Finding your voice

Every writer needs a voice, and most say they have one, then launch into examples of tone. Tone isn’t voice, and voice isn’t tone. Voice is such an esoteric concept, in fact, that many writing coaches skip over it entirely. Today we’re going to talk about voice, though, and how to find yours.

Voice unites reader and writer

Voice unites reader and writer

First, let’s define it by what it isn’t: tone. Tone is mood – upbeat, angry, confused, optimistic, the range of emotion. It changes with the piece. You wouldn’t write, for instance, about new cancer treatments in the same tone as you’d write about 3-D ink tattoos. You make a conscious – and conscientious – decision about the mood you want to impart to the reader. It reflects what you are: a careful writer.

Voice, on the other hand, is more akin to personality. It reflects who you are.

Scary? Yes, a little. You expose yourself with everything you write. The personality that comes through – your voice – has developed over a lifetime. Just like your real-life personality, your voice is composed of a million nuances unique to you. In your writer’s voice, you show where you came from, what you believe, what your family is like, how educated you are, what you do when you’re not writing, what you value, your spirituality, your habits, your outlook on life and everything else that makes up you.

How could this be when you aren’t writing about those things? Your voice comes through in the deliberate choices you make when you’re writing. Some of those choices are: active or passive voice? Just the facts, or an ear for the music in the language? High level of detail, or much left to the imagination? Makes the insignificant significant, or lets it go?

Until you find your voice, your writing may look strained. If writing looks written, it lacks voice. Voice eases the rapport that a writer develops with a reader. It’s consistent from piece to piece, to the extent that a reader knows who wrote without looking at the byline. Voice makes readers care.

How do you find your voice? It’s inside you right now. To let it out, write often. When you write, try not to be hamstrung by what you’ve come to think is the right way to write. Just get it out, and refine it later. By putting aside rules and writing in your own way, you allow more of your voice into the writing. Look for your voice; hear it, respect it and shape it to the needs of the material and the audience, not the other way around.

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