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The Only Two Tips You’ll Ever Need to Find Your Writing Voice

Voice-finding always seems to be a hot-topic among aspiring writers. Seasoned writers stress the importance of finding your writing voice and give their own thoughts on how to do it. With the sea of advice, it’s easy to get lost and distracted from the goal of actually writing.

Reality is, there are only two things between you and your writing voice. Here’s how to find them:

Photo by striatic

1. Read

In order to get a good handle on the client’s voice, ghostwriters spend hours listening to or reading the client’s work. They pick up patterns of speech, dialect, and rhythm of sentences.

Maybe you find recording yourself and replaying it enjoyable. Personally, I’d rather write a piece, let it sit for a few days or a week, and reread it with my ghostwriter hat. What do I notice about this piece’s dialect and diction? What rhythm do I feel?

A few months ago I had a piece edited without track changes. As I was reading over the revisions, I found parts that didn’t sound like me. I smoothed them out and then looked back at the original. No, those were my exact words completely untouched by the editor.

It’s amazing what you find when you read your own work without your writer’s hat.

2. Write

Ted Dekker says it takes four or five novels to find your own writing voice.

I’m going to guess most of us haven’t written four or five publishable novels. Knowing that’s what required to find your voice, keep writing.

Once you read those four or five novels, keep going. You’re just getting revved up and comfortable in your own skin.

Have you found your writing voice? If so, what’s helped? If not, what hasn’t worked?

PRACTICE

Find a piece you wrote last week and read over it while pretending to be a ghostwriter. In the comments, share what you’ve learned about your own voice.

About Katie Axelson

Katie Axelson is a writer, editor, and blogger who's seeking to live a story worth telling. You can find her blogging, tweeting, and facebook-ing.

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  • http://www.vozey.wordpress.com/ James Hall

    I found that I am constantly challenging myself. I don’t think it will take me X novels to find my voice, I think it has been there all along. It just has taken a lot of practice to refine it, to make it beautiful.

    Yet, I have whole chapters of dwarven narrative in my book. First, I write the events with me as the narrator. Then, I sit down, and I let him speak to me. I can hear the way he says things in my head. I’ve found these moments most impressive.

  • http://www.vozey.wordpress.com/ James Hall

    This is an excerpt from my current WIP, Greybo: A Dwarven Tale

    Grey clouds wept in the sky at the birth of the bleak day. The fog dulled the landscape and killed the beauty in it. In the chill air, six dwarfs marched up a muddy trail. Each wore a long face as they carried the sepulcher up the mountain side. The procession trudged up the twisting mountain path.

    Darowyn eyed the nameless gravestones that slowly crept by on either side of him. More and more gravestones passed, broken and empty. The trail to the Grey Summit was lonely. The cold mountain air stabbed at him, and the frosted ground impeded his every step. Darowyn knew the procession would soon end.

    Sloshing through more of the slushy path, the procession reached a bleak plateau just shy of the summit of the mountain. The procession slowly came to a stop. Tears swelled in each of their eyes. They propped open the face of the casket. Everyone bewailed the passing of the dwarf, except himself. The fog circled, slowly spinning, around the crowd. The procession circled the coffin, each looking upon the deceased, weeping. Each time Darowyn found himself at the front of the circle, he would let another go in his place. The circle spun slowly, but then, the first man left the circle, smiling, and disappeared into the fog. Another floated away with a mild smile. A woman this time had a hop in her step as she disappeared into the thickening fog.

    Another, a dark-haired young man, slipped a book into the pocket of his coat. When Darowyn looked up, he was gone.

    The fog was nearly touching the coffin when the last man, having a lute strapped upon his back, wept his final tears. As the man turned away, Darowyn grasped his cloak. The blond-headed man, with three scabby slashes across his cheek, turned and looked down at him softly.

    “Don’t go.” He begged.

    “He… was a good dwarf. Everythin’ that I am, I owe to him.” Darowyn refused to release the man’s clothing. No avail came of it as the cloak dematerialized in his hand, and the fog swallowed up the man. He was alone; all he could see was the coffin.

    “Darowyn, come,” a voice echoed in the fog.

    Darowyn turned, trembling, back to the coffin.

    “Look upon my face.”

    “I… I don’t want to see your face.” He resisted. He felt himself urged toward the
    coffin. His heavy breath was smoke in the cold air.

    “Look upon my face,” the voice demanded, distinctly from within the coffin.

    Darowyn shuddered. He slowly crept towards the coffin and placed his outstretched hands upon the edge of the coffin. He inched forward, peering over the edge. The outside of the deep coffin glittered with gems, treasures, and rich designs. It sharply contrasted the pitch-black darkness inside the coffin. Closer and closer he crept, though he could not bring his eyes to look down. He shivered in the merciless bite of the wind. He stood with his belly against the coffin, and his knuckles were white under his grip.

