When it comes to writing advice, a few pithy phrases make the rounds again and again. Let me know if you’ve heard any of these before:
“Kill your darlings.”
“Show, don’t tell.”
“Write what you know.”
“Writing is rewriting.”
“Raise the stakes.”
Any of those sound familiar? Thought so. But just because advice is well-worn doesn’t make it any less useful. I’ve followed all of those bits of advice at one time or another, and my writing has been better for it.
The piece of advice I’ve found most helpful in my writing career is another one of those oft-quoted tropes and, in my opinion at least, is something all writers
“Find your voice.”
Sounds obvious, right? I mean, duh. Whose voice are you going to find? Big Bird’s?
But for many aspiring writers, “voice” can be elusive. You want to be the next Hemingway. Or Hornby. Or Atwood. And so you sit down and start to mimic those writers — their cadence, their themes, their tone. But soon you get frustrated because…well, something isn’t quite working.
I’ll tell you what isn’t working: your voice — or rather your lack thereof. Because guess what? You aren’t going to be the next any of those people. You are going to be the first YOU, and to do that, you need to find your voice, a voice that could not belong to any other author past or present because it is yours. When I stopped worrying about sounding a certain way so that professors and readers would take me seriously, I started sounding like ME, and when that happened, the writing started flowing in chatty, unrestrained gushes.
I don’t mean to suggest that once I found my voice, a novel rolled off my fingertips in a matter of days. But once I let my writing sound like me, I didn’t have to worry about finding the right words and instead could focus on telling the right story.
What’s your take on “voice”? Did you find yours right away or did it take time?