The Writer’s Voice

Last Thursday’s post asking for questions gave me a few weeks’ worth of headaches post ideas—thanks for being so generous! I’ll try to get to as many as I can. Several people asked about “voice” and I was planning to write about it soon anyway, so let’s tackle this one first. I’ll barely be able to scratch the surface today. It’s a big topic and I’m sure we’ll discuss it more than once. But let’s get started.

What do we mean when we say we’re looking for “new voices”? What do editors mean when they say it’s the writer’s voice that captures them—or doesn’t?

Let’s start by identifying a few things voice isn’t. Voice is not style. It’s not technique. It’s not branding. It’s not a decision to write in first or third person.

So what is it? To me, your writer’s voice is the expression of YOU on the page. It’s that simple—and that complicated. Your voice is all about honesty. It’s the unfettered, non-derivative, unique conglomeration of your thoughts, feelings, passions, dreams, beliefs, fears and attitudes, coming through in every word you write.

Voice is all about your originality and having the courage to express it.

Sounds simple, right? Then why is voice so hard? One of the most common problems with fiction by new authors is the lack of a unique voice on the page. How is this possible? You are unique. You can’t help it, you just are. You aren’t exactly like anyone else. How, then, are you failing to express that on the page?

I think it’s because most of us spend our lives presenting to the world anything and everything except who we really are. We present images of who we want to be. We show the world what we want them to see. We expend lots of energy upholding our facades, and in the process, we can lose touch with our true, unique selves. Many of us are afraid of real, total, gut wrenching honesty.

I also think one of our biggest problems is that we’ve been media consumers since the day we were born. When I read fiction that doesn’t have a “voice” that captures me, it usually feels derivative, i.e. similar to other works of fiction rather than striking me as fresh and coming from life. Instead of truly creating stories and characters of your own, you may be unwittingly regurgitating stories and characters you’ve read and seen in thousands of hours of reading and TV/movie watching in your life. This means you are not being your unique self, but a composite of many other selves who are not you. Admittedly, it’s a big hurdle for all of us to overcome.

So how do you find your voice? You can’t learn it. You can’t copy it. Voice isn’t a matter of studying. You have to find it. And the only place to find it is within you. (Yikes, sounds like I’m going New Age here!)

It’s a process of peeling away the layers of your false self, your trying-to-be-something-you’re-not self, your copycat self, your trying-to-sound-a-certain-way self, your spent-my-life-watching-television self. It’s like going to psychotherapy, delving deep and allowing the real you to emerge, only in this case you want it to find its way on to the page.

How, exactly do you do that? Take heart—there are lots of ways to excavate, uncover, discover and develop your writer’s voice (and it doesn’t necessarily involve years of therapy). Don’t you think that will be a terrific topic for another post? Me too.

Today I want YOU to tell me: What are some ways to find your unique writer’s voice?

And one more thing: Read through the contest entries on the previous post, thinking specifically about voice. See if you can identify it where you see it. DON’T comment on any specific entries, but let me know if you learn anything from this exercise.

  1. Timothy Fish says:

    >In music, style is how a musician chooses to play an instrument, while voice is the distinctive sound that an instrument makes. A violin and a tuba can both be played in a similar style, but they will never have the same voice. The two terms seem much more closely linked in writing, but the distinction between the two is similar. Though I am not a big fan of romance novels, there is nothing preventing me from writing one. That is style. If I were to write a romance, my take on it would be significantly different from the common romance novel. Even if I offended romance enthusiasts, that is voice.

  2. Melanie's Words Work says:

    >Mark Adair, I think I’ll save myself $80 for a fifty-minute hour and read a post by you every other week.

    Wow!

  3. Rebecca LuElla Miller says:

    >All this advice about living honestly, writing honestly is great.

    I tend to think the writer’s voice makes use of that, but I don’t think it IS that.

    Maybe I’m defining “style” too tightly, but I also think voice is more than style+content.

    Style is part. Sentence structure, word choice, length of paragraphs, use of questions vs. statements, similes vs. metaphors–all that adds to voice.

