In my quest to be a better writer, I’ve read a lot about finding my writer’s voice. Most of the time the advice is to just keep writing with the promise that your voice will come to you, in time. I think that’s very true, but I wanted to outline some tips for helping you get there quicker, rather than suggesting that you write and write and write and feel the struggle, and hate it. Because writing is hard enough without feeling the pressure of not having a distinct voice. It is, after all, what most people say is the key to good writing and what publisher’s look for most of all.
But first, what is a writer’s “voice?”
Put quite simply, your voice is how you see and experience the world, expressed on the page. Your personality shines through in your writing once you’ve discovered your writer’s voice. Another component that carries your voice is tone (expressed through syntax, punctuation and word choice. For example, writing: ‘He was a dumpy old man with a bad attitude, and his neighbors often thought how fantastic it would be if he fell and broke his hip.’ vs. ‘He was short and round, with lines etched into his face that told of a hard-lived life, and he never got on with his neighbors.’ Both sentences tell about the same man but in very different voices.
Read Books in Different Genres.
Being exposed to all forms of writing, be it mystery, historical fiction, biography, or satire, will introduce you to different ways of expressing yourself. Reading is, by far, the most valuable pastime for a writer there is.
Write a story imitating your favorite author’s voice.
I did this for a while when I was in my late teens and it really helped me discover the type of voice I wanted to achieve in my own stories. I wish I could find the old story I wrote in the style of Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club and Invisible Monsters), but it’s lost forever in the blogosphere under a pen name I cannot recall. I still remember the premise, and I remember thinking at the time how much fun it was to write. The story was about a man standing on the edge of a building, ready to jump, and his look back at his life was darkly funny, and at the end of each chapter the narrative returned to him in his final moments. Definitely not something I would think to write now, but it opened my mind to darker subjects than my Twilight years had previously afforded me, and it worked wonders on developing my voice.
Speak stories aloud.
Try coming up with narratives off the top of your head and speaking them aloud. If you don’t want to forget them, record them, but don’t put too much pressure on yourself thinking that they have to be great masterpieces. Sometimes finding your voice can be difficult because, in writing the words out, characters and narrative come across as stiff and formal. Speaking them aloud means that you will loosen up, since you aren’t used to speaking in a clipped or formal way. Listen back to the recordings and pay attention to how your stories flow when you aren’t focused on getting words onto a page. I do this sometimes for practice, while I’m doing dishes or during my commute.
Find inspiration in common objects.
This is a bit of a weird one, but it’s worked for me. I’ll take something, for instance a table, and I will think about how I would describe that particular table in a story. Is it round, rectangular, old, new, polished or chipped, etc? (Is it beautifully decorated with food like this photo I found via Unsplash? Seriously, all of the photos were way too pretty when all I wanted was a picture of a table.) What metaphoric language would I use to describe it? Then I try to view the table through a character’s eyes. Are they young and can’t see over it? Do they have an emotional attachment to it and fond memories of sitting at it? Are they seeing it for the first time? Maybe the table isn’t important in your story at all, but using common objects as exercises is a great way to give your voice a chance to shine. That is, after all, what this blog post is about, and not your narrative!
Vary sentence length.
Rhythm is another important aspect of writing, even if it’s more of a technical tip. All good writing has a consistent flow, and reader’s experience that flow through the way a writer has arranged their sentences. If you find that your writing lacks long, descriptive sentences, then challenge yourself to go back and add them in to a sparse paragraph. Likewise, include shorter sentences that help to punctuate wordy writing. This tip isn’t so much about finding your writer’s voice as it is about improving it. Making note of and varying sentence length will improve pacing for the reader and make character voice stand out if, say, they have a way of communicating that differs in style from the narrative.
Those are my tips for helping to find your writer’s voice! I hope you found them useful. Let me know below in the comments if you’ve developed any exercises for discovering or improving your own voice; I’d love to hear about them!