When I began to write I had no idea what genre I scribbled and I certainly didn’t think I had a voice. If I did, I didn’t know what it sounded like. My method of writing was just throwing words onto the blank page, mixing them around, and praying someone would read it. Anything beyond that, I had to learn.
And learn I did from excellent teachers but mostly from other writers. I was delightfully surprised to learn that my way of doing things was a commodity. I had a way of writing – a style – primitive though it was. But I also had a voice. Style was explained to me as the way I link my sentences, sprinkle my adjectives, and construct a manuscript.
But Holly Lisle in How to Think Sideways reminds us that - “Style without voice is hollow. Voice is style, plus theme, plus personal observations, plus passion, plus belief, plus desire. Voice is bleeding onto the page, and it can be a powerful, frightening, naked experience. But your voice is your future in writing.”
Wow that’s powerful. If writer’s voice is that important, then we need to find it, develop it, and never neglect it. As more than one successful author has pointed out, writers must read everything, write everything, and never think anything you write is wasted. Recently I pulled out something I wrote a year ago. At the time I didn’t know why I wrote it, but with a little polish the piece was perfect for a contest.
When you look for voice, study the successful writers – both classic and current. For practice, copy some of their work to find their rhythm. Read it aloud. Of course, never pass off anything copied as your own. This is just an exercise to loosen mental muscles much like stretching before you jog.
Lisle also suggests playing games with your topics of interest. Divide a page into columns and list topics such as things you fear, great vacations, creepy things, sexy things, gifts I would give myself, etc. When you have several words in each column, randomly choose one from each category. Write for several minutes on that subject.
Warning: Essays will be weird.
Just for fun, pick a subject that you disagree with and take the opposite view. This may cause stress but it will expand your thinking and perhaps trigger an idea for a column or essay. Remember that all this writing and playing with words is in the realm of ‘first drafts’ which by definition are supposed to be horrible. Don’t worry about structure, punctuation, or tense. Just challenge yourself. Embrace your fears. Perseverance will stretch you like nothing else.
Still can’t decide on your voice? Ask yourself some questions:
- What makes me angry?
- What makes me deliriously happy?
- What am I passionate about?
- What makes me cry?
- What am I afraid of?
- What skills have I mastered?
- Where would I go if money were no object?
- How would I change the world if I could?
- What do I dream of accomplishing?
- •Where do I see myself in a few years?
“Voice is born from a lot of words and a lot of work – but not just any words or any work will do. You have to bleed a little. You have to shiver a little. You have to love a lot – love your writing, love your failures, love your courage . . . love every small triumph that points toward eventual success. You already have a voice. It’s beautiful. It’s unique. It’s the voice of a best-seller. Your job is to lead it from the darkest of the dark places and the deepest of the deep waters into the light of day.”
~~ Holly Lisle, How to Think Sideways
I don’t think I can say it any better. Find your voice and let it be heard.
~~ Sheila Hudson
Sheila's work appears in Chocolate for a Woman's Soul series, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Patchwork Path, From the Heart, Vols. 1 & 2, plus numerous periodicals including Costumer Magazine. She established Bright Ideas to bring hope and inspiration through the written word. Sheila has also served as president of Southeastern Writers Association. Read more about Sheila on her website.