    So does content. More showing, little telling? Oblique conversations? Witty repartee? Drama or humor? Gritty or polished?

    But there is something else, stuff I wouldn’t put in either category. For example, as I’ve written a number of short stories, some fantasy and some contemporary, I see some consistent elements, such as symbolism. And a certain kind of symbolism. Another is going for an unusual or surprising twist at the end.

    Are these content things? Style things? As I see it, these come from what I enjoy reading. When I put it all together, some O. Henry comes out, unbidden, unrehearsed, and so does a little Lewis, a smattering of Tolkien, and a dash of Richard Adams. Some poetic influences come out, too, without my planning them. They show up because that was some of my reading fodder in which my own writing took root.

    So I guess I also stumbled upon an answer to Rachelle’s question: What are some ways to find your unique writer’s voice?

    For me, writing short stories, then once I had a body of work to look at, see what the stories have in common.

    Becky

  4. Pam Halter says:

    >Anonymous 9:59 said: “People are very often self-conscious of their own writing, and they write from a place of fear and self-censorship rather than a place of power and confidence.”

    Mark said: “My second voice-discovering suggestion is to LIVE, and do it in community. Writers have a reputation for hanging out in the shadows.”

    Wow – can I ever relate to that. Even though all these posts are great, those two hit the nail. And I can’t help but wonder if finding my voice has done something to me. This past May, I tap danced in my first recital with a class of high school kids! Ack! I have always, always wanted to learn to tap and for the past three years, I’ve been laboring to do just that. But dance in front of an audience? Sing, speak, act … sure … but no way would I ever dance like that.

    However, I did it, and after the feeling of nausea passed, I enjoyed it SO much that I cried when it was done.

    All after finding my voice. Dropping the facade. Coming out into the sun.

    Wow.

  5. Ever Changing says:

    >I am late on this one but thanks to everyone! Mark Adair, you said way more than two cents worth. This is great, I feel like I should be paying for all this great advice/knowledge. But…the best things in life are free, aren’t they?

    Rhonda(Rkh)

  6. Katy McKenna says:

    >Wow! I ask an innocent (ha!) question, and get such a variety of great answers (about the difference between style and voice). Thanks to everyone who took on the challenge of explanation. Rachelle and all of you are fantastic!

  7. Anna says:

    >Thanks Rachelle for the post! I love your blog and am really learning a lot from you! 🙂

  8. Yvonne says:

    >Marcia, I understand “lyrical” voice in writing. I was told by a teacher that my writing is “poetical prose”. It took me years to figure out what he meant.

    I think it means that you listen to the sound of the words and how they flow together to make a certain mood…whether it’s a stormy night or a hot summer day. Even if it isn’t a poem, you can use poetical methods in your writing.

  9. Mark Adair says:

    >Here’s my two cents worth:

    I think my voice draws from the well of who I am. So maybe there are two components to effective Voice: finding out who I am and learning to express that in my writing.

    Expressing who I am in writing, in relationships, or any other context requires a skillset. In my experience, learning to be transparent and honest mimics the processes of developing other skills, including writing. Writers write. People who’ve become genuine, transparent, vulnerable souls have exercised those traits over and over again until they learned to effectively relate to others in that way. It’s a learned behavior. I even believe you can be transparent without knowing who you are – e.g. “I have no idea who I am, but I want to know.” We may do that primarily in our area of gifting (writing), but expression belongs not to any trade or context.

    I grew up in an alcoholic home where repression and deceit ruled the day. I hungered for pure and straightforward relationships. I wanted to be that way and I worked at it until I connected with people in that manner. People comment that I have a relatively open and honest personality, but in reality it’s simply a skillset that I valued and then developed during years of making a fool of myself. 🙂

    Discovering who I am can, and does, take a lifetime. The connecting with who God has designed me to be is not writing dependent or writing specific. Coming into my late forties, I’ve learned more about myself in the past couple of years than I did in the previous twenty. That’s not to say that everyone learns as slowly as I do, but I do believe Voice can only be discovered, not developed. That discovery (or excavation as Rachelle put it) and suffering seem to have some form of symbiotic connection. Refining processes reveal the pure and the impure, and nothing refines like suffering.

