In our resource series of writing tips, Tiffany Mayer helps you polish your skills and strengthen your confidence and impact as a writer. This week she explores the most unique aspect of any work of writing: the writer's voice.
It’s as indelible as a fingerprint.
A writer’s voice is what makes a wordsmith unique and sets them apart from others. It’s how you know you’re reading M.F.K. Fisher or Elizabeth David; and it’s what separates unabashed Anthony Bourdain from affable Jamie Oliver.
But unlike a fingerprint, whose swirls, loops and lines are clearly defined, a writer’s voice is a bit abstract.
Not to be mistaken with style or tone, a writer’s voice has been described by some as a scribe’s perspective or world view showing in their words. Others say it’s what gives authenticity to our writing, and makes a body of work memorable.
I’m a fan of this definition from writing coach Rachelle Gardner:
Your writer’s voice is the expression of you on the page. It’s that simple — and that complicated. Your voice is all about honesty. It’s the unfettered, non-derivative, unique conglomeration of your thoughts, feelings, passions, dreams, beliefs, fears and attitudes, coming through in every word you write.
Ultimately, it’s what makes us stand out as writers, builds our audiences, and lends a familiarity to our work. That’s why it’s important for each of us to develop a distinct writer’s voice. However, it takes time — and practice — to forge an honest, original expression of ourselves in ink.
Here are a few tips to help your writer’s voice become crystal clear:
Ask the Tough Questions
Why do you want to write? For whom do you want to write? What do you want from your career as a writer? How do you want to be known? These are big questions and the answers may not come easily, but they’ll help you find your identity as a writer.
It’s no secret that reading makes a person a better writer. So read lots, and read a variety — fiction, non-fiction, short stories, long narratives, song lyrics, poetry, quotes. It doesn’t matter what but seeing how other people use words helps us develop our skills as writers. When you find something you like, read more of it and note why it resonates so much with you. Then play around with those elements in your own writing. See what happens when you bring your own personality into it. When you find something that feels comfortable and honest, you’ve found your voice.
Keep a Small Notebook and Pen on You Always
It’s remarkable when inspiration strikes. I once spent an hour writing on a bench in the woods at Green Gables because I was overcome with ideas and words after playing tourist there. What you write in those spontaneous moments, or deliberate ones created to experiment with your writing, may never be read by anyone else. But being open to those moments, and picking up a pen or opening your laptop, will help you fine-tune your voice. We have to play with words in order to find ourselves in them.
Anyone who writes for a living knows well the feelings of vulnerability that come with sharing our words with others. That’s because we’re revealing something of ourselves as writers in every piece we publish. It’s nothing short of scary. If you don’t keep that fear in check, though, it can stifle your creativity and hinder the development of your unique identity as a writer.
Be Open to Change
Your voice may change during your career as a writer. Life happens and it can affect our perspective, so it’s natural that your voice as a writer would change with it. Let it.
Be sure to check out the rest of Tiffany’s Writing Workshop Series!
- Narrative Know-How: Using Creative Non-Fiction in Blog Posts
- Care To Chat? How to Ask For an Interview
- Have I Got A Story For You: How To Pitch An Editor
- Going On A Word Diet: Tips For Tightening Your Writing
Tiffany Mayer is a freelance journalist and author of Niagara Food: A Flavourful History of the Peninsula’s Bounty (History Press, 2014). She blogs about food and farming at eatingniagara.com.