Developing Your Writing Voice

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One of the biggest challenges facing a writer is how to develop and maintain their writing voice. A writer’s voice can be a plethora of things: writing style, tone, characters, experience, perspective, and so much more. This strange phenomenon that seems to elude new writers can be summed up by children’s literature author Patricia Lee Gauch:

A writer’s voice is not character alone, it is not style alone; it is far more. A writer’s voice line the stroke of an artist’s brush — is the thumbprint of her whole person — her idea, wit, humor, passions, rhythms.

Essentially, that boils down to understanding who you are in relation to what you’re writing. How does your experience, your life, your whole-self reflect on the pages? It is a hard thing to conceptualize, and yet, it may be one of the simplest things out there.

You put you on the page.

Your writing should be informed by your experiences. That age-old adage of “Write what you know” rings true here. If you are passionate about a topic, that passion should shine through the words. If you’re cynical about something, make sure the reader understands that through the writing. Don’t be afraid to truly express yourself.

Your voice is your own and nobody can take that away from you. But developing it comes through practice, practice, practice (Carnegie Hall, anybody?). I find myself developing a voice because I write about a number of different topics and have a number of different experiences to draw from. Not all of them are hired jobs; not all of them are personal projects.

I wrote about making writing a habit in your daily life, and one of the suggestions I gave was to draw from a number of writing prompts. I want you to go farther than that. I want you to pull from a variety of mediums — blog posts, social media, journalism, academic, technical — in order to understand your voice. You discover a wide range of ideas and thoughts as you trove through a safari of topics that you may not be familiar with. And as you begin to get more familiar, more comfortable, with the topics at hand, your voice will come out.

On the other side, if you want to write for a niche subject — detective fiction, for example — then you should do the following:

  1. Consume every ounce of detective fiction possible. Don’t ever let up. Read your favorite authors, and study their voice. Why does it come through so well? Why doesn’t it? Can you tell a certain author by their voice or does it change book to book? Read new authors, new series that you may have never heard of before. What changes are there as well?
  2. Write detective fiction. Every day. Full stop. Develop and create; build and experiment; encourage and inflame that passion in your subject every day because that’s the only way you’ll get better at writing. You may not see it the first time you write about a gumshoe investigating the murder of someone, and you may not see it the second time, or even the third time — but, like building anything, after a while, the results speak for themselves.

A writer’s voice is something that you leave on the page, and it is something that takes time to cultivate. If you’re nervous about leaving yourself on the page, you’re not alone. It took me years of writing privately before I poured myself — my whole self — onto a page, and it paid off for me. And, like anything else, the more you do it, the more comfortable you become.

I watched a documentary the other night about the great, late Robin Williams. Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, on HBO, focused on his life and fame. One aspect was Williams’s stand-up comedy.

[Williams] put so much energy, so much of himself into the show. He’d come off stage, he was just dripping — exhausted, mentally, physically, emotionally exhausted. He left it all on the stage.

And that’s what writing — and developing your voice — should be. Pouring it all out there for the world to see because it is you.

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