    Here’s my suggestion to help discover your voice. First of all, carve out some regular time in a private, uninterrupted space. Sit down with a piece of paper and a pen. Close your eyes, open your hands and heart to receive, and say something like, “Abba, I’m your child. You designed me, You made me, and You cherish me. You planned my days before the foundation of the world. I want to know who I truly am. Who am I? What stands in the way of my living that out?” Write down every impression, thought, memory, etc. regardless of how lame it may seem. It’s basically inviting Him into journaling. Do this on a regular basis until some semblance of a self portrait forms.

    On a related note, I believe a primary problem in uncovering Voice revolves around emotional wounding and its offspring, fear. Our hurts change our paradigm for living. Hurt and fear rot our understanding of the true Kingdom – God-breathed and inhabited – and our place in it. They continually demand our best attention and energy be allocated to the task of keeping me and others from touching the inflamed area surrounding my wounds. There’s no getting around this one: hurt and fear must be dealt with. The good news: Jesus heals. Not usually in the manner or timing we demand, but He does. He also liberates – sets the captives free. Inviting him and others into those very scary places begins the process.

    My second voice-discovering suggestion is to LIVE, and do it in community. Writers have a reputation for hanging out in the shadows. A wise man once said, “Faith is spelled R-I-S-K.” Follow your dreams, explore, travel, succeed, fail, connect with people, love and be loved, free and be freed, heal and be healed… Life really is short and we’ve only been given one. Go for it.

    Connecting the intimate impressions from the Holy Spirit with a life truly lived, brings Voice out of its hiding place. Developing the skill of transparently expressing, gives Voice a platform.

  10. Patricia W. says:

    >Voice equals style plus content.

    I’ve been thinking about voice a lot lately, and the above quote kind of summed it up for me.

    I disagree with the notion that voice is not style. Yes it is but, it’s also so much more.

    What do you choose to write about? What words do you choose to tell the narrative portions of your story and how do you knit them together? (Because characters should speak in words, phrases, and structure appropriate to the character but there’s choice there too.) What do you convey through your character’s introspection? What plot points do you incorporate and what degree of emphasis do you place on them in the story?

    It’s the thing that makes one person inspiring and another one grate like sandpaper, even if they deliver the same speech word for word. (No specific individuals implied here.)

    That’s the authenticity part. That’s the part that can’t be learned.

    I read books I love that I would love to have written but I realize then the story would be different because my voice is different. I could write the same story, given a synopsis, and it would become my story, totally different from the other author’s aside from the basic plot. I believe that’s the thing called voice.

  11. Karen Witemeyer says:

    >An earlier posted commented that voice is stiffled if the internal editor is at work. This may be true for many, but I am one of those rare birds whose voice is actually clearer when I edit as I write.

    Some writers have to let the creativity flow unfettered to achieve authentic voice. Then they go back and revise and polish the craft. Others, like me, who are left-brain dominant, write with more authenticity if we perfect our craft as we go. Yes, I know. We’re backward, but that’s part of what makes us unique. LOL

    As many have already said, voice and style are closely tied, but I believe style grows out of voice. Voice is formed by your life experiences, your passions, what makes you who you are. And I believe that voice can grow with you as you experience new things (positive or negative) in your life.

    For example: I have an extensive background in music. My author’s voice reflects this in that my sentences strive for a rhythm and melodic phrasing that resonates with me. If something is off, even if the craft is fine, I will tweak it until it sounds right to my mind’s ear.

    There is no right or wrong way to discover your voice, so don’t be afraid to try different things. Many of today’s posters have given great tips. Try them out. But if they don’t work for you, don’t get discouraged. You may be backward, like me. (Poor dear.)

    Keep writing with honesty and from the heart. Even we left-brain folks don’t write by the numbers. We are inspired and creative and in tune with our characters, but the truer we are to ourselves and our story, the more authentic our voice becomes.