    “Look upon my face,” the haunting voice whispered into his ear, slow and calm.
    Darowyn’s breath was rapid and heavy. His head leaned down so slowly he could hear the creaking of his neck. Finally, he closed his eyes and let his head fall limp. He opened his eyes. All that lay in the coffin was fog. Floating
    about and folding in upon itself. Under its own volition, his right hand dove
    into the coffin. His hand felt warm, but the fog began spilling over the edges
    of the coffin. He wanted to escape, but his hand would not come free of the
    coffin. He jerked his hand about.

    “Look upon my face,” the voice came again.

    “No!” Darowyn screamed, yanking on his arm fiercely. “I mustn’t! I’ll lose control!” He jarred his arm, even until it tingled.

    He screamed and flailed as the fog crawled up his arm, the grey swirls
    transforming into boney fingers. He could not escape the fog; it crept in from
    all directions.

    • Missaralee

      Hi James, I know how you like detailed critiques, so I’ve got one for you! First off, I liked this scene, it had good pacing and excellent visual quality. I could see the dwarves and the fog and the mountain side and felt the ritual of the laying to rest. Well done. Some editorial bits here and there would help to keep the reader in the scene instead of tumbling out over an unclear line or ambiguous action and dialogue labels. Here we go:
      -Bleak, bleak, bleak. Repetition for the sake of rhythm, structure or theme is really nice. When you repeated bleak, it was more for lack of another word, so try to mix it up a bit. When you repeated circled and circled, that had a great effect. The fog circled them and they circled the coffin.
      -The fog dulling the landscape is good. The fog killing the beauty of the landscape perplexed me. Can you just not see the landscape, so it’s obscured or is it somehow ugly because it’s shrouded? I think what you’re looking for is something to express that the landscape is normally beautiful, but the fog keeps anyone from seeing it. You could say “hiding its beauty” but perhaps burying or shrouding would be better terms since this is a burial scene.
      – You lost me a bit in the third paragraph. “Front of the circle” is a non-sensical phrase. I know you meant that he didn’t take his turn to look into the coffin, but I had to dig up that understanding. add so

      • http://www.vozey.wordpress.com/ James Hall

        Thank you for such a detailed critique. I loved the rough draft of this one so much that I barely edited it. I agree with nearly all of your points. Pronoun balance can be a pain in the rear at times, and hard to see in our own writing. Too many pronouns or not enough can really trash a passage.

        Excellent suggestion on the mythology. Every noun and verb is an opportunity for anything you wish to achieve.

        I usually catch lack of verbs. Issue again with my loving it, flaws and all. Usually repetition, too. I need to be more objective with this passage.

        That leaves the fog as the only one I disagree with, but I appreciate it anyway. You’ve brought a pimple to its head. I know, kind of gross way to put it. I think, originally, I’m aiming more at making the land grey and colorless. Yet, I subconsciously chose “killing”. Now, because of you, I see why. It is symbolic of Darowyn, the fog is killing him. The character is having a dream, in this passage. It is a symbolic memory/dream though, full of not particularly accurate historical events, but symbolic truths. Darowyn suffers from repressed memories, and the fog is a symbol of that.

        This might make more sense from the beginning, but you’ve brought up the point for me to extend this “killing fog” metaphor more, and further ingrain it into the beginning of the novel. I’ve done a rather poor job of that.

        Thank you very much.

        • Missaralee

          I see what you’re doing with the dream now. Extending the killing metaphor sounds like a great idea. You can still vary your wording to create the same effect. You want to dance on the edge of obvious with your metaphors. If your reader gets what you’re doing without you spelling it out, they’ll feel pretty proud of themselves and love you more.
          If the fog wraps the landscape like a burial shroud, the fog is still preparing Darowyn for death while it’s killing him. He is being buried alive in the fog, which is pretty chilling. Dead dwarf walking.
          I’m rethinking what I said about the coffin. Maybe repetition increases the feeling of dread at getting closer to it. It made me kind of anxious reading “the coffin” repeated over and over, but maybe that feeling is something you are going for. Know the rules and break ‘em when it suits you!

  • http://www.vozey.wordpress.com/ James Hall

    I’ve found one of the most interesting things is to go back and read something your wrote 6 months ago. I wrote the first part of my book about 8 months ago. It is just different. The content is different, the dialog is different. What I consider important in a scene is different. How I approach the plot is different.

    It is amazing to see how far I’ve come, especially minus the 5 months I didn’t touch/look at the book.

    I’m determined this time. I’m halfway there and I will finish it.

    • http://KatieAxelson.com/ Katie Axelson

      That’s a great way to see progress. Keep writing!

