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Developing Your Writing Voice

by The Procrastinating Writer on July 8, 2009

courtesy of flo and me

courtesy of flo and me

By Jennifer Blanchard

One thing that beginning writers are always asking is: How do I develop a writing voice?

I’ve heard that question a lot lately. So I did some digging, and found this awesome article from author Holly Lisle: Ten Steps to Finding Your Writing Voice.

Here are the steps Lisle outlines:

  1. Read Everything–“You cannot be a successful writer if you don’t read,” Lisle says. “That isn’t opinion; that’s fact.” She suggests you read as much and as often as you can. I agree with her. Reading is one of the best ways to learn how to write, and also a great way to know what you like and don’t like.
  2. Write Everything–Lisle suggests trying many different genres and types of writing. Doing so will give you a better idea of what you like to write, what you’re good at writing and what you should stay away from. Even if you don’t use everything you write, that’s OK. Writing is practice, whether you do anything with it or not.
  3. Copy The Best–Lisle suggests picking your favorite author and trying to write something in his/her voice. This is just an experiment, however. It’s just a way of getting you writing in different voices. When it comes down to it, though, if you plan to publish, you need to write in your own voice.
  4. Play Games–“Make endless lists–one-word lists of the things that excite you, the things that scare you, the things that you dream and fantasize about and hope for, the things you dread and fight to avoid,” Lisle says. Word games can help you learn different terms, as well as how to use them. (Read Lisle’s article for example games.)
  5. Challenge Your Preconceptions–“You don’t know everything about yourself,” Lisle says. “You only think you do. The more you trust yourself to write without correction, the more you’ll discover that you’re a lot deeper and more interesting and more complex than you imagined.” Challenge yourself. Step outside your comfort zone. Write from a voice that scares you. Write from a voice you love. Try as many different things as you can.
  6. Dare to Be Dreadful–As you begin to develop your writing voice, you’ll be experimenting a lot. And it’s likely that most of your experiments will end pretty badly. Some may be great, though. Daring to be dreadful means you’re shutting off your inner editor.
  7. Write From Passion–“If you don’t care about the things you’re writing about, you will never discover your true voice,” Lisle says. “Your voice does not exist when you’re trying to write a book in a genre you hate because you think it will be an easy way to make a quick buck. Your voice does not exist in the thin and cheap places of your heart or the shallow end of your soul. Voice lives in the deep waters and the dark places of your soul, and it will only venture out when you make sure you’ve given it space to move and room to breathe.”
  8. Take Risks–This one goes along with “Dare to Be Dreadful.” You have to be willing to take risks. To step out of your comfort zone and try something new and different.
  9. Complacency is Your Worst Enemy–“If you’re comfortable, if you’re rolling along without having to really think, if you haven’t had to challenge yourself, if you know that everyone is going to approve of what you’ve done–you’re wasting your time,” Lisle says. “Writing done from a position of comfort will never say anything worthwhile.”
  10. Fear is Your Best Friend–“If your heart is beating fast and your palms are sweating and your mouth is dry, you’re writing from the part of yourself that has something to say that will be worth hearing,” Lisle says. “Persevere.” Fear will tell you when you’re writing something worthwhile and when you’re being comfortable and boring. Trust the fear inside you. Embrace it and keep on writing.

For even more information on developing your writing voice, read Lisle’s article.

For me, developing my voice took time. It took me a few years of writing consistently (every single day with very few exceptions) to finally get to the point where someone could read something I wrote and know that I wrote it.

How did you develop your writing voice? What tips can you share?

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 lisabirch July 8, 2009 at 12:13 pm

For years as a journalist, i didn’t have much of a voice or personality. Straight news reporting/writing was a bit voiceless. You identified the who, what, when, where and why and a few details and that was it. But the more I got into writing feature articles, the more my voice developed. Reading other people’s work constantly helped me to spot the voice or personality that resonated with me (and others) and then push myself to trim and polish my own voice to take on aspects of the voice that appealed to me…WITHOUT losing my own tone and flair. The key is, use what’s inside. it’s the best voice, because it’s natural. Let it come out naturally, then add elements of what inspires you from other people’s work you read.

2 The Procrastinating Writer July 8, 2009 at 12:17 pm

@lisabirch You’re absolutely right. Well said.

3 CathrynG July 8, 2009 at 3:40 pm

These are great suggestions, worthy of printer ink so I can put them in a visible spot.

I’ve read a bit about this, but am not clear, how does one’s voice emerge in fiction, with the clamor of character voices?

4 The Procrastinating Writer July 8, 2009 at 9:02 pm

@CathrynG Hmm…let me do some research and I’ll get back to you. I’m really not sure of the answer.

5 garridon July 9, 2009 at 5:35 am

Reading widely is also a fantastic way to be exposed to different techniques to further develop voice. I’m on a reading list on a message board, and I’m surprised that I’m the only one who is all over the map with my reading. Everyone else seems to stay within the confines of one genre and doesn’t venture out. For my WIP, I made the decision to go with omniscient viewpoint. If I’d only read within the genre itself, I’d have never know there was a viewpoint outside of first person!

Be willing to experiment. I’ve now heard far too many times people refuse to try something because it goes outside common wisdom. I remember Jim Butcher saying he’d been writing books in third, and it wasn’t until he tried first that he found his voice. I’ve always written in third but the story needed omniscient, so I tried it. In truth, I probably should have tried it years ago, but I kept hearing the common wisdom of “Don’t use it. You’ll never get published” and “No one publishes omniscient any more” (not true–that narrow reading list problem rears its head), so I just didn’t even think of it. The greatest thing for me was a workshop where I tried all the different viewpoints and variations of them. It allowed to really experiment and push the boundaries to see what worked.

6 Andy Bee July 9, 2009 at 10:30 am

I hit a crisis of indecision with my first novel (almost completed now) where I couldn’t work out if it would be better written as a First-Person (it was in Third Omniscient).
So I experimented and re-wrote the first chapter from First Person POV. It was hard, but it taught me that what had seemed to be an obvious change just wasn’t right in this case.
But it was greeeat practice!

Do it, try it! If you don’t like it, what’s one small step backwards? No-one’s looking!

Even Wellington knew when to give ground.

7 The Procrastinating Writer July 9, 2009 at 5:04 pm

@Andy Bee Thanks again for the great tips! Have you ever considered writing a guest post for this blog? I’d love to have one from you!! If you want to, e-mail me: jennifer@procrastinatingwriters.com.

8 Andy Bee July 13, 2009 at 9:17 am


Would love to help – have emailed you requesting details.

9 The Procrastinating Writer July 13, 2009 at 12:01 pm

@Andy Bee I apologize for not getting back to you yet. I am traveling right now. If you’re interested in submitting a guest post, check out this post on the criteria: http://procrastinatingwritersblog.com/category/guest-post-guidelines/

Then shoot me an e-mail with your article suggestion. Thanks!

10 A Mom's Choice July 13, 2009 at 10:16 pm

Great article for any writer. Keep up your great posts.

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