  12. Anonymous says:

    >I think voice has a lot to do with attitude, not the what you say but how you say it. It’s conveying your passion and knowledge – it’s like your side of the conversation-how do you come across – as a no nonsense type A personality or as a meek or easily influenced person. I think its a bit different from fiction, because your voice is used primarily – like the author is the only character. I could be off, but thats just how I see it.

  13. Marcie Gribbin says:

    >Thanks, Rosslyn!

    Okay, maybe there’s a smattering or two of blood later in the novel – you can’t write about the Pancho Villa era with out at least a drop or two – but it’s definitely NOT the focus!

    But, wow! All this discussion about voice really does “convict”, doesn’t it? To get personal with your story? To get real?

    Thanks, Rachelle. Great topic.

  14. Rosslyn Elliott says:

    >Marcie –

    I think you’re exactly right about applying the word “lyrical” to your style rather than your voice.

    “Lyrical” means like singing, which is a way of writing rather than your entire voice (which includes your content). If your readers are using the word accurately, your style is flowing and tends to use longer sentences with a regular rhythm as well as moments of metaphorical beauty.

    I suspect that your content is also not violent and bloody. Technically, it’s possible to write about violent or grotesque events in a lyrical style. (Flannery O’Connor and Faulkner sometimes do that.) It’s uncommon, though.

  15. Tiffany Stuart says:

    >I think the hardest part about voice is keeping it in tact in writers’ critique groups. Voice can be one of those things that gets cut out.

    I think one of the best ways to discover your voice is to write and write often. Either on a blog or in a journal. Somewhere where you can be your real self.

    I’m still learning to bare all and take off my imposter clothing. My journal is a safer place than my blog, but I try to be real in both places. It’s a process. A long one. But one I will not give up on.

    Thanks for this post about voice.

    I’ve been peeking in lately but haven’t commented. One post I did comment on, the comment just disappeared. I left frustrated. Hope to enter the contest below. Sounds like fun.

    You are very creative, Rachelle. I enjoy the variety of topics you write on and the added voices of writers who weigh in on each post.

    Thanks.

  16. Anonymous says:

    >Rachelle, you beat me to the punch! Drat!

    I think “voice” is the unavoidable consequence of being alive. People express their voices in all they do … they way you speak, you walk, you cook, you write, you paint, dance, swear, pray, play basketball. Whatever. Life is an expression of your voice.

    I often see two limiting factors when it comes to writers and voice. The first is basic lack of skill, by which I mean the writer doesn’t have a powerful command of the English language. It’s like painting with a blindfold on. Ain’t gonna work.

    The second is fear. People are very often self-conscious of their own writing, and they write from a place of fear and self-censorship rather than a place of power and confidence.

    Both of these can be addressed (one in class, one in therapy). I also think it’s an excellent idea to self-consciously and deliberately copy other writers as an exercise. Like Rachelle said, mimic Hemingway, McEwan, Morrison, Frazier, Melville, Poe … whoever. Everybody and anybody. Feel their language. Over time, as you gain skill, certain techniques and structures that famous authors have used might resonate with you and find their way into your own unique voice. It’s not a bad thing to learn from the ones who have come before.

    LurkerMonkey

  17. Kate H says:

    >A little addition to Rachelle’s answer to Josephine (with which I quite agree): All the characters we create come from inside us, so by definition the writer must be much more complex and interesting than any single character he or she creates!

    (Even if you believe that God inspires fiction, which I do, I would still say that the characters come from within the writer; God just helps us bring out what’s already buried there.)

  18. Kat Harris says:

    >For a long time, I kicked around the idea of rewriting my manuscript from a (mostly) first-person perspective, but the emotion involved in putting myself in those shoes scared me away.

    I recently scrapped an entire 98,000-word mss and stepped out of my comfort zone to take that approach. I now realize feared the “sound” of my own voice.

    Telling the story from that perspective not only helped me find my voice, but it also kept my POVs from straying in each scene.

    I can’t judge whether my own work is any better, but I think stepping out of that comfort zone was a good exercise.

