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Finding Your Unique Voice
A writer friend asked me the other day, "When I
read, I find I'm influenced by other authors. Depending
on who I'm reading, my writing style is either playful,
deep sounding or whatever. How can I stop writing like
other writers and find my own voice?"
(She also added that I might want to write an article
based on my response - hence what you're reading now!)
Before we get on to practical tips, we should cover some
basic preconceptions about voice.
First of all, your voice should never be some affectation
you acquire or work on. I think you know what I mean.
When we're at school or in the office, we're told there's
a way to say things - a style we must adopt to conform to
Many novice writers think the same applies to fiction -
that there is perhaps some predetermined mental attitude
and/or demeanour one should adopt - usually a 'superior,
more learned' version of ourselves - to sound more
authoritative when telling stories.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
You should always write in the style that is most natural
to you. It may well be different from your speaking voice
but should always reflect the way your mind works.
Secondly, your voice doesn't have to be 'original'. You
can waste years of your time wondering what 'originality'
is and trying to define and acquire it.
When critics, publishers and agents say they want
'originality', I believe they have no idea what they mean.
They merely confuse writers by demanding something so
nebulous and indefinable. I think what they should really
be asking for is 'honesty'.
The simple truth is you already possess all the
originality you need. You are already unique. No-one else
thinks and writes like you do - trying to undo your own
originality by constantly striving to be anything less
than yourself is counter productive. Trust yourself.
Trusting yourself is probably the hardest trick you'll
have to learn as a writer - but it is absolutely
essential to your growth. Because it's only when you
trust your ability to say what you mean with honesty and
integrity, that your voice will start to come through.
The real test of a good authorial voice is consistency -
it is as strong and recognizable at the beginning of a
story as it is at the end.
So how do you achieve this consistency? How do 'get' your
It's a process, of course - and here's some practical
tips to strengthen and consolidate your own:
Consciously practice different styles and categorize them.
Write using different voices - some that are deliberately
difficult to sustain. This will attune your mind to
noting differences in style. Try writing highbrow and
lowbrow articles, egocentric columns, playlets, short
dispassionate biographies - anything that stretches you.
These pieces don't have to be publishable - they are
designed to help you 'play' with the writing medium.
Try to write without thinking for short bursts. If this
sounds too hard, try writing for ten minutes just after
you've woken up in the morning - before you can think
straight, just write anything.
Later, try looking up words in the dictionary at random
and write for ten minutes without stopping on those words.
Force yourself to write, whether you're inspired or not -
this is a great technique for getting in touch with your
subconscious voice (i.e. your true voice.)
During writing spells, especially first drafts, don't
read anything - no books, newspapers, magazines, cereal
packets, nothing. Starve yourself of influences so that
you can concentrate on just your voice and, not only the
things you want to say but, how you want to say them.
When you've written sections you're convinced are
beginning to reflect your most natural and compelling
voice, read them into a tape recorder and play them back.
The very process will help - you'll probably find your
best passages easiest to read. If not, delete the clumsy
words, the extra adverbs, the overlong sentences and try
Try writing two different versions of pieces - like short
stories. Write one with all the literary might you can
summon and write another with just a little casual
indifference. Post out both to magazine publishers or
read them to your friends to see what they think.
Consciously remind yourself everyday that you are a
writer, that you are thinking writerly thoughts and your
are determined that your writing will truly and
accurately reflect your thoughts. Do not hide behind fear
of honesty or the thought that exposing your inner psyche
is in any way bad. It's not.
The real you is what your readers want, respect and
Copyright Rob Parnell. All Rights Reserved.
Rob is the editor and webmaster of the Easy Way to Write
- a free newsletter for writers wanting to learn to
improve their writing skills. He is also the best selling
author of the book The Easy Way to Write a Novel
You can visit Rob's writing site here: http://www.easywaytowrite.com
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