Happy Wednesday, all! We’re going to jump right into the 3rd week of our blog series Writing Craft: Reading to Write. If you haven’t read the last two blogs in our series on writing craft as a whole and finding your purpose, then go ahead and read those before we begin because each post in the month of June is a part of our blog series, and each new post will build on the one before. This week we’re talking about a very important writing craft element: voice.
What is a writer’s voice? Like the other craft elements, a writer’s voice is made up of a couple of things that work together to convey something so distinctive that a writer can be identified by nothing other than their words. Tone, diction (word choice), subject matter, punctuation, and more work together to convey attitude, personality, and character. Ernest Hemingway’s short, nondescript sentences come to mind as well as JRR Tolkien’s fanciful and imaginative (and sometimes endless) descriptions.
Why is it important to develop your voice? Developing your voice as a writer happens over time and practice and, for the most part, you may not even notice it’s happening. But, it’s important to understand that it is happening and to consciously take part in developing it for two reasons: one, a writer’s work can always be improved, and two, your dedicated readers keep coming back because they expect to “hear” your voice. Most writers will tell you that they never feel their work is ready; They usually feel this way because they know their writing can always be improved. There’s always a phrase you can fix or a word to change to evoke something in a more profound way. There’s no ceiling or limit to improvement. Also, your readers keep coming back because they love your voice. It could be your long descriptions, unique word choices, your enjambed poetry, or even your observations that make them want to read more.
Developing Your Voice:
To develop your writer’s voice, you must first know yourself and then be willing to share yourself with your reader; They need to get a sense of your personality in order to connect with you. So, become the target of your own investigation. Observe your own way of interacting with the world and then devote yourself to capturing that act of observation. Reject how others see and interact with the world. What do you think your characters sound like? What do you think their experiences are? How do you see them interacting in their world? The key to writing a truly original work begins by looking inward and that means being intentional.
Consider the following 5 ideas to develop your writer’s voice:
Observe. Be intentional about noticing what you notice about the world. Write it down. Understand that the way you observe the world is important even if it doesn’t make sense yet. Put away the distractions, all the tech. Take a walk. Lay down on the grass and look up at the sky. Sit on a park bench. Watch the world around you and see what you notice. Take a deep breath and sit in the silence, and see what captures your attention or tugs on your heart strings.
Stop Editing (for now). It is every writer’s compulsion to edit as you write. Stop it. Avoid the “delete” key and drop the red pen. By editing as you write, you’re limiting the development of your voice. Stop trying to craft a perfectly worded description or phrase. Try to work through new ideas as they come instead of dissecting every sentence after you write it; That’s what revision is for. Let your sentences get messy, and give yourself and your creativity room to breath. In this way, you can coax your creativity out rather force it.
Know When to Focus on Your Reader. Sometimes writers can get bogged down by the question, “who is my reader?” The trick is knowing when to ask the question. Consider saving it until your second or third draft. Focusing on that question can bring in bad habits of editing as you go or ignoring your natural observations. Leave your reader out of it and gently coax out your writer’s voice with privacy. First figure out your own thoughts and, then invite the reader into the conversation.
Read. Observe. Repeat. Search for the voices who inspire you, who make you feel, and who make you believe or dream. Try writing in your favorite writer’s style and then weave it with your own. You may just find your voice. Read your favorites and then look inward. Try writing passages you love by hand and ask yourself, “Why do I love this so much?” Or, maybe try it with one you hate. Discuss with a writer friend and discover why they love/hate a piece.
Read Aloud. It’s the thing many writers dread the most: hearing their work aloud. Hearing it in your head is quite different than hearing it aloud. Change things up and print your work, then read it aloud. Read slowly and savor every word. Trust your ears to hear where you may need to add a sentence or two, or where something just isn’t working. If you want a challenge, try reading your work aloud to a friend. By reading aloud, you’ll be able to hear the rhythm and cadence of your work. It might be a bit uncomfortable the first couple times you try it, but it is imperative to developing a strong and controlled writer’s voice.
I hope this week’s blog helped you to understand the importance of a writer’s voice and how you can begin to develop it or continue to hone it. My challenge to you this week is to read through some of your own writing and look for certain turns of phrase, sentence structures, tone(s), and more that are unique to you. You can do the same exercise with your favorite novel to help you figure out what keeps you coming to that book and/or author. Don’t forget to come back next Wednesday for the last week of our blog series on putting all the craft elements together. Happy reading and writing!
A few sections of this post were adapted from Jennifer Louden’s, “5 Way to Develop Your Writer’s Voice,” and Ginny Wiehardt’s “What Voice Means in Writing: The Difference Between Author Voice and Narrator’s Voice”.