  19. Stephanie Reed says:

    >”I’m dying to know which entry Stephanie Reed was talking about. Now, was it a matter of voice, or craft?”

    Camille–it was voice! 🙂 The one I heard when I read it. Yeah, voice is subjective. We’re not all going to like the same one.

    And now back to Rachelle’s very interesting blog.

  20. Marcie Gribbin says:

    >Seriously,
    I have had a number of people tell me that I have a “lyrical” voice. But I think maybe what they mean is my style is lyrical, meaning, the way I structure sentences. Am I off on this one? If my VOICE comes from passion, that will shine through in the content, right? Then isn’t it the STYLE that is lyrical? I think I’m starting to see the difference. Maybe?

  21. Camille Cannon (Eide) says:

    >As I was reading Rachelle’s post, at first I thought of all those voice-squelching rules, just like Richard was saying, and how, doggonnitt, we HAVE to learn them and stay within the boundries of polished writing, but as I read on, I was painfully challenged. Convicted. Ouch. I’m feeling that facade thing too, Pam.

    I’ve been working with a crit group for a year, focusing on my current novel. But my crit partners throw my ‘snappy voice’ in my face as a challenge from time to time, and they’re not getting it from critiquing my novel…. it’s from reading my emails and my blog. My sharp tongue/tongue in cheek is intentionally left out of the novel – well, I may have let it slip in a few times – because I just didn’t think it fit in a drama. Maybe I’m still confusing the meaning of “voice”.

    Ooo, what if we have many voices? Creepy? Several people who’ve read excerpts of my current work say the writing voice is ‘smooth’ or ‘soothing’, which makes me snort. Me? Ms Sarcasm? Soothing?

    Thanks for the challenge, Rachelle. I don’t think we can really write if we can’t be true to ourselves. We’re not fooling anyone, especially God.

    I’m dying to know which entry Stephanie Reed was talking about. Now, was it a matter of voice, or craft?

  22. Marcie Gribbin says:

    >Now that would be an interesting contest- take an odd scene or picture and see how many Poe-like stories we can come up with!

    Nevermore, uh,I mean, nevermind.

  23. Stephanie Reed says:

    >Josephine, ‘copying styles’ is different from ‘copying one writer’s style’. Read extensively, take the best of what you’ve learned, and write your story in your own unique style. I didn’t have my own style yet when I was fourteen, and I’m grateful that I got to experiment.

    And yes, our characters are individuals, but we also have to write what we know from our own experience. What I know gives my characters my voice.

  24. Rachelle says:

    >Just need to jump in here…

    Josephine, copying a great writer’s style is actually a terrific writing exercise and is a great idea to help you learn. The point is to grow beyond copying and find your own style, but one of the ways we learn about style is to begin with imitation. Try this: write a page in the style of Hemingway; Poe; someone contemporary like Dave Eggers or Jodi Picoult. You’ll learn a lot about style from doing this.

    Regarding voice, I believe it can be a good thing when somebody says “This sounds just like you.” It doesn’t have to mean all the character sound like you. It means the author’s authenticity comes through. Their uniqueness shines on the page. Conversely, “this doesn’t sound anything like you” can be a negative because it might mean the writer is not being true.

    I disagree with you when you say “As a writer, you’ll never be as interesting as any character you can create.” Wow! That’s like saying all writers are boring, uninteresting people! But I do agree with the second half of your statement, “they, [the characters] not you, should tell the story.” Yes, they tell the story, but you make it shine and leap off the page with your voice.

    You may be confusing author’s voice with the character’s voices. You use your author’s voice — your uniqueness and originality — to create your characters’ voices.

  25. nm8r67 says:

    >I disagree with the comment that the teacher did a dis-service saying it is okay to copy style. I believe in the process of copying a style, a student can learn. It is only when said student never strays from copying a style that the dis-service occurs.
    As an art teacher, I believe some students must trace or, “copy” styles of artwork before they can start to branch out and find their “voice”.
    Imitation is well and good during the initial learning phase, IMHO. Again, the artist/writer should grow beyond and leave that copying behind as they gain confidence and create the works God has placed inside of them.

