Is Your Writing Voice Masked?

Everystockphoto_204443_mYeah, so, that headline is a clever attempt to tie this post into Halloween.  In case my efforts are obtuse, mask=costume=Halloween.  I know, I know, a bit labored. Except that writing voice is an important subject. (Along the same Halloween theme, last week I wrote about Fear and Focus.)

And writing voice is a topic that sometimes causes writers angst.

Because everyone wants a unique voice.  Every writer wants to write in one, and every agent and editor wants to discover one.  After all, there's really nothing new under the sun, as the saying goes, so  the ability to write in a fresh way is truly important.

However, like all desirable things, voice can be elusive.  You put words on the page and they sound blah and dull.  You despair.  You wrestle with the words a bit more and they sound even duller.  You despair some more.  And then slink off for a little nip.  Thus ending your writing session.

Ah, but it doesn't have to be like this.  There are ways to encourage your natural voice to come out.  How, you ask?  Let me tell you how I think it naturally arises, in a two-step process:

1.  Glumping, as in glumping it all on the page, letting the words flow out of you in a mad rush.  This can actually seem counter-intuitive to finding your voice, because let's face it, when you write like this, sometimes what comes out is crap.  But within that dung are jewels to be found, and these jewels continue glimmers of your true voice.  The more you allow yourself to write, just write, the more these tiny glints of voice will shine.

2.  Honing.  After the first draft, wherein you glump, you write another draft and another.  As many as it takes to get the story right.  And then you get to the point where it's time to tinker, when you are looking at every single word and every bit of grammar.  This is where you polish your voice.  A wonderful editor, Chris Reardon says that "writers smother their voice in ineffective writing habits."  Those habits would be things like using a lot of adverbs (I, myself, am the queen of them), writing in passive voice, using cliches, and so on.  Learn what your bad habits are and edit them out. 

As you can see, the process is one of expansion and contraction.  You throw the words on the page and then you go through and edit every single one.  And, most importantly, you remember always that these are two very different processes and keep them separate. 

Et voila, a sparkly, shiny voice will appear.

Do you worry about voice? What do you do to encourage it?

 Photo by clarita.

Greatest Hits: Finding Your Personal Style As A Writer

While I'm in Frenchglen where there is no internet connection, I'm running an old blog post.  This one was originally posted back in 2007, and I thought it was apropos here since I just wrote another post on voice this past Monday.  Here it is:


One of my blog buddies, Renny, suggested I answer this question for a post: How do you find your personal style as a writer?

It has taken me awhile to get to it because it is a tough question to answer.

Personal writing style can also be called voice and the truth is, writers who don’t have it would kill to get it.

Sometimes I read student work that is raw, unedited, exuberant and wild. It may need plenty of work, but it has a voice, an energy, an originality that lifts off the page. It is so exciting when this happens. All those other problems can be fixed:

  • You can learn grammar
  • You can fix spelling and punctuation.
  • You can master the technical aspects of writing, whether fiction, or non-fiction.

What is not so easy to find is your voice.

  • Voice, or personal style, is like art: you know it when you see it.
  • Voice is what makes my blog on writing sound different than the next one you read.
  • Voice is what comes straight from the heart. It is what gives you authority and credibility—and you need authority and credibility even if you are writing fiction.

Okay, I hear you. “I want me some of that there style,” you’re saying. “How do I get me some?”

The answer is I don’t know that attaining voice is a mysterious process. Some people seem to be able to find their voice right away. For others it takes longer.

Finding voice most often has to do with writing a lot. Writing every day. Writing more. Writing like your life depended on it. Only by moving your pen across the page repeatedly will you access the voice deep within.

The Voice That is Great Within Us is the name of a poetry collection that I had in college and it is an apt title for personal style—which is, essentially, the voice that is great within us.

The Voice That is Great Within Us is what you want to let out on the page. It is the words that you might well censor as they well up inside you and out your fingertips. But don’t do that. Let it rip. This is why you must write a lot to find your voice—because the more you write, the more familiar you become with it. The more familiar you become with words, the more ease you have. And the more ease you have….the easier it is not to censor yourself.

This is why Renny and other bloggers have an advantage. We bloggers write a lot. (Brief aside: have you ever stopped to consider how glorious it is that here is so much writing going on now because of blogging?) And, let me just say it again—the more you write, the more likely you are to find your personal style.

Honestly, it all comes down to writing. In a pinch, choose quantity over quality. Let it rip, baby. That’s what God invented the art of rewriting for.

Why does everything having to do with writing always come down to writing?

*The photo is new.  It is from soopahtoe, from Everystockphoto.

Writing to Voice

Ah, voice.  That mysterious and sometimes elusive quality that everyone looks for in writing. 


Agents and editors seek it and readers turn pages like crazy when it is present. 

Your favorite blogs have it. 

Your favorite characters have one. 

Non-fiction books are written in specific voices, and magazines have a voice keyed to their demographic–O is written very differently than More, for instance, though some of their readers overlap.

So what, exactly, is voice? 

Voice is your personality (or your character's) in words, on the page.  It is the way you put words and sentences together, how you use grammar, if you use long sentences or short, staccato ones.  Because of this, voice is sometimes called style.  Whatever you call it, it is essential if you want to make your mark as a writer.

I've been thinking a lot about voice lately because I've been fooling around with a new novel.  (Note, I'm not quite yet ready to claim that I'm actually writing one yet.  Its just fooling around for now.)  In the novel I just finished, the voice of Emma Jean, the protagonist and sole viewpoint character came to me the minute I started writing.  She sprang forth through words in all her brash glory.

But this time around I'm not so lucky.  My new protagonist is anything but shy, yet she is not revealing her voice to me quickly at all.  Because of my experience with Emma Jean, I worried.  Would this new character have an original, quirky voice or just be a dull person on the page?

However, bit by bit, her voice is starting to emerge.  And I know why.  Its because I have doggedly kept writing, even when the words seemed blah and I couldn't find a way to connect.  I'm into the idea of this story and so I've kept going, even when I was totally uncertain the character would claim a voice.  And slowly, it is beginning to come.

So here's what I think about discovering voice in your characters:  its just like real life.  Some characters will show themselves to you all at once, at least their superficial selves, and you'll be able to get their voice down on the page right away.  And others will be just like those people you meet who reveal themselves slowly.  If you want to find your voice, here's some help:

1.  Keep writing.

2.  Rewrite.  Emma Jean's voice came out even stronger and clearer the more I rewrote the novel.

3.  Write some more.

4.  Rewrite some more.

5.  Keep writing.

Because, really, the only way out is through.  The only way to find out what you're writing about, or who you're writing about is to keep writing.

What are your experiences with voice in writing?  And I'm curious about all of it–fiction, non-fiction, you name it.

*Photo by fresh-m, courtesy of Everystockphoto.