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.

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.

Finding Your Natural Writing Voice


We all want it. We worry about whether we have it or not. We're pretty sure we need it in order to get published, yet we might not even know exactly what it is.  And it's almost for certain that we don't know how to get it.

So what is voice? 

It is your individual style, the unique way you put words together on the page.  My blog reads very differently than yours, or at least it better.  Have you ever read dull, lifeless writing (who hasn't)? It's a safe bet that writer is holding herself back from full expression of her authentic self.

Your voice can be sarcastic, funny, sardonic, sweet, hip, get the drift.  One of the hallmarks of my novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, is the main character's smart-ass sassy voice.  Open a page of that novel anywhere and you'll know you're reading me.  It simply sounds like my voice.  (And of course, that same voice proved to be too much for most agents, who felt that Emma Jean's voice was a bit too sassy.)

But what if you're struggling with voice?  If, no matter what, your writing comes out lifeless and dull?  Read on, because I've got some tips for what to do.

1.  Experiment with different genres and venues.  Blogging is for me, an incredibly natural medium.  I have no problem letting the words flow and when they flow, they sound like a reflection of me.  But I work with people all the time who freeze up in terror at the thought of putting a blog in the world.  Yet those same people may be perfectly at ease writing copy for their website. So try different arenas.

2.  Free write.  The rules are as follows: set a timer for 20 minutes, choose a prompt, and write.  When I say write, I mean write, without stopping or lifting your pen from the page.  Yeah, you'll get a lot of crap, but you'll also get to the good stuff.  Writing freely is one of the best ways to train yourself to access your natural voice.

3.  Write Morning Pages.  Popularized by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist's Way, Morning Pages are simply pages you write first thing in the morning.  Hence the name.  Morning pages (and other journal writing) help you establish an ease with pen and paper.  They help you establish a flow of words.  And ease and flow are paramount to a natural voice.

4. Emulate Others to Be Yourself.  This sound totally counter-intuitive, but copying a writer you admire can teach you so much about their style that it helps you develop your own.  Type a paragraph or page of your favorite author's work into the computer, which will incorporate that author's style and flow into yourself.  And once you understand it so intimately, you can dissect how that author did it and figure out how to do it your own way.  Note: this is a writing exercise, not an encouragement to plagiarize.

5. Work On Your Project Regularly.  Keeping a schedule and visiting your current Work in Progress (WIP) helps with your voice, too.  Voices get rusty just like muscles do.   Realize that encouraging your natural voice takes consistent time and effort.

Odds are good that you'll know your voice when you hit it.  And that, my dear readers, is cause for rejoicing.

Create a successful, inspired writing life:  Choose one of the recommendations above and commit to it to find your voice.

Have you found your voice?  Do you remember how you went about it?  Please comment. 

And please also sign up for my newsletter in the form to the right and feel free to share this post on social media.  Thank you.


Photo by gerbrak.

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.