  26. Rosslyn Elliott says:

    >One more contribution: The “voice” that appears in the contest entries is not necessarily going to be the author’s real voice. Once an author finds her voice, she uses a consistent style to deliver that voice. That’s why your writing voice isn’t just your personality. For example, Jane Austen would never use staccato, plain sentences like Hemingway. So writing voice *isn’t* just content. It’s the marriage of content with style.
    The nature of the contest (to write a COMPLETE story in 100 words) favors two types of writing: 1)The Hemingway style. Hemingway would beat Austen hands down in this contest, because he can fit more “plot” into a brief paragraph. That doesn’t mean his voice is better. It does mean that the contest is going to push writers who might actually have a more Austen-like style to write like Hemingway. My entry in this contest is *nothing* like my regular voice. Good writers are capable of assuming different voices, but only one is going to be the most naturally-expressive of their content. Assuming a different writing voice is similar to acting.
    2)The contest also favors comedy. Brevity is the soul of wit. Drama, however, requires the emotional investment of a reader, which requires some narrative time. Dramatic entries have the very difficult task of building empathy in only a few sentences. If you fail, then your writing becomes “melodrama.” But again, that’s no indication that the author of that entry can’t write good prose under normal circumstances.

  27. Josephine Damian says:

    >Stephanie Reed: I think your Mrs. Schidecker did you a great dis-service telling you it’s ok to copy style.

    Whatever happened to originality?

    IMO, it’s all about the character telling the reader the story, not the writer.

    If anyone ever said to me: This sounds just like you, I’d consider that a failure – my goal as a writer is to NOT have my own real voice come through, but that of the character’s voice.

    All my writing projects seem like they were written by different people – and that’s because it’s the character who tells the story, not me.

    As a writer, you’ll never be as interesting as any character you can create – which is why, they, not you, should tell the story.

  28. Stephanie Reed says:

    >When she finished reading my second book, my mom said, “it sounds just like you.” Who would know how I sound better than my mom? 🙂 And who knew my mom could recognize voice?

    One of my high school English teachers gave us an assignment after we read “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe. We were to copy Poe’s style. I was only a freshman, but she wrote, “The style is a pretty good imitation of Poe’s.” To write it, I used a bunch of unfinished thoughts, some ellipses, and some crazy exclamations.

    More than once, Mrs. Schidecker told me it was okay to copy styles. She meant that style is just the way you put it down on paper. Voice is the way you look at the world.

    I read the contest entries and there was one where the voice took my breath away. All I can say right now is , “Wow. How’d you do that in only 100 words?”

  29. Yvonne says:

    >I like to write in different styles to experiment with POV or kinds of poetry or dialects.
    When I letting my feelings “flow” through my fingers, that’s when I show my voice. That voice shows itself no matter what technique I happen to be using at that time.

  30. Nicole says:

    >Voice is innate. Style is “morphed”, almost unconsciously. Each writer has a natural voice. From years of reading and experiencing the life around a writer, he formulates voice by expression with words. When that expression is transmitted from heart to page, it becomes style. Honestly, I don’t think you can “learn” voice–it’s who you are. But you refine its expression with style and maturity.

  31. Rosslyn Elliott says:

    >Hey Katy,

    The confusion between “voice” and “style” is a result of the fact that people use the term “style” incorrectly. Style refers to technical aspects of the way a writer composes. For example, when I correct a student paper, I am correcting grammar, syntax and “style.” That’s why Strunk and White’s classic writing handbook is called “The Elements of Style.” Style can be correct or incorrect. Voice just *is*, although you won’t sell your voice without reasonable command of style. Elements of style include word choice and how you combine independent and dependent clauses in your paragraphs.
    The Wikipedia article under “writing style” opens by incorrectly using “style” as a synonym for “voice.” Actually, style is a component of voice. Voice equals style plus content.

    If you go on to read the rest of the Wiki entry, however, you’ll see that they break down style into a bunch of very technical components. That is correct. Style is technical. Voice is something more, and that’s why it involves your choice of content as well as your technical choices.

