As writers practice, we begin developing a voice. But what
exactly is voice?
Writing Tip for Today: Let’s discuss what goes into a
writing voice and how to cultivate one.
The Singular You
Most would agree that a distinct writer’s voice puts you and what makes you you distinctly on the page. In order to develop that voice, you must know yourself. While you might say, “of course I know myself,” when you write, are you trying to be something you’re not? Maybe you want readers to think you’re smart, educated, persuasive or an expert. Maybe you want readers to see your good side only.
By shielding any part of yourself or only showing readers
what you want them to see, you run the risk of sounding less than genuine. Readers
can spot real honesty and it’s an attractive magnet. Readers can also detect
holding back and it’s a repellent.
Knowing yourself requires a combination of learning to observe—you see the world in a unique way; allowing yourself to make mistakes—stop trying to edit as you write; focusing on your reader—keeping that reader in mind as you write; and reading so widely that you begin to feel jealous of another’s work. These skills won’t be mature overnight. Develop voice by becoming a writer all the time—when you’re at the keyboard as well as when you’re everywhere else.
Cadence, not Rhythm
Voice can also be developed by allowing your natural cadences in language to appear in your writing. Rhythm, such as a habit of always using double modifiers, makes writing sing-song. Unless you’re Dr. Seuss, it’s not really a voice.
But the cadence of your words—how your paragraphs combine
long sentences with fragments, how the dialogue varies, the particular details
you use or how you use metaphor and simile—can make your writing voice
Take a look at a few recent paragraphs and analyze them for
these variables. Are you building a voice or are you falling into a rhythmic pattern?
Read Best, Write You
Some writers fear that if they read others’ work while
drafting their own prose, they’ll start to sound like the author they read.
Yes, this might happen for a while. Consider it part of your 10,000 hours of
practice to master your work. Don’t let this fear keep you from reading the
very best material you can. Eventually, you’ll absorb the best of what you read
and your own particular way of seeing the world will resurface.
One caveat: When I read poetry or literary giants, I
sometimes feel frustrated if I try to write a genre, say Romance. Everything
comes out way too deep, meaningful and slow, when these readers just want to
see how the protagonists overcome obstacles to reach the goal. I’d also add
that if you want to write in a genre, read that genre widely too. In the end,
the high-brow stuff can inform your voice, while the plot stuff can drive the
story as fast as readers demand.
Developing your writing voice almost always happens
gradually. Even debut authors probably have many trial efforts sitting in a
drawer. Read widely, write a lot,
practice noticing, be a writer all the time. One day your readers may be able
to recognize your unique voice, and they’ll hunger for more of it.