Voice. Voice, voice, voice. The holy Grail for every budding writer. We all set out on our writing journey desperately seeking that indefinable… thing. That special something that makes our creative work distinctly ours and ours alone. Our voice.
Sadly, not everyone finds their writing voice. That's why so many people either give up searching or hit a wall with their writing. It's also why so much writing tends to 'sound like such and such', because it's easier to imitate than it is to speak in a voice of our own design.
That word is really important: design. At its heart, design means to make a creative decision. To create something both on and with purpose.
All writers are aware of the concept of voice, but far too many ignore the first part of that often used phrase: 'to find your voice'. They either think that it's inherent in the very act of them writing, or they don't actively search.
And if you don't look for something, you very rarely find it.
It's only natural
So where can we find our voice? Many people think it comes from within, that it's something we all have, we just need to ease it out and on to the page.
There's some truth to that. Certainly, you're writing will be influenced by how you live, think and approach your life.
But I want to go back to that word design for a second. I want you to think about voice as a more, I don't know, a more flexible thing. Something that you can control. Something that you can make a creative decision about.
A bit about me
I got my first job in writing seven years ago, editing a university's various prospectuses.
As part of my interview, I had to take a 100 word passage and half it without losing the meaning or message. I did it, got the job and spent the next three years doing much the same on a daily basis.
The job was repetitive, if not a little boring after a while, but it was also a revelation. It taught me how to edit and it helped me find my voice - both as a copywriter and in my fiction.
Actually, that's wrong. More accurately, it helped me make a conscious decision about what I wanted my voice to be.
As a result, I can split my writing into two time periods. There is pre-that-decision, when I produced good, but slightly meandering work. And there is post-that-decision, when I became a fierce editor, an economist with words.
I made a choice about my writing. I saw where I was and where I wanted to be. And then I sought out my voice. I made a conscious effort to find it.
So what I'm saying is, don't sit around and wait for your voice to fins you, actively seek it out. Experiment with style. Writer shorter sentences. Or longer, perhaps. Just find the time to play with language.
Here's a small writing assignment to get you started. Describe what you think your current voice is in five bullet points. Think about the way you write, including your approach, process and style.
Don't think too hard. Just make sure you're honest.
When you've finished, make another list. This time describe what you think you would like your voice to be. Think carefully about the words you choose. Be technical, if you want. Or emotional. It's up to you.
You may find that some items appear on both lists and that would make sense. When writers find their voice it's never usually a complete shift in technique, more refinement and thoughtful adjustment.
The important thing is to actually look for your voice. Don't wait for it to one day burst from your fingertips and on to the screen. Writing, like design, is about decisions. Be prepared to make some.
I'm primarily thinking about voice when writing fiction in this article, but the gist of what I'm saying applies to all forms of scribbling. Here are some other articles on the same subject. Make sure you come back.