Disclaimer time. When I taught 8th grade English, voice was always the hardest writing convention to teach. “Write so it sounds like you!” I would preach in vain. “But don’t write exactly like you talk!” My students would look at me like I was crazy. People talk about the author’s voice all the time. But does anyone know what it actually means? I’ve sat my book club countless times pontificating about how the author’s voice was so authentic that it changed the story (I sound like a total snob now. Feel free to judge). Did I really know what I was talking about?
What does voice really mean in writing? Some writing voices are easy to identify. The first that comes to my mind is Ernest Hemingway. That voice is so undeniably obvious. Whether you love him or hate him (and partake in Bad Hemingway contests – yes, that’s a thing), you know his voice when you read it. Other voices are less obvious – which is not necessarily a bad thing. I know that Jhumpa Lahiri makes every single detail tell a bigger story. I know that Elizabeth Gilbert tends to gush – in the best way possible. I know that Marisa de los Santos speaks to you like you’re a friend. In reading books when the author’s voice shines through, I feel like I truly know the person who wrote it.
To me when a writer’s voice really shines through, you can feel the soul of the writer – their personality, their thoughts, their dreams, and their hopes. Like I said, voice is hard to define, and even harder to teach. Although voice can be that every-fleeing butterfly that you want so desperately to come and sit on your shoulder, here are a few ways that you can try to harness the power of your own voice while writing.
- Sound like yourself.
This one should be obvious, but when self-doubts creep in while writing, we tend to go right to the thesaurus, pull from other people’s stuff (without outright plagiarizing of course), and doubt that we’ll have the finesse to make our writing sound good. At the end of the day, it’s always best to use words that you would actually use, and say what you actually want to say.
- Write like you talk (almost).
If I wrote exactly like I talked, there would be a lot of awkward silences (yes, I’m that friend who always loses her train of thought in the middle of her sentences), and, despite the fact that I tried to kick this habit in high school when prepping for college interviews, there would be a lot of “ums” and “likes”. So I don’t write exactly how I talk. But here’s the advantage – when you talk, you can’t plan ahead what you want to say. When you write, you can. You can make your writing the most humorous, witty version of you. Go with it! Even when you’re writing a resume/cover letter or academic paper, your writing can still sound like you – just a dressed up for the ball type of you.
- Talk to your paper (or computer).
Reading my writing aloud, or speaking while I type sometimes helps me to retain my authentic voice. You may seem crazy if you do this at work. I say go with it. The crazy person in the office always gets left alone.
- Try (key word: try) to not overthink it.
Here’s where the brainstorming or freewriting can really be helpful. Doing a brain dump is a great way to assure that your most authentic self comes out on that paper, and then it’s just a matter of polishing up what you really want to say. Trust me, it’s much harder to go the other way (from polished to authentic).
Above all, try to make sure your writing reflects who you are. When I read what you have to say, I really want to hear what YOU have to say.
What do you think about author’s voice? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below! Do you know someone who would love this blog? If so, please share it!