Every writer has struggled with finding their voice at some point or other, usually at the beginning of their career. It’s often a case of hit-and-miss, of experimenting, of looking outwards at new experiences and also inward to finding out just who we are, for if we don’t know who we are, how then can we find that authentic voice, the voice that readers can relate to, the voice that is uniquely ours with all our quirks and foibles and little whimsies?
Finding my voice is something I’m still working on myself, both as a writer of stories and as a blogger, a daily work in progress. I’ve gotten a lot more confident at the task of expressing myself authentically, though I still think I’m not quite there yet. I’ve more to write, more to learn and more to practice.
However, I’ve learned quite a bit along the way so far and I thought I’d share below four key tips to help smooth the way on to finding your true writer’s voice.
Read widely. Read books, magazines, newspapers, online news sites and blogs. Read poetry, stories, articles and editorials. Read across a wide variety of genres from classics to satire to literary fiction to chic lit to westerns to horror to fantasy to, yes, even erotic fiction! Never be a reading snob because for every style or genre you eschew, you’re missing out on all the merit and excellence that could be picked up from these works. If you are a blogger, read fitness blogs, lifestyle blogs, news blogs, funny blogs, silly blogs, business blogs, travel blogs, all kinds of blogs including those outside of your chosen niche markets. And read other things besides blogs too. If you are a writer, read books outside of your chosen genre. Read to get a feel of what works and what doesn’t work. Read books you are drawn to; read books you never otherwise would have picked up. Read widely in order to assimilate as many writing styles as possible, for these are the learning materials you will draw on when you write.
As they say, practice, practice, practice. Write as much as you can. Write about anything and everything. Write in as many different styles, genres and perspectives as you can to get a feel of what works best for you. Try writing in past tense; try writing in present tense. Write a narrative from a first person’s point of view; write from a third person’s point of view. Write as briefly and concisely as you can – then let loose and write with as many flowery adjectives and baroque descriptions as your artistic soul longs to. Then try and find the middle ground, the happy medium between the two.
Writers of stories – gather all your characters, from the protagonist to the villain to the secondary and third characters to that random girl who was walking her dog on the other side of the street in chapter ten and write stories featuring all their points of view. Think of this as writing drills.
Bloggers, write as many posts as you can. You don’t need to publish them until you feel comfortable doing so but just keep writing them and maybe later you can go back to these drafts and try and figure out what worked and what didn’t worked and you can then re-edit until you’re happy with them.
And this is when we come to the editing – yes, this counts as writing too! Remember the phrase ‘say what you mean and mean what you say’? Well, in the case of writers, it’s ‘write what you mean and mean what you write’. Only this is a learning process so you will probably have to edit over and over again until you’re sure you’ve found the right words to express what you mean to say. Be a thoughtful writer – consider what you write, what the implications of your words could be, what effect it might have on others reading it, if this word or that word is exactly the right word to express what you wish to say. Again, this will come naturally the more you write and edit. The first step is always to get what’s on your mind down on paper (or your laptop!), no matter how clumsy or awkward your writing might be initially. That’s what they call the first draft. Then – edit, edit, edit.
Oftimes it may feel as if you’re imitating the styles of other writers before you; you probably are. It may feel like everything you write is awkward and stilted; it probably is. But like everything, it takes practice to get the words to flow smoothly – the more you write, the more comfortable you will be with writing and the closer you’ll get to finding your true style and true voice.
And that brings us to…
Stay True to yourself.
Never write to please your audience or an editor; never write in a certain way or about certain things mainly because you think this will help you sell books or attract more site traffic or because you are afraid others will judge you. Write about what you believe in. Write about the things you enjoy writing about. Write because it stretches your limits and your imagination and your mind. Write to improve your craft, this craft that you have chosen to master. Certainly, you should write with your readers in mind, but never write to please a faceless audience at the cost of your art. Write something you would enjoy reading. Never write something you would be ashamed of. Always write something you would be proud to stand up and claim as your own before anyone and everyone. Write something you would always believe in. Write with true conviction – for that is when you will write with true grace.
Don’t compare yourself to others.
Never compare yourself to writers who have gone before you or writers who have come after you. Admire their work, certainly, that witty turn of phrase, that clever poem, funny blog post or that crazy-complicated ‘who woulda thunk it?!?’ mystery plot. Use their work as a means to spur yourself on, a bar to reach, a motivator to continue to hone your craft until you’re as good as they are in your own way.
But in the meantime, don’t let the gap between where you are and where they are right now stand in the way of you working your way up to the top as well. Everyone has to start somewhere and they’ve probably stood where you’re standing now, wondering where to start and how to find their own voice. They’ve worked their way up to the top and now it’s your time. If they can do it, so can you!
In the same vein, do not compare yourself to your peers. More importantly, do not compare book sales or agent contracts or publishing deals or blog popularity. Remember that everyone moves at their own pace. Know that if you provide quality content, your work too will gain notice. And finally, if you must compare, compare yourself with an earlier version of yourself – and smile when you see how far you’ve come.