Finding your writer’s voice

“To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.”
—Allen Ginsberg, WD

A writer’s voice can be an illusive thing. It is easy to see when you are not using it, but hard to know you have found it unless you are an experienced writer with enough books under your belt to be comfortable in being quintessentially you.

You often instinctively know when you are allowing your conscious fears to get in the way of what you really want to say, but it can be so difficult to do something about it. Whether it is word choice, style choice, character choice, or some other choice you are smothering, it can be really hard to quash you inner critique and just let the inner writer out.

So what is the definition of a writer voice?

The writer’s voice is the individual writing style of an author, a combination of their common usage of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works) Source Wiki.

One of the things I grapple with is my use of unorthodox words. There were a couple of places in my book where my editor pointed out ‘better’ words, but I decided not to use them. Of course, there were plenty of other places that I did take her advice on. I guess there are certain words that just interest me, and although there may be a simpler word, I just like the alternative ones.

I actually talk in the same way, it’s part of me, and I think there is nothing wrong with leaving a little me in place.

I’m glad I did, and for no reason other than it allows personality into my book.

But is there such a thing as too much voice? Many bestselling writers write with very little ‘voice’, because if they don’t have a voice no one can be put off reading their material, and it will therefore appeal as universally as possible.

There are also writers who can have a very unique and extreme voice for a variety of reasons. I once decided, in my infinite wisdom, to read the complete works of Jane Austin, for no reason other than I was working my way through a number of what I considered classic works because I felt it was a good thing for a writer to do. Now, Jane Austin definitely has a voice! And the thing about reading a writer with a strong voice is that it rubs off on you, and you find yourself writing like…Jane Austin! Given that I mostly write scifi or fantasy, even when I am just ‘play’ writing, it was a rather bizarre mix! I recently re-read some of my scribbles from the time and the change in style was really quite noticeable. And funny.

It is good to recognise the importance of what we read, and to be aware of how it ultimately impacts what becomes our voice. There’s nothing wrong with reading Jane Austin, but perhaps with hindsight six books back-to-back was a bit of a style overdose.  🙂

Whether you are an advocate of the neutral voice, or prefer reading books that have voice, we all have one ourselves, and we can choose to let it out or not.

15 thoughts on “Finding your writer’s voice

  1. My read-too-much-back-to-back author was HP Lovecraft. I wasn’t writing then, but his style and subjects imprinted themselves on my dreams for a long time afterwards. I love to read a multi-book series in one go, but that much of one author’s voice can definitely pull you in and keep you in their POV. Thanks for your post. I’m seeing connections between what you wrote here and the echo-chambers that divide us by religion and party and class.

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    1. H P Lovecraft, that’s pretty extreme for reading back to back! 🙂 and you are right Tim, so much of our life influences how we write and our own writer voice. I work in a very logical day job around process improvement, so I often portray characters who work with technology or have extreme thinking / logical (rather than feeling) influences.

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  2. When I go back and re-read my old stuff, I can definitely tell which things were written while I was reading Douglas Adams. Such a distinctive cadence (and not exactly ideal for what I do:-) ).

    I can also tell when I start using commas in New Yorker magazine style, but that actually works for how some of my characters speak.

    I think the best thing you can do to “find your voice” is to focus on telling a good story.

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  3. Debby’s blog brought me here to meet you today, Georgina. About voice: Without straining to “find” it, I believe I have used my unique voice in my blog posts and now am hoping to carry this same authenticity into writing my memoir. I think if I try too hard, I may come across as contrived, or worse – fake.

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    1. Lovely to have you here, and thank you to Debby’s blog 🙂
      You are quite right, a memoir, perhaps more so than other books, is all about the authentic voice. The only real way to find your voice is to write fearlessly. The moment you think too much about the words you write is the moment you squash your writers voice.
      Since you already write regularly on your blog I am certain you own voice will naturally shine through. What an exciting time you have ahead writing your memoir! Best wishes with the new writing journey 🙂

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