Have you found your writing voice?
“I had a look at your blog and I love your style of writing and your voice. I think you’d be a perfect fit for my website.”
This was the first I heard about my writing voice. I didn’t know I had one. Nevertheless, I gladly accepted the invitation by Donna Barker, owner of www.writewomanwrite.com and also the person who invited me to be part of the Creative Women Summit, to write a few guest posts.
The problem with a writer’s voice is that it sounds different to everyone
Of course, when it came down to writing the promised article, I realised I had to live up to the site owner’s idea of my ‘voice’. Now my articles had to sound like something mysterious that she identified in me that I wasn’t aware of, even though, over the last decade, I’ve had crime-based short stories and freelance articles published in magazines in three different countries and my guest blogs have been featured in a variety of online spaces. I’ve even written and produced a children’s meditation cd, and I maintain a weekly blog all without being able to identify my ‘voice’ as a writer.
So how important is it, really?
What is a writer's voice?
It’s simply the personality that comes through when we’re writing our story or non-fiction piece. Obviously, in fiction, there are many “voices” for the characters, but in non-fiction, it’s usually only the author’s voice.
To me, the writers' voice is what makes me like an article, or dislike it, and unless the article has some super-duper information in it that I absolutely need to know, the voice of the writer will determine whether I bother to read the entire thing or close it and move on.
So it would seem that the writers' voice is quite an important aspect of writing to take into account, especially in this age of mostly scanning instead of attentive reading,
Yet, I never gave the idea of knowing my writers voice much thought, even though I’m primarily a non-fiction writer. The reason is simple: every time I sit down to write it feels different. My writing doesn’t always come from the same part of me, and so I accepted it as normal that my ‘voice’ would change as well.
So the question, "How important is it, really," has still not been answered.
The you that is writing is not you
Earlier this week, I picked up a copy of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, Volume 1. In reading the introduction by Richard Howard, I found the perfect explanation for why it’s not important to have an identifiable writing voice (quirky, serious, tongue-in-cheek, offensive, long-winded, lyrical… any label to do with attitude, tone of voice and personal style.)
Howard explains that, in the book, the narrator might be named as ‘Proust’ once or twice but this ‘narrator Proust’ shouldn’t be confused with the same Marcel Proust who wrote it (even though, technically, they are the same).
He says that the Proust who writes is a form of Proust that reveals itself through the writing because the Marcel Proust that is writing isn’t the same as the Marcel Proust that goes about daily life. It might be the same hand that he eats with that also does the writing, so it’s the same physical person, but the personality of the person changes when writing.
Which seems to me to imply that our writers' voice would also change.
I‘ve experienced how this voice can change, and yet all these voices come from inside of me. It’s the same me that writes blog articles and short stories that also walks the dog in the park and flows through a yoga class and does weekly grocery shopping.
But the 'me' you’ll find in the yoga class and the 'me' you’ll bump trolleys with in the shop will be two different people. One will be peaceful and centred, the other irritated and grumpy.
So how can my writer's voice remain consistent when I’m writing different things, on different days, under different circumstances?
That's the point. A writer’s voice doesn’t have to be static, consistent and predictable.
When I sat down at my small, round, glass topped writing table yesterday, it was a different me from the one that came to sit down today at the same table to write this article.
Yesterday, it was a misty, white day and I arrived at the page feeling uninspired and irritated. Today, before writing, I went on a hike in the mountains, where I was enveloped by beautiful dense, green forest on three sides. In front of me, as I stood on the viewing deck at the highest point of the hike, the Tasman sea opened up, stretching all the way to the distant horizon.
How can I expect the two writing practices to possibly produce anything similar in voice?
Keep writing alive by breaking through the boundaries of a label
For me, the idea of having a stable, defined writer's voice sounds too much like confinement, like something with parameters around it. It’s unnatural and stifling. Just because you often write in a 'snarky humour voice' doesn't mean that you must always write in that voice.
If I don’t allow the experiences that fill my heart — of breathing in the fresh forest smell of dead leaves and wet earth, of craning my neck to look up at the towering Kauri Trees and feeling so small beside them, of feeling the lingering morning mist cling lightly to my skin - to all influence my writing, then my writing will not come from the deepest, truest part of me. It won’t be from my heart, where all these sensations were registered, stored and appreciated with each inhale.
That’s when I start to produce stagnant writing — blog articles that all sound the same, flat stories that tell instead of show.
When a writer creates from the heart, where all the joyous and painful and angry and heart-breaking sadness is stored, their writing resonates with the reader. Writing solely from the headspace, which is so easy to do when it comes to non-fiction writing and flat blog articles consisting of how-to’s and quick lists, leads to dull, robotic writing that fails to connect with the reader.
So what is the verdict? IS the writers' voice important or not?
I don't think it's as important to know your voice as a writer, as it is to know what you're capable of. Sticking to your main writing voice, the one you know and are comfortable with, might produce good writing, but do you what you can create if you try something different? If you chose to experiment with your voice?
Knowing your voices as a writer might be more useful than just knowing your main, go-to voice.
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