How Do I Know When I’ve Found ‘My Voice’?

‘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.’

~Billy Collins

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.

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12 thoughts on “How Do I Know When I’ve Found ‘My Voice’?

  1. Good advice! 🙂 I think one of the biggest influences in my writing “voice” came from reading. I would soak up the voices and styles of what I read, and inadvertently mimic them in my own work. While I still do this from time to time – maybe I haven’t completely found my writing voice – I do it less and less by accident. I might adopt a certain style on purpose, but for the most part, I’ve settled into a particular voice.

    Don’t know if anyone else has done it this way, but it worked for me! Thanks for this post, Kate. 🙂

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    1. YES. That’s an entirely different facet of it. Reading is how we learn to write, just as listening is how we learn to speak. Humans are born mimics. On the surface we all have the same voice because we speak the same language. It’s when we learn to say our own thoughts in it that it becomes ‘ours’.
      Reading other books and discovering the voices of others is absolutely crucial to being able to recognize your own. Great thoughts. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I WAS JUST WONDERING ABOUT THIS YESTERDAY.

    And… *peers closely at work* Yup, I think I’ve been doing what those two gentleman refer to as “overwriting”, so excuse me while I go ponder this.

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  3. You make a really good point here, Kate. I definitely agree that finding one’s ‘voice’ is annoying and tricky and hard, and I used to (and sometimes still do) overwrite a lot. Nowadays my ‘voice’ has what I think of as accents. Depending on what genre I am writing, or really just what story I’m writing, my voice is a little different. Kinda like speaking different languages other than your first language, or trying to speak with a foreign accent purposefully. It’s weird. I need to settle down and find my one specific voice, but for now I’m doing pretty good with my accents.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh, see though there is room for variation especially by genre, or by the voice of the *character* who tells the story. It’s a fascinating study. 😀 ‘Accents’ is a good way to think of it. 😉

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  4. Good thoughts! I was just thinking and wondering if there was a spectrum of extremes. Like having to much and stripping away, as well as others on the other end of the spectrum who have too little and must there for add to find there voice. Thoughts?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is absolutely a thing. According to R. L. Stevenson, ‘there is nothing so noble in a tale as baldness’. I disagree. In fact, that is such an excellent question that I think I’m going to do my next post on that. 😛 Thank you very much. *bows*
      And welcome. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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