and conclusively define. One said this: “Professionals say, ‘Find your voice,’ ‘Trust your voice,’ ‘Embrace your voice.’ I can recognize another writer’s voice, but I can’t for the life of me describe mine. Is ‘your voice’ something someone else has to describe because it’s too hard to be objective about our own writing?”

Heck, I dunno.

See, that’s my voice. Coming through. Right there on your screen. You’re welcome.

Okay, okay, I’ll try to be more helpful than that. But it won’t be easy. Because “voice” is much misunderstood in writing circles. A writer once objected to my coaching, saying, “That’s my voice! That’s how I write!” I did my best to explain that, no, voice is not cluelessness, laziness, or lack of skill. I was a little gentler than that, of course. Probably too gentle because I don’t think he caught on.

“Voice” isn’t style or technique (or the lack of such things). It’s not how you punctuate or don’t punctuate. It has little to do with spelling or the rules of grammar.

It’s you. It’s your personality, your passions, your sense of humor, your modus operandi all rolled into one. It’s how you think, feel, and see the world coming through in writing. It’s what happens when you feel most at home in your own skin, free to express what’s in your heart, mind, and soul. It’s when you stop posturing, performing, or imitating, and the “youness” that is you comes through on a page.

Still not clear? Wondering how in the world you’re supposed to “find your voice” when you’re already you? Shouldn’t it just happen?

Well, no. But there are a few ways I can think of to help you “find” or “free” your voice:

  • Relax.

Stop trying. Don’t try to write like “a writer.” Don’t force yourself to sound a certain way. As the philosopher Dave Mason once sang, “Let it go, let it go, let it flow like a river; Let it go, let it go, let it flow through you.” (You may be too young to hear the tune, so look it up if you need to).

  • Write a lot.

Finding or freeing your “voice” involves—for most people—overcoming the writing habits of grade school or grad school, of the pulpit or the prison. For example, in my experience, academics have a really tough time finding their voice because they were required for so long to suppress their own voices in writing theses and dissertations, all of which has to be unlearned before they can “write like themselves” again. The more you write—as you, not someone else—the more that’s likely to happen.  

  • Master the elements of good writing.

Finding your voice doesn’t mean you can ignore the rules of good writing or eschew critique and editing. In fact, as you improve in those areas, you’ll find your voice because you’ll become freer to be yourself in words, sentences, and pages.

  • Review and reflect.

As you’re writing and when you finish a piece of writing (an article, say, or a chapter), take some time to review and reflect on what you’ve written. Did you feel “at home in your own skin” as you wrote? Did you feel like yourself? Read it aloud; does it sound like you (not necessarily how you talk, but your personality, passions, perspectives—and even words that don’t alliterate)? Or does it sound like someone else? Were you putting on airs? Posturing? Preaching? Performing? Imitating? Ask someone who knows you well to read it and answer those questions. Lather, rinse, repeat.

  • Keep writing. A lot.

Your voice can’t be forced. It’s found and freed as you write, the more you write … and write and write and write. As you become not only better but more “you” as a writer, your voice will emerge. And it will feel suhweet.

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Would You Buy Your Own Book?

When I ask a room of writers if they would buy their own book if they saw it on the shelf at a major bookstore I am met with a variety of reactions. Laughter. Pensiveness. Surprise. And even a few scowls. How would you answer that question?

But the question is meant to ask if your book idea is unique. Whether it will stand out among the noise of the competition.

It is not a question of whether your book is important or valuable or even well written. It is ultimately a question of commercial viability.

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What Makes You Click?

Below is a visual representation of some astounding statistics regarding Internet usage. A little more than twelve years ago I wrote a chapter for a writing book on how to use the Internet for research. I re-read that article recently…umm, Google didn’t even exist back then (founded in September 1998), much less Wikipedia (where the jury is still out if is a reliable source for verifiable facts).

210 billion emails sent per day? I think I get half of those. <!>
20 hours of YouTube videos uploaded every minute?

We swim in a sea of data. So how do you discern what to read or view? In other words, what makes you buy or click?

Take that same mindset and apply it to your next book idea or article. What would make the consumer buy or click it, especially when faced with a plethora of competing options? If your idea, your novel, your insight, can withstand competitive scrutiny then you have a chance to impact this world. Obscurity equals no audience. That is why publishers are pushing agents and authors to make their “platform” bigger.

Via: OnlineSchools.org

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That Conference Appointment

You snagged one of those valuable 15 minute appointments with an agent or an editor at the writers conference. Now what? What do you say? How do you say it? And what does that scowling person on the other side of the table want? What if you blow it?

Many excellent posts have been written on this topic (see Rachelle Gardner and Kate Schafer Testerman for example) but thought I would add my perspective as well.

What advice would you give to a beginning writer about attending a writers conference and meeting with an editor or an agent?

Go in with realistic expectations.

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Write for Narcissists

Every reader is a narcissist. Hold on, there. Don’t get all mad and sassy yet. Let me explain I often tell developing writers, “No one reads about other people; we read only about ourselves.” Go ahead and quote me, just be sure to give me credit and send me the …

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Resist the Urge to Explain Your Title

For fiction writers, there is an important self-editing technique called RUE (Resist the Urge to Explain). The problem occurs when an author overwrites a scene and explains every thought, movement, etc., or fails to allow the reader to fill in the details, thereby ruining the reading experience. The concept is …

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Lessons Learned As a Literary Agent

Dan is leaving the agency at the end of this month to focus his attention on the work of Gilead Publishing, the company he started in 2016. Here are some parting thoughts. _____ I’ve been a literary agent for about 2,000 of the 13,000 total days spent working with and …

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