Excuse me if I get a bit Zen for a moment. I’d like to share with you some thoughts on voice.
Perhaps it is the association we make between words and their sounds that gives rise to the idea of the writer’s voice. In most cases, we develop the ability to speak before we learn to write, so it may be that the value we put on voice derives from some sense of veracity.
Our spoken voice may be considered as one of our most distinctive features, and the same can be true of our writing too. When we talk of voice in relation to writing, we are referring to an author’s characteristic and sometimes idiosyncratic style of expression. It’s about how you put your sentences together and includes elements such as the level of formality and complexity you employ, the images or metaphors you use or don’t use, and even the individual words you choose. All of this combines to create the voice in your texts.
Really, your voice is that precise parcel of poetry and peculiarity that distinguishes your writing as being undeniably your own.
Voice is an important quality for any author to possess, and the question of how to find one’s voice is asked by emerging and established writers alike. Even a cursory search on this topic reveals that the internet is bristling with tips and tricks, step-by-step guides, instructions, injunctions and assorted exhortations. Alongside these are the inevitable articles that contest or reject the whole concept. (It’s kind of blunt, but one way to let your voice sound is to disagree with any opinion that is commonly accepted.)
My perspective on all of this is not particularly original, which in some ways may be the point. Simply put, I believe that your voice is not out there somewhere, waiting for you to find it. Instead, it is inside you, waiting for you to use it – and this is where things get a little Zen.
Think of it this way: your voice is the part of you that comes through in your writing, whatever your theme happens to be. If you are the person putting one word after another on a page or a screen and you are expressing some kind of truth in doing so, then your writing will contain your voice.
It’s that simple. Except maybe it’s not. It can’t be, otherwise there wouldn’t be so much advice on the internet about it, right?
If you have ever fretted about finding – or indeed losing or not ever having – your voice as a writer, please understand that I don’t mean to dismiss your anguish. However, chances are that your real concern in worrying about this is either that you don’t believe your writing is good enough or that you fear it sounds like someone else.
The solution in both cases is the same. The way to find your voice and to feel confident that it is yours is to use it.
The more you write, the more aware of your own style you become. If it seems like that style is in need of some refinement, then practice and play. Keep writing, keep trying, keep exploring. Similarly, if you find yourself emulating an admired writer or adopting an unaccustomed tone because you think it is more appropriate than your natural approach, try experimenting with your word choice, your sentence length, the structure of your text, the level of formality, the imagery.
It is by writing and by reading back over our own words (again and again, and sometimes aloud) that we become familiar with our work. From there, we can rewrite and revise, making subtle adjustments or dramatic transformations. In time, with dedication and attention, we learn what feels most authentically ‘us’. We find our voices by using them, just as we find ourselves by being who we are.
It’s simple and complex. It’s obvious and elusive.
It’s kind of Zen, but really, the only thing you need to do is to write and keep on writing, until you hear the sound of your self in your words.
What’s your perspective on the whole question of finding your voice as a writer? How did you find your voice and how did you know it was truly yours? Has this article given you any insight or encouragement on this topic or is just another drifting echo on the internet?