Finding Your Voice as a Writer
These questions have surfaced because of two different novels I’ve completed, still in search of an agent. One is written in the times of Charlotte Bronte, with stilted, formal language. The other couldn’t be more opposite, a woman from the hills of Tennessee who has just escaped from prison and meets all kinds of Flannery O’Connor-type characters on her adventure.
Bronte or O’Connor. Faulkner, Atwood or Patterson. When we read the first few sentences of their novels, we know their voice. We know who we are reading. But how do we discover our OWN unique voice without falling into the trap of simply mimicking those writers we admire?
Here are some thoughts and ideas I’m still putting into practice.
To thine ownself be true. Ironically, a fictional character said these words in Hamlet. But they are words to live by, especially as a writer. I discovered this axiom many years ago in my non-fiction writing. In other words, know who you are. Be brave enough to put who you are on the page and follow your heart (I’ve written about this in past blogs.) I’ve always believed that who we are comes through on the page whether we like it or not. Your collective life experiences, memories, sorrows, joys and personality are waiting in your heart to shine through in your novels. Let them.
Connect with your reader. Here’s another truth I’ve always lived by. Creative writing – or any type of writing for that matter – is about relationship. Again, in my non-fiction writing, I’ve always directed any words or thoughts to the “dear reader.” I visualize him or her. Not only that, I see that person as a friend, one who wants to cozy up with my words and either learn about the subject matter in my feature articles or be inspired or tickled by my creative writing. Either way, I’m never writing in a vacuum.
Be brave. Here’s what Ralph Keyes, author of “The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear” had to say: “Confident writers have the courage to speak plainly; to let their thoughts shine rather than their vocabulary.” Yes, we can know our craft well, and we can create amazing metaphors, sentence structures and plotting. But if we are not allowing our unique perspective on the world to come to the page, we are denying our readers a great gift – which goes back to premise number one – allowing ourselves to be who we really are and let that come forth in our writing.
The truth is, we all have a voice. Writing is how we sound on the page and the unique way we tell a story. And when people hear it, they know who the storyteller is. Here’s an example that might help, an analogy about singers and goes to my original question of the difference between voice and style. Dolly Parton has sung in many styles, from her raucous “9 to 5” to her touching ballad, “I Will Always Love You” and yet, there’s no mistaking Dolly’s unique voice. It’s all hers.
Finding our voice is often a journey, as poet Mary Oliver writes so beautifully in her poem, appropriately named “The Journey:”
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world ….
In the end, our voice is already there, inside, waiting to be ushered forth. Once we find it, let’s stay with it. And trust it.