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.

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.


Does it Really Take Talent?

Consider two writers:College_study_learnin_268377_l

Writer A, is unbelievably talented.  She writes prose so gorgeous and true and deeply felt it makes your hear break.  Not only that, she has that ineffable trait called a voice.  You'd recognize her writing anywhere and drop everything to read it.  In short, Writer A has talent.  Scads of it.  But Writer A also has a little problem.  She doesn't write much.  Once every month or so, if the spirit moves her, she picks up her pen and scrawls another page of beautiful prose.  And then she lets other things get in the way.  You know.  Important things like watching TV, and cleaning the sink, and thinking profound thoughts about how wonderful life is going to be once she has finished that novel.

Writer B, is just an old workhorse.  Every word he puts on the page he has earned.  This writer doesn't have a lot of natural talent.  His writing is pedestrian at best.  But our Writer B works hard.  He writes every day and reads and reads and reads.  Whenever he has a spare moment, he's working on improving his writing.  He immerses himself in words, whether writing or reading.  He's obsessed.  Sometimes he misses dinner, and often he doesn't turn his TV on for weeks on end.

So who do you think is going to be the most successful writer?

I'm betting on Writer B.  Why? Because Writer B is doing the work, sitting at his desk, writing.  You learn writing by writing.  You learn fluency and ease and flow by writing every day, which is why I'm always harping on it.  You figure out how the plot of your novel is going to work by actually working on the novel, or you learn more about your characters by writing more about them.

Talent will get you started, but it is the actual work that will allow you to succeed. 

There's an old debate in the writing world: can writing be taught?  Do you have to have talent to succeed?  I think that writing can be taught, and the teaching occurs in every word that you put on the page.  Malcolm Gladwell, in his book, Outliers, says that mastery comes after you have spent 10,000 hours on something.  Yep.  It will probably take you 10,000 hours of writing to master the craft, though many people believe that writing takes a lifetime to master–which is why it never gets boring.  This 10,000 hour rule is why the brief-residency MFA programs or certificate writing programs are so great–because writers should be writing, not sitting in class talking about writing, fun as that is.  Writers learn to write by writing, natural talent or no.

And those with natural talent who write all the time will see their talent come to fruition.  But those with natural talent who don't write will never succeed.  Persistence will always prevail.

The moral of the story? Just keep writing.  It is all you need to do.

**This post came about as a result of a question asked in the comment sections on my post, Burning Questions.  Thanks, Walter, and I hope this helps.  Meanwhile, if any of you have any burning questions, hope on over to that post and ask away. 

And feel free to weigh in here on the topic of talent versus persistence.