Whether you write fiction, nonfiction, or a blog–it’s important to have a unique voice in writing, or style. Your writing voice conveys to readers your personality and when writing fiction, can add depth to your characters and your story. Barbara Baig, author of How to Be a Writer, suggests using these tips to improve your writing voice.
If you feel that you have lost your voice on the page—or never found it in the first place—don’t despair. There are ways you can find or recover it. And it’s actually much easier and safer to find your own voice in writing than in life, as long as you do it through practice writing. In life, once words are said, they are out there. But you can say anything you want to on paper, and no one will ever hear those words unless you show them. That privacy gives you the freedom to be bold, to experiment, to play with different voices. If you don’t like the sound of one voice, you can try another; you can let your voice change and develop over time. And it has been my experience that, in strengthening one’s writing voice, one also can strengthen one’s speaking voice.
These days many teachers of creative writing seem to believe that to find an individual voice on the page, a beginning writer must excavate his or her most personal (preferably traumatic) experiences and share them with readers. I don’t agree: You can discover your voice in much less painful ways, and your writing voice does not have to be a confessional one. Consider the following approaches for discovering and training your voice:
#1: Get comfortable with private writing.
Some beginners (or those who have been wounded as writers) may find that to discover a natural writing voice they must, for a while, engage only in private writing. Such a writer may need to hear and feel comfortable with his writing voice for a while before attempting to use it in writing to others. If this is the case for you, then by all means, take all the time you need. There is no rush. Over time, you can find your writing voice and develop your writing powers. While you are finding the subjects you want to write about and discovering things to say about them, you will also be practicing using your voice on the page. And when you have things to say that you really want that you want to share with others–I want to tell you this! Listen to the cool things I’ve discovered!–then you can practice using your voice to share them.
#2: Develop confidence in your powers.
Taking the time you need to develop your powers will give you confidence that you have things to say. Beginning or inexperienced writers often sound insecure on the page, like people who don’t believe they have anything to say worth hearing: er … Excuse me …. I just thought that maybe … um, perhaps … oh well, never mind … Experienced writers, by contract, are often (on the page) like people who have a lot of confidence in themselves: Just listen to what I have to tell you! The confident writer’s voice is powerful and strong. (In writing, as in life, occasionally what sounds like confidence is merely bravado.)
There seems to be a popular assumption these days that the only way to get that kind of power into your voice is to talk about yourself and your own experiences; then your voice will be “authentic,” and (therefore) your writing will be good. A writer’s voice does have to have power–after all, that voice has to carry meaning from her mind into the minds of readers. But power doesn’t necessarily come from authenticity; it comes from authority. A writer’s voice needs to sound, not authentic, but authoritative: It needs to have a sound in it that indicates that the writer know what she is talking about. And how do we get that sound into our writing voice? By getting to know our subjects as well as possible, and by being clear in what we have to say about them. Strengthen your writer’s powers; collect and develop your material–these activities will bring the quality of authority to your writing voice.
When you have that authoritative quality in your writing voice, readers will trust you, because they will feel that you know what you are talking about. Even if you are writing fiction, readers still need to feel that you know your material–that you know the world and the characters you have invented.
Read more writing tips.
This excerpt comes from Barbara Baig’s book, How to Be a Writer. Learn more about her book on writing and read about the ways in which you can perfect your writing voice. Plus, don’t miss out on these writing resources that can help you succeed in writing: