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Miles Davis told us, “Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.” And his advice holds true for writers who are trying to find their voice. Some writers will spend a lifetime trying to figure out who they are and what they have to say. Others seem to start out fully formed, like Athena springing from Zeus’s head, with perfect knowledge of their own inner strength and wisdom. If you’re trying to find your voice as a writer, you’re not alone.
What Is A Writer’s “Voice”?
A writer’s voice is composed of his or her style, approach, concerns, objectives, and perspectives, and it often evolves and changes over the course of an author’s life. Essentially, your voice is the way that you choose to express yourself as a creative writer.
How To Find Your Voice As A Writer
Pay attention to yourself. Notice the choices you’re making. Which television shows do you watch? What music do you listen to, and does it change depending on whether you’re writing, exercising, or performing some other task? Your choices tell you who you are and what you want. Follow these signposts to your authentic voice.
Read a lot. Like so many in the publishing industry, we always point to reading like a writer as an integral way of improving your technique. But reading a lot can help you find your voice too. Keep a reading journal and write down your responses to what you read. What did you like about it? What didn’t you like? Again, your feelings are signposts. Heed them.
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Switch gears: Take a break from reading. Some writers have said that reading other people’s writing when they’re deep in their own project can mess with their voice. We wouldn’t tell you to give up reading—that’s like asking a bodybuilder to give up lifting weights! But if you suspect that you’re being inappropriately influenced by the books you’re reading, then you might want to take a break. Alternatively, consider reading outside of your usual genre. If what you’re reading is very different from what you’re writing, you might minimize the possibility of being influenced.
Take a vacation from classes, writing conferences, and seminars. We’re big believers in the idea that you, as a writer, control your own destiny. You’re the captain of your ship. As such, you’ve got an obligation to know how to get where you’re going—and that means being very well-educated in matters of the publishing industry and craft.
That said, there comes a point when all the “noise” of the publishing industry—talk of trends, contracts, marketing, etc.—can begin to get inside your head and start changing the way you think about your own writing. Consider silencing that outside noise for a little while so you can hear the whisper of your own voice coming through the chaos.
Take a vacation, period. You might find that a weekend (or a week!) away from your daily grind is just what the doctor ordered when it comes to finding your voice as a writer. Choose a destination that allows you to carve out some serious alone time so you can focus without distractions. Writer May Sarton says, “Solitude is the richness of self.”
Temporarily scrap your WIP (work in progress). Part of maximizing your creativity and finding your voice is learning when to pursue an idea—and knowing when it’s time to let go. Your WIP might be leading you down the wrong path. So take a little break. Spend some time free writing. What words come out of your brain (and your heart) when you’re not “working” on your writing? That’s your voice.
Stop trying so hard. Sometimes the easiest way to “hear” yourself is to quit trying so hard to listen to your voice as a writer. Relax, cut yourself some slack, and your writing voice might rise up effortlessly on its own.