Monday, June 28, 2010

Voice Advice?

Happy Monday, everyone!

I've volunteered to teach a class on finding our own writing voices. I've got some ideas based on my own personal experiences from about a year ago, when I feel like I discovered my voice. But, I was wondering if you all had some additional pointers for me.

Do you feel like you've found your voice? If so, what did you do to make that happen?


  1. Great question.

    I wrote some flash fiction while working on novel drafts. This really helped me to find my voice, although having found it, doesn't mean I like it.

  2. I've often tried to fight my voice to fit a certain genre but I found that I can't. SO, although one piece of writing is serious or mysterious or funny, I keep my voice.

    That voice is a bit sarcastic, a bit funny, and always keeps things simple and straight to the point. Some have a different voice. The key is for me, DON'T FIGHT IT.

    Don't be what you are not.

    Now, that being said, each character has its own voice. Don't force your voice on them and their dialog.


  3. Ah! What a touching topic! I've personally, not any such experience but a friend of us says he has found that one... he write blog at:


  4. Still stuck in the voice mire somewhat. Hope the class goes well and you'll share some of the experience.

  5. Voice is so elusive that I feel comfortable saying yes, I've found mine, but not comfortable with how or even what it is. I guess I feel that my voice is actually that of my characters, and once I've found their voice, I've found mine, if that makes sense?

    The characters that call to me the most strongly to write are the ones with the strongest voices, and I'm betting that's why.

  6. What a wonderful question! I could write volumes on this topic. Writers who are most in tune with who they are, have no trouble finding their voice. It is our uniqueness sneaking through the conventions and mannerisms we have acquired by reading others.

    I found mine writing my memoirs; most recently, putting them up on a blog, in a way, writing for an audience that knows who I am, can accept my quirkiness, can experience life with me.

  7. For me my voice is the voice of the story. I know there are differing opinions on how much the author is in charge but for me it helps if I think of the story as a living thing. I am its oracle not its creator and voice is when I put myself aside and let the story speak.

  8. Oh would I love to be able to listen in on that class! Lucky students.

    This is just my own experience but finding my voice meant putting aside what I thought I 'should' write and writing what was in my soul. Whether or not anyone else would ever see it. In many cases, it was things that no one ever would (or at least that would never be 'marketable').

    After doing that awhile, I started to realize that voice was really the sum of my lifetime experiences coupled with the raw emotions I felt at the time- when I sat down again to write either comedy or drama, just by shutting off my own thoughts as best I could and focusing on the character that I was trying to write for, actually listening to them as if we were having a conversation, that is how my own voice ended up shining through.

    That may make no sense to anyone else *laugh* but it's the way it works for me. In fact, I couldn't write with any other voice now if I tried- it just is what it is.

    I write as I am- I write what I am even if I'm writing for characters very different from myself.

    Wish I could've given you something more helpful but that's my experience anyway. Ugh I am SUCH an INFJ it's impossible to deny it.

    Happy Monday to you too, Davin!

    (...and he said I could call him Davin. I asked! lol)


  9. Fia, I do think a key to finding your voice is simply putting in the hours. I've read in several places that one needs about 10000 hours of practice before one gets to be an expert at anything, and for me that was just about right. It's funny what you say about not liking your voice. My feeling is that any voice will work; you just have to develop it.

    Clarissa, that is a great point. One thing I plan to emphasize in the class is to trust in yourself, and I think that goes along well with not fighting it.

    Webmaster, thanks! I'll check it out.

    Bane of Anubis, Thanks for the good wishes. I'll let you know how it goes.

    L.T., I feel the same way. I do feel like I've found my voice, but I couldn't describe it particularly well. It's sort of like we find our default state, something so natural that we can't describe it because it feels like nothing.

  10. lakeviewer, I think writing memoirs or journaling about our own lives is a great way to find one's voice. I'll remember that for the class. Thank you!

