‘Author voice’ is an ambiguous term. We’re all told we have one and all encouraged to ‘find’ it, but that’s about as far as the advice usually goes. Left thus in the dark, we strap on our dictionaries, grip our spell-checks, and launch ourselves into the dim unknown in search of this mysterious and elusive ‘voice’.
The journey itself is wonderfully instructive. Not for the world would I simply give you the answers you’ll find on the way. (We’ll just assume for the sake of my dignity that I actually have them. 😛 ) Nothing teaches like seeking and experience.
However, it isn’t impossible to tell when you’ve reached your goal.
I’ve got two quotes for you today. (Come on, you didn’t honestly think I was gonna compromise myself by telling you everything I know, did you?)
The first is your obligatory ‘keep at it’ inspiration. Because trite though that may sound, the best way to improve is practice. *ducks all the flying cutlery chucked at her head* Perhaps I should say, the best way to improve is observant practice. Know what you’re doing, and have a reason for it.
Anyway. On to the quotes.
‘You come by your style by learning what to leave out. At first you tend to overwrite— embellishment instead of insight. … In the process of simplifying oneself, one often discovers the thing called voice.’
Second quote is in much the same lines.
‘At the beginning of their careers, many writers have a need to overwrite. They choose carefully turned-out phrases; they want to impress their readers with their large vocabularies. By the excesses of their language, these young men and women try to hide their sense of inexperience. With maturity the writer becomes more secure in his ideas. He finds his real tone and develops a simple and effective style.’
~Jorge Luis Borges
While I haven’t the slightest clue who either of those gentlemen are, I would hazard a guess that they were both wise.
It’s quite true. As young writers, we have this idea of ‘voice’ as an aggressive word— something we add to our work; a polish or a tint that makes it uniquely its own. But the fact of the matter is, voice is simply what’s left once you’ve determined what won’t do. What sentence structure you don’t like, what phrase you don’t want to write, or what word you don’t want to use.
We stress unduly about finding ‘our voice’. What if, instead of being told to ‘find’ it, we were encouraged to ‘unearth’ it? Scrape away the excess. Always opt for simplicity; say what you need in the fewest and clearest possible words, and you’ll unearth your voice in the middle of it. You don’t invent it. It’s the quiet and natural result of steady, conscious work and growing into maturity.