A distinct voice seems to be the thing that everyone wants but no one can tell you how to get. And I have to admit this annoys me. I’m a very practical person. If you can clearly tell me how to do something, I’ll get it done for you. If it’s ooey gooey and you tell me “it just has to develop over time,” I’m going to be cheesed.
I’m also going to set out to figure out how to do whatever you’ve just told me can’t be taught and has to develop organically.
Developing your voice–like everything else in writing–takes time and discipline, but it can be done. So here are some ways you can actively work on developing your voice.
(1) Learn the Basics of Writing
Before you argue that this will only teach you to write like everyone else, hear me out.
Can an artist sculpt a lifelike statue without first learning about the features of different types of stone and without learning how to use a chisel and other tools? Can a pianist compose a sonata without first learning which notes sound good together?
One of the most important things a writer trying to develop their voice can do is to read craft books. Writing is just like any other skill, whether that be painting, woodworking, engineering, or neurosurgery. You have to be so solid on the basics that they come instinctively before you’re able to truly create something fresh and unique.
(2) Set Boundaries
In her excellent post on Ways to Develop Your Unique Writing Voice, social media maven and bestselling author Kristen Lamb pointed out how boundaries can actually free your creativity rather than limit you. She likened setting boundaries in writing to narrowing down what means of transportation want to use to take your vacation.
If you want to develop your voice more quickly, pick a point of view (first person or third person – if you’re not sure what that means, check out our post on point of view) and a genre and stick to it until you’ve mastered it.
How will this help? Each genre comes with conventions that you need to follow to write in it. POV adds structure and establishes how you can tell your story. When some of these big decisions are settled, you’re free to focus on the actual writing. In other words, you’re free to allow your voice to come out.
(3) Read and Analyze
Read a lot is one of the few pieces of advice novelists are given for developing their voice. But reading alone isn’t enough. You need to figure out what works in these books and what doesn’t. What do you love and hate about them? It could be something big picture (like the way they weave their theme throughout the book) or it could be something more subtle (like the cadence they use in their sentences).
For each book you read, try to identify and write down three things you loved and three things you didn’t. For the things that you didn’t enjoy about the book, ask yourself why you didn’t like them and how you would have done them differently.
(4) Make A List of Words that Describe Your Personality
In her post about Author Voice Vs. Character Voice, romance writer Roni Loren describes her author voice and then points out how it directly relates to who she is as a person and how she approaches life. Your voice is you.
Sit down and make a list of 15-20 words that describe you, then elaborate on each and how you see that trait expressed in a normal day.
For example, I’m quirky, sarcastic, thoughtful, structured, and equal parts dark and optimistic. So is my voice. By identifying who I am, I can look at my writing and see what parts are true to me and what parts aren’t.
(5) Stop Reading Novels
I know. I know. Up above, I told you to read and analyze. That was one step along the path. But eventually, you’re going to need to make sure that you’re starting to sound like you rather than subconsciously copying another writer. The only sure way to do that is to stop reading other people’s work.
Take 1-2 months and use your reading time to write instead (or exchange novels for books on craft).
This isn’t meant to be maintained long-term. You only need to stay in this stage until you start hearing yourself. I made the biggest jump in developing my own voice when I stopped reading temporarily.
(6) Read Your Work Out Loud
What flows off your tongue? What comes naturally? What doesn’t?
Reading your work out loud helps you smooth out the tongue twister passages and create more realistic dialogue, but it also helps with voice. What sounds right to your ear? Could you see telling the story this way out loud to your friends?
(7) Blog to Get Comfortable Being You in Public
In a post she wrote back in November, YA author Susan Bischoff said that one of the benefits she gained from blogging was that ” I learned how to be myself. In public. I don’t think that’s something that comes naturally to most people.”
The only way you can develop your unique voice is to be proud of who you are and how you sound. As soon as you start worrying about what other people will think or whether they’ll like your voice, you’re going to start trying to change it.
Blogging helps you learn to be comfortable with who you are and with sharing who you are with readers. Writing magazine articles is another way to help develop your voice in a public forum.
What other ways have you found to develop your voice? Do you agree with me that it can be developed or do you think it needs to develop organically? What author’s voice do you love the most?