    Taryn, That's very interesting. For me, it does feel like I have to put something aside, but it's more convention rather than myself. For me, I feel like I have to be more myself to get to my voice. My voice isn't very loud, but thinking this way somehow makes me write more sincerely.

    Bru, I think everything you say about voice rings true with me. And, from reading what I have of your blog posts, I think you have indeed found your own voice. My challenge in trying to teach this class (and I've warned everyone that it is HIGHLY experimental) is that I have to get others to see things the way you do. I think one of my main goals for the class will be to teach writers to trust in what I hope our Notes From Undergound contest will do a bit. :)

    Oh, and if you really do want to take the class, email me. It's online and I am pretty sure I can get you an invitation. It's free, of course.

  11. Davin, I came across a Japanese folk tale in Stephen Nachmanovitch's 1990 book "Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art". It was the best description of the elusive quality of voice that I've ever read. Email at if you want me to send it on to you.


  12. Davin, I found it quite interesting when you said CINDERS has the same voice as MONARCH. They are so completely different, and your comment made me stop and think about what my voice really is. I don't think it's something you can pin down in any one definition. It's like that elusive "literary" term...

    To me, voice is something that comes when you're writing for yourself. It can come across as strong or weak or somewhere in between. I also agree with what you said up above about putting in the hours. Just like an artist doesn't develop their own style until they've painted and painted and painted, a writer faces the same thing. Any artist must!

    What I've discovered with CINDERS is that when I gained more confidence, my voice was much more likely to come forward.

  13. I'm still finding my stride with my voice. I've figured out that I love alliterative adjective-noun combinations, though. Hell, I just love alliteration in general. And consonance. And assonance. Yes.

    Good luck with the class, good sir!

  14. Read a lot. Write a lot. Cut everything that doesn't ring true. Don't think about style or voice when writing. I think that the best way to find your own writing voice (a concept that, to be honest, I don't entirely believe in) is to not try to find a "voice." Just try to write beautifully, serve the story, and say whatever it is you mean to say. Putting your own stamp on the prose is, like, the least important thing about writing.

  15. I found my voice while writing my second novel. It was inspired by a real life event. I wasn't even thinking about voice when I wrote the first draft but things just clicked. I think the more you write and let go in those first drafts the more chance you have of connecting with a voice that rings true.

  16. February's comment rings true. Finding your voice involves having the courage to open up yourself to the world through your writing.

    That courage shows up in a writer's choice of verbs, metaphors, plot structures etc.

    But Scott is also right. You can't think about it while you write. Know you're going to leave everything on the table and then forget about it.

  17. Mayowa: "leave everything on the table" is exactly right! I like the way you put this.

  18. Oh my goodness!

    Dr. you've got email!

    ...and I think I need smelling salts.

    Thank you so much!


  19. Judy, Thanks a lot for the tip! I'll email you!

    Michelle, Yes, confidence is key for me too. I think when we're self-conscious we think that everyone else can write better than we can. When we're confident we trust in ourselves.

    Thanks, Simon. I'm a fan of assonance too. Unfortunately, I think I tend to use more assonance than people prefer.

    Scott, there is a forgetting yourself quality to it for me. Well, actually it's more of a forget-everything-except-yourself, which is very close to the same thing, at least for me. Beauty isn't even in the equation for me when I write because that starts to be forced as well. Beauty is a very interesting thing in art, actually. I like it and prefer it, but I think I sometimes get screwed up when I try to write beautifully.

    Paul, yes, letting go is important. I wonder if that can be taught, if I can show someone how to let go or if they have to learn that on their own.

    Mayowa, I don't know if this makes sense, but for me using my voice is a lot like meditation. It is letting go, but it's a focused letting go. It's like sword-swallowing, or at least my imagination's version of sword-swallowing. If you tighten your throat, it won't work. You have to relax in a very focused way.

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  21. Long ago (2005 hehe), I had a great writing class in which I excelled incredibly. The class was focused on finding our 'Voices.' I went into the class knowing I could write, at least knowing that I had a lot to say, but I didn't know I was a Writer. By the time I left this class, three months later, I knew I was a writer and that writing was what I wanted to do. Was it the teacher, the classroom, or me that made this Voice realization come about?

