I found my voice as a writer rather late in my writing life. I spent about twenty years trying to write fiction. I had read fiction voraciously as a boy and young man, but had largely stopped reading it by the time I decided to try writing it. It was a strange choice in a way, but I didn’t know what else to do. I knew I loved to write, and since fiction was all I’d ever loved to read, I took what seemed like the logical, practical step to try to write it.
This guest post is by William Kenower. Kenower is the author of Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence. He is also the editor in chief of Author magazine, a sought-after speaker and teacher, and the author of Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion. He’s been published in The New York Times and Edible
Seattle, and was a featured blogger on the Huffington Post. His video interviews with hundreds of writers, from Nora Ephron to Amy Tan to William Gibson, are widely considered the best of their kind on the Internet. He also hosts the online radio program Author2Author, where every week he and a different guest discuss the books we write and the lives we lead.
It was not so practical, as it turns out. I was trying to tell stories I had lost interest in hearing. No matter how hard I worked at my craft, no matter how disciplined I was at rewriting what I’d written, I could not overcome the disconnect between my inherent curiosity and the stories I was trying to tell. I cannot command my curiosity; it remains permanently independent of my willpower.
Eventually I found myself writing a daily blog for Author magazine. I was surprised by how easy these posts were for me to write. I loved both the format and the subject. I loved how these little essays were a blend of memoir, observation, and poetry. And I loved writing about the intersection of creativity and spirituality. It was just so interesting. I couldn’t stop thinking about this intersection, whether I was writing, interviewing authors, or just hanging around. It was so interesting that I was surprised when other people weren’t as interested in it as I was.
Soon an odd thing began to happen. People who read my work would occasionally remark how much they enjoyed my voice. I didn’t know what they were talking about. I had stopped thinking about my voice. When I was writing fiction, I obsessed about my voice. I knew how important it was. I knew how much, as a reader, I connected first to the author’s voice, more so than the story. The voice, after all, would be with me in every single word. Now all I was trying to do was share these very interesting ideas. That was my only goal every time I sat down to write.
Which is exactly how you find your voice. If you want to write, you must find your voice. But your voice is not like your singing voice, which can be trained to hit certain notes. Your voice is absolutely an expression of your inherent curiosity. This will determine not just which stories you choose to tell, but how you tell them. It will determine every word you choose, for the words are meant to express as accurately as possible what you find so interesting about the story you are telling.
Yet your inherent curiosity is deceptively easy to take for granted. It has been with you continuously all your life. You are used to it, even if you are not used to listening faithfully to it. This was certainly true for me. As I began writing those essays for Author, I realized I had turned writing into a search for recognition. That had become my primary goal every time I sat down to write fiction—to somehow attract the recognition of agents and publishers and readers. To be recognized, it seemed to me, you had to be special.
I could not manufacture special. However, once I recognized what I was especially interested in, I began to attract the attention of agents, editors, and readers. It really is that simple. It is as simple as accepting that what you find interesting is interesting enough, that what you find funny is funny enough, and that what you find profound is profound enough. Yet every single time I sit down to write, I must remember this. Every time I face the blank page, I must remember that all I have to do is listen to what has been speaking to me my entire life, listen, and give this faithful friend of mine a voice.
In Writing Voice, you’ll discover effective instruction and advice from best-selling authors and instructors like Donald Maass, Adair Lara, Paula Munier, Dinty W. Moore, James Scott Bell, and many others, plus exercises, techniques and examples for making your prose stand out, be it fiction or memoir.