  • oddznns

    Punchy and to the point Katie. I find I’ve been writing more or less in the same voice lately. But, I’m beginning to get bored with it. The question is what’s next. I think I’m going to have to try getting into an entirely different POV or writing in a different genre. Scary but exciting…

    • http://KatieAxelson.com/ Katie Axelson

      Yes, it is scary but also exciting. I’d say run with it. Even if it goes nowhere but your notebook, it’s a fun experiment.

  • http://www.thewritingrealm.com/ Alicia Rades

    I feel like I’ve found my writer’s voice. Not to make it too easy of an answer, but I believe what helps is the two things you point out. Reading and writing are key.

    • http://KatieAxelson.com/ Katie Axelson

      Thanks, Alicia

  • Susan Anderson

    Looking at a blog piece entitled, Something Old Something New, I realize several things.
    First, the title. I want to communicate as an artist, somewhat abstract. I don’t want to give it away. I desire that the expression come off as somewhat poetic and maybe ethereal…wistful.
    Second, I long for relationship. Not just a one-night stand, but something deeper, meaningful. I guess I won’t write chick-lit. Maybe I have the wrong idea about chick-lit. What I should say is, I don’t like fluff. I don’t like reading fluff and don’t like writing it.
    Third, in wanting relationship, I reach out to the reader as if she or he were a friend. Not just an acquaintance, but an oldie, a goodie, someone I can trust, with my deepest thoughts. For myself, when I read a book, I’ve made a commitment. I’ve decided that the scribble between two elegant covers is worth my time and effort to focus and ponder. That’s the reader I seek. That’s what is forefront in my mind, when I put pen to paper.
    Fourth, I am an extrovert expressing herself as an introvert, a writer. Even in my writing, as solitary as it is, I address the reader as I do an old friend over coffee and a crackling fire. Is that second person? I forgot and don’t feel like finding out the correct viewpoint. My thoughts and desires are for relationship, with God, with my husband, my children, my friends. In writing, I hope to communicate in a way that I connect with a stranger, then she connects with me, and maybe someone else. Through words, that the broken may repair.

    • http://KatieAxelson.com/ Katie Axelson

      These are great realizations, Susan!

  • James Stone

    At 50 years old, is it too late to start out as a serious writer and realistically have expectations of success? About the only thing I’ve ever had published were some articles for free in a magazine with a circulation of about 10,000 addresses.

    • http://KatieAxelson.com/ Katie Axelson

      Absolutely not! It’s never too late.

  • Map

    Thank you for such a detailed critique. I loved the rough draft of this
    one so much that I barely edited it. I agree with nearly all of your
    points.

  • Karl Tobar

    I looked back and read a lot of things I’ve written, but I think they’re all different. I don’t know if I learned anything! One is written in first person, and that one has a different feel altogether of a separate one written in third. What I noticed is that I use a lot of commas (properly, of course) but beyond that, I simply don’t know what I was looking for.

    Does this mean I haven’t found my voice?

  • http://www.ebog.me/ Ebog

    It’s too useful. Thanks

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  • Hdina

    What helped me find my voice was all the people at work describing me the exact same way then by happenstance reading books that fit the same description. The more I really thought about how they described me the more I realized that yes, I actually do have that quality and then all I had to do was figure what about me gave it off. Apparently, it was the way I talk (the words I use and the things I say) so it just worked out that I happened to get a look at myself from the outside in before I had ever written anything and I liked what I saw.

    If you can get some of your finds or family to describe you (say in a single sentence or in 5 adjectives or whatever) that will really help you find your voice. Assuming you like what they have to say then you can spend a little time figuring out what about you gives off that quality, how to harness it, and then finally how to filter than into a voice you can write with. For me, that was the biggest help in finding my own voice. I don’t write how I speak because when I write I’m bearing my soul upon the page and I don’t do that in every day normal conversations.

    All my friends said I was pretentious and so I harnessed that and turned it into my voice…think Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray. Basically, I write very formally and poetically…also I know how, and am not afraid of using, semicolons.

    • Hdina

      Also, I’ve been writing since I was a kid. It was always just stuff I wrote for fun and wasn’t ever anything serious but still it was writing that I took the time to take seriously enough to format properly and communicate with a voice…so I’ve had quite a few years of informal practice before ever writing officially…also writing papers in college helped me refine my writing style and voice. One of my teachers pulled me to the side and told me that he enjoyed reading my papers and that I definitely was one of the few students who got it 100%. So, I stuck with that style and voice ever since. I loved writing in it and have further since developed it since all my friends have described me in the same way I’d describe that writing style. Basically, if someone says they like what you’ve written then take notice of the style and voice and then definitely consider harnessing those things and using them in future work. The odds of someone being the only person on earth that likes something is so low that it’s safe to say that if one person likes it so will others.