    I believe that ultimately the path of this journey is largely unconscious - one in which there is longing that needs fulfilling; the writer inside needs and wants to unite with the writer outside. This union, I believe, is what writers, consciously or unconsciously, seek to strengthen or gain.

    So how does someone who has found this union, their Voice, help others find such a treasure? I don't think it can be 'taught' in the sense that if you do (A) and (B) then (“C”) will happen; or, in other words, that if you learn and practice (A) and (B) then (“C”) will just come about down the road. This is not how Writer's are born; this is how literate societies are born. Writers cannot be made they are born. Whether through someone’s help or through our own solitary endeavors, we have to give birth to the writer within.

    It seems that when we write from our Voice, we are communicating from a place in us that is unique; that is, a place not commonly accessed by the majority of people who write. This place is where we must try and get others to write from. We don’t need to help them learn anything, we just need to steer them in a certain direction and persuade them that there is treasure waiting down that way – indeed, that there is a unique part of them waiting that way. I believe we’ll know intuitively where that treasure lies.

    To find the Voice inside we must turn inward and seek it there, for it cannot be given to us from outside sources – we must seek it in our memories, in our hurts, in our joys, in our traumas, and in our passions. I suggest developing an activity where you have your class write about something significant in their life so far. This could be a childhood memory that has repeatedly replayed its self throughout our life. This could be a happy memory of times when looked back on seemed so right, so wonderful. This could be a painful memory or a traumatic experience we went through. Etc. Then, after they know the assignment, and you feel they’ve accepted to participate, just let them write. If someone starts crying, let them write through if they can, or kindly ask if they’re ok and would like to step outside and talk; if someone looks dazed, just let them ponder their life for something to write. The magic here is not what they write on the paper, but that they looked inward as a source of what to write about – they looked inward to find their own Voice.

    These are the kinds of activities we did in that class five years ago, and which I have done often in the years that followed. Digging into our lives, our ideas, and our imagination is where we find our Voice. I think it’s wonderful that you’re teaching this class, and I wish you all the best!

  22. Davin: I am always trying to write beautifully. I don't get the whole interest in voice, though. I don't think it matters. I really don't. I worry that too many writers put too much emphasis on the writerly experience and forget that the real job is to produce something to be read by someone else, who doesn't know or care if we've found our unique voice.

  23. jasonm215, I agree with you 100% on 99% of what you've said. My objective in teach the class will be to try and get students to stumble on their own answers, like you said so eloquently. And, thanks for the exercise advice! I took a memoir writing class where we were told to write something that we knew we would tear up immediately afterwards. That was a wonderful exercise as well.

    Scott, I should first say that my definition of voice is a very general one. It sort of encompasses everything from subject matter to language to tone, etc. The reason I think it's important (I used to not) is because I feel like all of my favorite writers have their own unique voice. I think once you find that voice, you are able to pull a reader completely into your world and out of the world of literature lumped as a whole, if that makes sense. It's like cleaning the slate, because a unique voice doesn't have other similar voices to compete with. Voice is the new black.

  24. I started writing in 2003 and for the first four years, instructors, reviewers, anyone who had read any of my stories said, "I'd recognize your voice anywhere." I sort of know what they meant and it wasn't exactly untrue. But it didn't mean my writing was all that good. I also met the person I consider my mentor in 2003 and am one of the fortunate to be taking his 'Voice' class. He didn't disagree that my 'voice' was recognizable, but he also told me I was cheating myself and my readers, that I wasn't being honest, that I walked up to the line and then chickened out and backed away: that I wrote without true depth of feeling. I knew he was right. I've begin to cross that line and when I know I have I finally feel proud of what I've written. I expect the class to help me identify my strengths, learn how to capitolize on them. Right now, it's hit and miss. [I guess I think a writer's voice are his strengths written smoothly.]


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