  32. Anne L.B. says:

    >Voice comes from the soul. It is expression of the unique personality given by the Creator.

    Style is what we’ve learned from others. Good style emulates excellence in writing. Bad style is imitation of someone else’s voice (too often the world’s).

  33. Pam Halter says:

    >Writing what you love and are passionate about and writing, writing, writing is what helped me find my voice.

    It was like someone else was writing.

    I guess that’s because of the facade I have that Rachelle talked about in her post.

    But what a great feeling when my writing partner read my first draft and said, “you’ve just found your voice.”

    Whew!

  34. Rachelle says:

    >Katy —

    I’ll ask others to chime in on the difference between voice and style. But let’s start here: style can be copied, voice can’t.

    Readers?

  35. Richard Mabry says:

    >I agree with Amy that writing about something that affects you deeply has an influence on your voice. It certainly got me started on my road to writing.

    Another thing that helps–and I certainly haven’t “arrived” in this area–is writing without trying to slavishly follow all the “rules” we’re taught at writing seminars and in books. Just let the words flow. Of course, the corollary to this is to remove the writing hat and put on the editing eyeshade, pick up a red pencil, and make the writing better. I don’t believe you can edit as you write and retain your true voice.

    One final comment. Don’t respond to every bit of advice you receive by immediately changing what you’ve written. If you do that, your voice will totally disappear. Carefully consider it all, apply it judiciously, but make sure the final result sounds good to you as you read it aloud.

  36. Katy McKenna says:

    >Rachelle (and Christa, too…)–The only thing confusing me is the difference between voice and style. When you have nothing else to do (ha!) and can give me a clue, that would be fantastic.

    Katy McKenna http://www.fallible.com

  37. Anonymous says:

    >Thanks Christa and Amy for permission to write without filters and advice on where to start.

    Because I only check-in on this blog a couple of times a week, I read the contest entries before reading this entry. WOW! It was great! Within a couple of sentences I could feel if a story pulled me into its depths, or if it were predictable.

    What a great exercise: both the writing and the reading. Thanks.

    I once heard an agent say that she could judge a query in 20 seconds. I thought it was because she was a fast reader, now I see that she was looking (listening) for that subtle undercurrent of voice. (Okay, she probably went to the Superman School of Speed-Reading, too.)

    Whoo-Hoo! Free knowledge. Some folks pay big bucks for such insight. Thanks.

  38. Amy says:

    >Write about something you have feelings about so big that you can’t help but use your own voice, because the feeling is so overwhelming that overthinking goes out the window.

    It took a huge tragedy in my life to really knock me out of my ‘copying voice’ stage and into writing my own way. I truly couldnt write anyone else’s way to get out the feelings I had trapped inside of me. But it’s done wonders for my writing, since.

  39. christa says:

    >Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird are my gurus of voice. Writing practice/journals changed my writing.

    Following Goldberg’s vision of timed writing with abandonment, unconcerned with any of the usual conventions of writing, knowing no one else would ever see or hear what was written on the page meant I could write the worst stuff in the universe. But it also meant I might surprise myself and write great stuff too. In fact, the prologue in my book came straight from one of my journals. Then again, there’s about 268 other writings in there that could go straight into the garbage. But it’s all okay because writing practice isn’t concerned with good or bad.

    If you don’t pick your pen up from the paper, if you truly allow the words to flow out of your brain, trickle through your arms, and leak into the pen, amazing things happen. At first, it’s scary because honestly allowing your brain to open can reveal surprising, sometimes skeletal, stuff that’s been there for years.

    I’ve used Goldberg’s “writing practice” with my high school students for over fifteen years. We write for ten minutes, then they’re free to share. In less than a month, I could type random entries,hand them out, and the students would know who wrote them. They recognize Andrew’s humor, Katie’s snappy sentences, Lee’s way of making his sentences long and lazy. That’s voice.

    Not many people would ever confuse Ernest Hemingway’s writing with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s or Cormack McCarthy with Jane Austen. That’s voice.

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