Friday, June 3, 2011

Voice and Writing Every Day

Free-form Friday


Writers not only hear them, they're supposed to have one.

"What's voice?" the new writer asks. "How do I develop one?"

"I know it when I see it," answers the agent/editor/other publishing professional. Or they may try to help by recommending books they think have a great voice.

So the new writer absorbs the voice, tries to write something similar, is told the piece has no voice, and comes away feeling increasingly frustrated.

Artists, with their tracing paper, learn by copying. Why can't we? After all, isn't imitation the sincerest form of flattery?

Ah, but there's the problem: imitation.

Just like the high schools that are full of young people trying to find themselves by behaving exactly like all the other young people trying to find themselves, you won't find what's authentically you in someone else.

Writing is about self-expression. Voice is about the self that is expressed.

The reason we have trouble with voice is that we've absorbed so many influences and have built up so many assumptions about the nature of writing that we've lost touch with our own unique modes of expression.

Erin Reel, in a guest post on agent Rachelle Gardner's Rants & Ramblings blog, titled "Finding Your Authentic Voice," says:
"Don't write in a language that's not your own. Forget about following a genre trend just to get published. Tell a good story—one that a large audience will want to read and can identify with."
Her tips for finding your voice include read, practice, get clear about the story you want to tell, and make it your own. ("Make your story authentically yours by writing many rough drafts through which your voice will eventually surface.")

Writing every day will help you get past all the influences and assumptions you've internalized. I credit the journal I kept for several years for much of my own development.

Image: Photography by BJWOK /


  1. I've been told I have a Jane Austenish voice so I take that as a high compliment. However, that took years to develop, while reading and watching BBC television.

  2. In light of such a happy association it seems only appropriate to extend our most felicitous congratulations!

    [Wait, is that too much of a Mr. Collins-ish voice? That would not be such a happy association.]

    And yes, I can say amen to a rigorous course of watching BBC television (though I'm not entirely sure about the Red Dwarf episodes).

    Kidding aside, the longer British format (i.e., program aren't interrupted for commercials) provides more scope for good writing.

  3. I daresay, Mr. Hensen, one would not aspire to be associated with Mr. Collins in any incantation. Luckily, I do not compare you to him.

    It's funny I came back to see your comment (Well, no, it's not funny, I always come back) However, this conversation got me thinking about all the voices we use.

    I'm originally from the Rhode Island and we have our own kind of accent. A mix between Brahmin and Jersey. When I write on my blog, what you hear is my normal 'voice'.

    When I have to write an essay (or some particular work of scholarly writing) I turn on my Barbara Walters 'voice'. I sound educated (which I am -- but you wouldn't know it from my blog).

    When I write my historicals, I have a totally different way of writing. My 'voice' is not merely Austenish, it is almost Hemingway-esque, sparing of description, using the right word choices to make description and action up to the reader.

    It's interesting to have this conversation (eye-opening on so many levels). Thanks for this.


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