To Tap Into Her Voice, Deb Rachel Writes A Letter

2012 Debutante Rachel BertscheAh, voice. Thankfully, my fellow Debs have taken an admirable crack at defining this most literary of terms, because I would be at a total loss. Like Joanne said, and Erika too, it’s a nebulous concept.

Voice is like porn. You know it when you see it.

As a writer of nonfiction, my greatest intention is for my voice to be true to who I am. That the person a reader meets on the page is the person I am in real life. I’m never more flattered than when someone tells me, upon meeting me, that I sound in person exactly the way I sounded in her head as she read MWF Seeking BFF. It reassures me that my voice comes from a place of authenticity.

And when I feel like my voice isn’t coming from my most authentic place? Well, I’ve got a trick for that. Some years ago I was at a seminar of magazine editors, and one woman—a long-time editor of her magazine’s most famous writer names—told the crowd that to find your voice, you should act as if you are writing to an old friend. Pretend you’re emailing your BFF and tell her your story. It will come flowing out, this editor said, because the words come quickly when we’re with our closest pals. That’s how you’ll find your voice.

I use that trick still. When I’m stumped on how to begin, or how to find the right words to make a point, I pretend to be writing a letter. And by pretend, I don’t just mean I imagine it in my head. I mean I start the note “Dear Callie,” and then I keep writing, letting the words spill out of me. Sometimes I can take out that opening salutation and have workable text. Other times not so much. But even when all the words are tossed to the cutting room floor, the intention–to tap into my voice–has been met. It helps, I promise.

What about you? Do you have a writing prompt or other exercise that helps you tap into your voice?


5 Replies to “To Tap Into Her Voice, Deb Rachel Writes A Letter”

  1. Me three! What a great tip, Rachel. I’ve definitely been struggling with the voice of my lead in my WIP so between your tip and Molly’s yesterday, I’m feeling very fortified to tackle her unknowns!

  2. I do something very similar! Before I start each new novel, I write a journal entry in the voice of each main and supporting character in the story. (I’m working on a series, so I don’t write in my ninja detective’s voice any more, or that of his Jesuit sidekick, because I have them dialed in.) I don’t force the characters to tell me anything in particular…I just get the character into my thoughts and say “okay…tell me about yourself.”

    By the time I finish a page or two of free writing, it’s amazing how well I can hear that character as an individual. The voices become very distinct too. Ironically, I’ve also discovered that some of the murderers’ motives were NOT what I had written in the outline.

    When I first heard about the technique, I thought it was just weird. I tried it because I wanted to prove to myself that it wouldn’t help me and that I didn’t write “that way.” Boy, was I wrong.

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