When I was asked more recently about how to find this elusive Voice, the One True Voice that every writer possesses, I tried to think about my own voice, and how it had developed over time.
Listen to me read the below here:
I was asked recently about the question of finding one’s own writing voice. This is something that seems to come up with developing writers quite a bit, least of all because books and blogs about writing put a certain amount of emphasis on the importance of “finding your voice.”
Let’s be specific: I’m not talking about finding a voice that’s been silenced, or finding the bravery to speak or write when facing societal and/or personal pressures. I’m talking about Salinger finding his particularly loose-limbed style, or the so-called minimalist “voice” that we associate with Raymond Carver (whose voice was an act of partial ventriloquism by Gordon Lish.) Finding your voice, in this case, is synonymous with “finding your style.”
Srinivas Rao asked me about voice when he interviewed me for The Unmistakable Creative, and I remember talking about reading, and about being influenced by different writers. But when I was asked more recently about how to find this elusive Voice, the One True Voice that every writer possesses, I tried to think about my own voice, and how it had developed over time.
The thing is, I believe that having a distinct writing voice, much having like a distinct speaking voice, is a largely unconscious situation. But let me liken it to something else: handwriting.
You have, most likely, a distinct handwriting. You likely don’t have to think hard about it when you write something; otherwise, it would be an affectation, and not your handwriting. And yet when you began to learn to write, you copied the same letters on the same worksheets as your classmates. Perhaps your letters did look very similar to other children’s, in the beginning.
Perhaps something like this, then, happened to you. In late elementary school, I actually decided how I wanted my handwriting to be. I admired the thin, spiky letters of my friend, and so I practiced doing the same. I imitated her voice, in other words. My handwriting didn’t look exactly like hers, but it was my own version of that tall, thin lettering; eventually, with some unconscious and semi-conscious adjustment, that handwriting that I spent practicing really did become my own, natural handwriting, with little resemblance to any of the original influences that spawned it. The handwriting is recognizable as mine–the FBI would be able to examine a handwritten clue and find me quite easily (at least, according to my lousy understanding from crime shows).
This is, too, how I think a writing voice, or any artistic voice, develops. It comes out naturally once it’s yours, but it might take some practice. It will likely be influenced by other voices that you admire, but after time, you will take what you need from those other voices, and they will then be only a shade of your own true sound.
And we have different writing voices for different occasions, just as we have different sorts of handwriting. You may have a different scrawl for your journal than you do for letters to friends or letters to the Queen of England. My forthcoming novel has at least six different first-person voices in it, all distinct. Are they “mine”? Well, I wrote them–but they’re also the characters’ voices. Having written a saga that incorporates so many different voices, I imagine that it’ll take some stumbling when I begin my next book before I settle on a voice that feels right for that project.
So to the question of how to find your writing voice, I’d say most of the typical things: read a lot and write a lot. But please don’t spend too much time thinking about The Voice That Will Define You, because it will eventually come out of you, and be recognizable. It will carry the ghosts of the writing voices that you love best. In the end, it will be as uniquely natural as your handwriting.