On “Finding” Your Writing Voice by Denise D. Young

Voice seems to be the most elusive and hard to define aspect of writing. A Writers Digest article defines voice this way:

What the heck is “voice”? By this, do editors mean “style”? I do not think so. By voice, I think they mean not only a unique way of putting words together, but a unique sensibility, a distinctive way of looking at the world, an outlook that enriches an author’s oeuvre. They want to read an author who is like no other. An original. A standout. A voice.

In short, it’s what we choose to notice, the words we use, the phrases, the types of sentences. Voice is not only difficult to define; it’s tough to teach.

Over the years, I’ve written a number of different works: poems that explore my connection to the goddess and nature; short stories following a character through a harrowing, life-changing moment; epic novels about saving a world from impending doom; blog posts chronicling my journey as a writer.

And I no longer worry about writing voice. Because somehow, through all the practice, it’s just there. It’s in the words I choose to describe a character or setting. It’s in the settings I choose for my characters, the cottages and cabins and castles and gardens and ancient forests. It’s in the stories I choose to write (or the ones that choose me, depending on how you look at it).

Many of you have found your voice the same way. You wrote your first million words, anything from flash fiction to sprawling 100,000-word novels, and you discovered your voice along the way.

And if you’re new at this, still in the first stages of your journey and you hear people talking about this thing called voice, and you hear agents say that they’re looking for “a distinctive voice,” or you hear that what really captivates readers is a strong voice, my advice is to write. Write often. Write a lot. Even if you’re just scribbling a few lines here or there. Even if it’s in a journal. Just write.

Because I have learned that writing voice cannot be found when you look for it. It is discovered during your journey as a writer. One day you will look back at a body of work and realize your voice has been there all along.

So go forth. And write. Often. And a lot.

What about you? How do you define “voice”? How did you discover yours—or are you still discovering it?

~*~

Denise D. Young

9 comments

  1. What happens when you’ve had your voice for so long, you’ve grown sick of it? Ha. I still struggle with voice, despite writing consistently for over ten years now. I had a great grasp of it at 17, but lost it. I think I was too Cormac McCarthy back then anyway. And now I find that voice changes drastically from project to project. First person changes things, anticipated word length changes things (I feel like my voice is greatly enriched when I’m writing a slow burn epic that doesn’t have as much urgency as a fantasy thriller). It’s odd. On some stories I hate my voice, on others I don’t even worry about it.

    1. I don’t think voice should necessarily stay consistent from project to project. Now within a series, absolutely. That’s part of the branding. But I have another contemporary romance trilogy coming out later this year that will have a different tone from my primary series–and that’s all voice. My paranormal romance has a different voice than my contemporary stuff.

    2. You’re right that voice changes from project to project. I usually write adult works, but I recently wrote a younger YA short story, and yes, the voice for that is different from the voice I usually use. But it still feels natural, I think. And there are probably commonalities between that and my adult works. I don’t worry too much about my writing voice these days. It’s just sort of there. And yes, I’m sure it will change over time, but at least I have a baseline.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Spot on!

    And another piece of advice is to READ… to read a LOT, books by a specific author as well as genre as well as “new to you” styles…. read and consider why one author appeals and another does not. All because of a difference in voice..

    1. Absolutely. Exploring other writers’ voices–their word choice, their sentence structure, their imagery–is essential. At the end of the day, write a lot and read a lot are the best pieces of writing advice out there. Thanks, Eden!

  3. Exactly! Years ago, when I wrote advertorial pieces for our local newspaper, people would come up to me and say they knew I’d written it. My voice apparently came through even then. I agree with Denise. Write. Write. Write. And then write some more.

    1. Definitely. I used to write for a magazine, and I know I had my own distinctive voice as a magazine writer. It wasn’t the same as my fiction writing voice, but it was still there. Writing (and reading, as Eden suggested above) is the best way to “discover” our writing voice.

  4. I think I use a slightly different voice for my other pen name since the genre is different. But, at the same time, it’s still me.

    Btw, I love your voice, Denise. You write some awesome stories!

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