Why is it that when you love someone's writing, you want to read every book they've ever written? Why is it that some readers will buy all of J.K. Rowling's books, even if she's writing in a completely different genre than the Harry Potter series? And for us writers, how can we go from “unknown writer” to “published author”?
It's all about your writing voice.
What Is a Writing Voice?
Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, you must find your writing voice. But what does that mean?
Your writing voice is not your particular writing style, although style is part of voice. It's also not the tone of your writing, although tone is part of voice as well.
Your writing voice is your unique way of looking at the world.
And the unique part is essential.
A writer who sees the world the same as everyone else has either lost their voice or never found it in the first place.
Readers lined up for the next Harry Potter book because J.K. Rowling has a unique way of looking at the world. She revealed a hidden world, filled with extraordinary people, secret wars, and magical creatures.
Readers are so impatient for George R.R. Martin's next book because he has a unique way of looking at the world. In his world, heroes are killed, the bad guys win (at least for a while), and what's right isn't always what's smart.
J.D. Salinger has a unique way of looking at the world, as does J.R.R. Tolkien, Cormac McCarthy, Anne Rice, Tom Clancy, Ernest Hemingway, and so many other writers people love.
If you want to be a great writer, you need to find a unique voice.
How to Find Your Writing Voice?
It starts by developing your sight. Here's an exercise to help you see the world in a unique way:
What Do You Value Most?
Morality is essential to every story, regardless of whether you're writing fiction or non-fiction. Even business books have a moral viewpoint (e.g. making money = good, waste = bad).
What is your moral worldview:
- What is most important in life? Family, love, courage, sacrifice?
- Do the good guys always win? If you only enjoy books where the hero wins at the end, then this is an important part of how you see the world.
- What's not okay to you (e.g. poverty, selfishness, rape, orphans, infidelity, loneliness, betrayal)? Write about that!
Next time you're in a public place, look at the people around you. Really see them.
- What are they hiding? What are their secrets? Everyone has something that they think if people found out, they would be rejected and excluded.
- Is he a good guy? Is he a bad guy? And remember, even the villains think they're the good guy.
- What does she want? What's stopping her from getting it? A good story requires desire and conflict.
- Who does she rely on? Most protagonists have a sidekick. (Most antagonists have a sidekick too!)
- What is their ideal place? What would be the most terrifying/uncomfortable/lonely/boring place for them?
Observe Your Surroundings
Setting is an important character in every story, whether you're writing fiction or non-fiction. Take a deep breath and look around you:
- What are your eyes drawn to? If you squint, what do you automatically look at? Describe that!
- How does what you're seeing make you feel?
The Secret Ingredient to Becoming a Great Writer
What's the secret ingredient to becoming a great writer?
The secret is that there is no secret ingredient. J.K Rowling can't help you. Neither can George R.R. Martin or Ernest Hemingway or any other great writer.
It's just you.
YOU already have a unique way of looking at the world. YOU already have a unique writing voice.
You're not one in a million. You're one in six billion.
To unearth your writing voice, all you have to do is write word after painful word. Today is a great day to start!
Have you found your unique writing voice? Share in the comments.
Ask the questions above. Then, after you've spent some time thinking about each one, free write for fifteen minutes. When you're finished, get feedback on what you've written by posting it in the comments section. And if you post, please be sure to give feedback to your fellow writers.