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Finding Your Voice as a Writer

June 19, 2012

I’ve been struggling with the whole concept of “voice” lately. What is my voice? What does that mean? What is the difference between voice and style?

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.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. June 20, 2012 4:32 PM

    I really like this blog, especially the ‘being brave’ bit. That takes time but is probably the most worthwhile lesson of all. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and that lovely poem by Mary Oliver

  2. June 20, 2012 5:30 PM

    Thanks so much for stopping by and for your comments, Sheila. Glad you like our blog!

  3. June 21, 2012 9:19 PM

    Another thought-provoking post. I wonder, though … do we have to have just one voice? Human beings are such extraordinarily complex creatures, why not give voice to all facets of this complexity? I don’t think we can find our voice; it has to find us – probably when we stop looking for it and just write.

  4. June 22, 2012 12:21 PM

    I love your response, Sandy. In fact, wish I had added that to the post, but you’re right. We have many voices, so why not use them all in our writing? I especially like your thought about our voice finding us … and just writing! Love it. And I’d love to hear what other writers out there think about this …… writers????

  5. August 19, 2012 12:48 PM

    Excellent article. Thanks for posting it. This is a difficult topic if for no other reason than voice is highly personal and, like art, an interesting voice is in the eyes (or is it ears?) of the beholder. I think each writer has his or her own voice and it shines through regardless of the project, but, and it’s a big but, the voice is shaded by the project at hand. For me, the voice in my non-fiction, my Royal Pains media tie-ins, and my Dub Walker forensic thriller series are each different—yet in many ways not. Again, thanks for this thought-provoking post.

    • Marielena Zuniga permalink
      August 19, 2012 1:03 PM

      D.P., Thanks for stopping by and for your comments. I agree that “voice” is highly personal and it does shine through, whatever the project may be. Best of luck with your writing and please stop by again!

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