Finding Your Distinctive Voice


Finding Your Distinctive Voice

In the previous post, What is a Writer’s Voice, I listed some characteristics of a writer’s voice. Your voice is you on the page and can be comprised of what you like to write about, type of characters you favor, style of writing, settings you use, etc. Every writer needs his or her distinctive voice. As Kurt Vonnegut pointed out in A Man Without a Country, that there are only a few basic stories in literature which keep being repeated (boy meets girl, etc.). It is the distinctive spin you put on that retelling which makes the narrative worth reading.

How do I develop a voice?

Not by sitting down and deciding what it is. Right, I’ll just fill in the categories or I will write about high powered people in urban settings. A voice developed this way would be as mechanical as the method used to generate it. It is not an analytic or reductive exercise. Voice, once developed, is as distinctive as it is hard to describe. You can’t point a finger to where it resides in a work, yet it infuses everything.

The way to develop your voice is to write. Write and write and write. Launch many expendable pieces, as urged by William Stafford. You of course don’t have to stick with one setting, one type of character, one type of plot—in fact, you shouldn’t. Experiment with different settings, structures, characters, persons (first, third, etc.). You try writing about your old home town, or your grandfather’s day, or the latest intrigue at the office, or a fantasy of what you would like life to be. Each story helps you to both get more comfortable with the craft of writing but also helps you to define you as a writer, to allow you to sink into that space which is the magic of writing. Take the time and space to find out what is unique about your writing.

Getting feedback

The type of feedback you get and from whom is always important but it is especially critical as you are finding your voice. When you are in the midst of experimenting, you don’t need someone harping on your overuse of similes. Because a lot of similes may be part of your voice. That kind of criticism early on might make you think you should cut back when your voice may not be stable enough to know for sure.

Seeking feedback which is highly technical or specific may not be right for you as you are starting out. Instead, you are looking for readers who can tell you what they like best about what you have written.

Do I need to put everything on hold until I have a distinctive voice?

Of course not. It’s an organic thing and will develop as you do as a writer. In fact, your voice may shift somewhat over your writing career. And that’s fine. It’s not a stable state any more than it is fully definable.

The key as always, is to write, write, write. Magic, magic, magic.