Saturday, August 06, 2011

Learning to Speak

Voice is, for me, one of the most confusing concepts a writer learns about.  Sub-plots are a close second, but that is probably another post.  When you ask seasoned writers what exactly "voice" is, they look puzzled.   They tell you that voice is different from style, and that voice is you, or more specifically how you sound when you write.  They say that you have to learn what your voice is, and what type of writing suits it best. 

Over the last two years, I have slowly been figuring out what my voice is, and what it isn't.  When I re-read my writing, I believed I was never going to develop a voice that sounded like the writer I wanted to be.  I was gratified to read somewhere (I can't remember where anymore) that your own writerly voice sounds dull to your own ears.  Hallelujah!  There was still hope.  I could still be another Dean Koontz or James Rollins.

I missed the point, though.  While in Gunnison at the Writing the Rockies Conference, I attended three presentations and had one conversation that brought the concept of voice home to me. 

Are you ready?  This was a magical a-ha moment for me, and hope it might be for you.  In one of the workshops, after we had done several exercises to help us identify our Voice, the instructor asked us to free-write about our Voice as if it were a creature.  A-ha occurred right there.  A culmination of two other presentations dovetailed into that one exercise and I realized that my Voice is not who I am.  My Voice is not me.  My Voice interecedes for me, communicating what is inside me to the outside world. 

What makes the manner in which we communicate different, and therefore makes our Voices distinctive, is that we do so through the sum of our own experiences.  When I write a story about vulnerability, I am going to think about being bullied in high school and how vulnerable I felt.  I might remember a conversation with my husband about vulnerability.  No one else would have had those exact two same experiences, and so can not intercede with the outside world (aka write a story) to communicate vulnerability in the exact same way I would.  I can not learn my Voice, but I can learn how it is different from all others.  It is the difference that is exciting and fresh, and why the best advice any writer can give you is to tell your story with your Voice.

But then, it got even better.  I had the first twenty pages of my novel manuscript critiqued.  The critiquer gave me two words of advice.  The first was that to make it as a writer, you have to assume some level of arrogance.  Okay, I thought, I can fake it.  But then he noted all the mushy words I used - adverbs like really, likely, perhaps, maybe.  It was embarrassing how many circles were on one page. 

He called it as he saw it, and he was right.  I was afraid.  I was afraid to use my Voice to tell my story.  I was afraid to be arrogant.  I was afraid to "just say it."  Why?  Because I was afraid what I wrote wouldn't be clear to the reader, my story might not be liked and/or I would fail.  Another huge a-ha moment. 

But the amazing thing is that Voice isn't just about being a writer.  We all have a Voice, who interecedes with the outside world on our behalf, protecting the vulnerable inner self.  Some people use their Voice to push people away, some people don't use their Voice at all, remaining hidden inside of themselves.  Children have the most adorable Voice, filled with the wonder that stands in for the life experiences they haven't yet had.  We all have to learn how to use our Voices, to share ourselves in ways that are different, and fresh, and distinctive, and good.  Because deep inside, we are all worthy to share our story.


  1. Great thoughts on voice, and an excellent re-cap from the conference! I have the same trouble with adverbs (and I don't just overuse them, I love them... it's a real challenge sifting them out as I try to adapt my writing style!).

  2. Thanks so much! Personally, I think some adverbs are a good thing, but, once again, it's a matter of learning the fine balance.

  3. I've been struggling with identifying my writer's voice too. I find your post helpful. Thanks for sharing your experiences.


  4. Writing is definitely a process and a journey. I'm glad the post was helpful!

  5. I love the "a-ha!" moments. This was a fantastic post. I really enjoyed reading it. Thanks so much for posting!

  6. Thanks, Cat, and welcome to my blog page!


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