Keep the Spigot Open: How to Find Your Writer’s Voice

Faucet-plumbing-outdoors-42614-lIt's eight days into the new year and many of us are looking for things.  Like ways to be different, to change.  New opportunities, new goals.  And maybe some of you out there are looking for your writer's voice.

Whenever I think about the writer's voice, I think about an old children's book called Are You My Mother?  A bird hatches while his mother is away getting food and hops off the tree and goes looking for her.  Hilarity (if you're five) ensues while the bird asks a variety of creatures if they are his mother. So, too, with our writer's voice: we wander around trying on different ones for size: here's me writing horror.  Nope, that doesn't work.  Here's me writing in first person.  Nope.  Or a thriller in multiple viewpoints.  And on and on we go.

My voice, be it here on this blog or in my novels and stories, is light and accessible.  It is often funny and always breezy.  Nobody ever accused me of being too deep–but I do like to think that there are deep truths buried in all that breeziness.  And, here's the deal: this it not done purposefully.  It is just who I am.  The words on the page are the ones that come out.  Would that I could write deep, dark psychological thrillers.  Or even serious literature! But that's not what flows from my fingers.  

And I have learned not to block it.

If you're still searching for your writer's voice, that's likely the difference between me and you.  Over many, many years of writing, I have learned to let it rip.  To keep the spigot open, so to speak. Because only writing a lot (what does Malcolm Gladwell say? 10,000 hours of work to mastery?) and often allows your natural voice to emerge.

But it is easy to say, yeah, just write a lot and you will find your voice.  So here are some other tips I've used and recommended to others throughout the years:

 1. Write all the time.  Okay, this is not an "other" tip but it is advice on my most important recommendation.  Write.  Write as much as you can.  Write all the time.  Write tons every day. Write on your WIP, write blog posts.  Write emails and letters.  Write in your journal.  Write to prompts. Just write. The more you write, the more facile you get with words and the easier they will flow onto the page. And the easier they flow, the faster you will find your voice.

2. Read.  When you're not writing, read.  Read all the time and read anything.  Books, of course, but also cereal boxes and websites and articles in the newspaper and magazines.  It doesn't matter what it is, though it is a good idea to read a ton of what it is you want to write, just read.  Inhale words. Fill yourself up with them so you've got a lot to throw back at the page.

3. Imitate.  Pick your favorite author and type the opening chapter of her novel into your computer, word for word. This sounds counter-intuitive, I know, but it is actually an amazing way to get the rhythm and flow of another person's voice into your head.  And from there you can develop your own.  Another way to approach this is to take a paragraph from a published novel and rewrite it in your own words.

4. Keep the well filled. Julia Cameron talks about taking Artist's Dates, wherein you go off by yourself to an art museum or to swing on swings in the park or to a concert–anything that will fill up your creative well.  I'll admit right here that I don't do this, though I love the idea.  But I do other things that have the same result.  I knit, for instance, and also spend hours looking at Ravelry (a social media-ish site for knitters full of patterns and luscious images).  I'm planning to explore art journaling this year.  And my favorite Christmas present (besides the Poo emoji mask) is my ukulele, which I can barely manage to tune but love dinking around with.

5. Play with imagery.  Another counter-intuitive one, because we're writers, right?  But our sub-conscious responds to images more than words and playing with pictures can be helpful to direct your writing in a new way.  Look through art books, or catalogs.  Experiment with art journaling (for a helpful video, check out this.) Go to Google Images or Everystockphoto and just put different words in the search box.  See what comes up.  When you find an image you like–write about it.

6.  Don't censor yourself.  You might be writing and think of something and hesitate to put it down.  Do it anyway.  That's why we rewrite–to go back and change those things that are too harsh, too crazy, too too.  But I'm also willing to bet you might not be quite so worried about those things that are just too much when you go back to them.  I'm willing to bet they might be keys to your true voice.

7.  Breathe.  Breathe yourself into your body and the true, authentic you.  We hear a lot about being who we really are and half the time we're not even in our bodies enough to know.  Pay attention to your breath.  Give your body the gift of full, complete inhales and full, complete exhales. You'll feel more grounded in yourself. And that will be reflected in your writing.

Those are my recommendations.  What are yours?  Do you feel you have found your voice or are you still looking for it?  Please share in the comments.

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10 Comments on "Keep the Spigot Open: How to Find Your Writer’s Voice"

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Dyoung
Guest

“Deep truths buried in all that breeziness…” Love that.

These truths are so encouraging. And while Malcolm Gladwells 10,000 hours to mastery seems unreachable…you certainly can’t even expect to get half way there unless you start.

I had some good momentum. Then the holidays. Then free time with my daughter. Then…
We can always make excuses.

Why do we make excuses when it’s something we love. Something we enjoy and get so much from? It’s all in the momentum. Get that going on your side, and for me anyway, the excuses dissipate.

Don Williams
Guest
Don Williams

Excellent points as always, but the one on readings is especially important for me personally. Reading instills a passion for me to write too, as well as giving me inspiration in writing things down that I would have not necessarily written down before. Reading is a pathway to the imagination that lights the way for my own creativity by helping me to think out of my own box and to explore different paths that I would have never gone down before.

J.D.
Guest
J.D.
Great post, Charlotte. I haven’t quite found my voice. I think being locked in is what enables writers to turn out two books per year. Having several completed books would be nice, but I’d like once to write something really good. You have to be in the voice of the protagonist to do that. You ask for recommendations: I say to find your voice, whisper. Think of the one person you talk honestly with. There must be someone, alive, dead, real or imaginary. Write as if you are having lunch with that person. Give your plate to the waiter, set… Read more »
Charlotte Dixon
Guest

Ah, such a wise comment in so many ways! I love, “You certainly can’t even expect to get halfway there unless you start.” And I have also often wondered why we make excuses and procrastinate when its something we love to do. Fear of failure? Fear of success? Drive to perfection? I’m not sure.

Charlotte Dixon
Guest

I agree wholeheartedly, Don. Most, if not all, of us got the desire to become writers from reading, after all! There’s just nothing like getting lost in a book.

Charlotte Dixon
Guest

Ooh, I love this: “I say to find your voice, whisper.” And then to think as if you are telling a story to a great friend. Wonderful!

Maggie King
Guest

Charlotte, It’s timely for me that you use the phrase “keep the well filled” because I’m using it in a blog post that I’ll publish next week. I’m referring to Hemingway’s 7 tips for writers where he uses that phrase. My emphasis is on walking as a way to fill the well. I’ll refer readers to your post.

Charlotte Dixon
Guest

Oh that's wonderful and I have to admit that I didn't know Hemingway said that!  Thanks in advance for linking to my post, and please come back and post a link when your post is ready.

Maggie King
Guest

It may be later than next week but I will let you know. In the meantime I’ll post and tweet this.

Charlotte Dixon
Guest

Thank you!

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