One of the strongest fears most creatives face is the fear of being unoriginal. I’m not talking about accidentally stealing a fellow writer’s words and finding yourself slammed with a plagiarism lawsuit, rather that dread of being seen only in another’s shadow, your work forever tainted as “storebrand” fiction. Wal-Mart Tootie Fruities to Kellogg’s Froot Loops.
The best way to avoid the generic label and stand out as a writer is to know your writing voice, which is challenging because, well, it’s yours. It’s like trying to truly hear the sound of your own vocal chords, truly see your reflection in the mirror. Often you’re too close to the situation to scrutinize and make a fair judgement of those parts of yourself, and as soon as you stop to listen or see, you shift your tone, strike an unnatural pose. The doing is natural; understanding, not so much.
Luckily, writing is a bit easier than either of these things because it only takes a little taste and a lot of practice for your voice to come to you and for you to establish the habit of using it. But if you need some help, here are my three favorite ways to get to know your writer’s voice.
One of the quickest ways to lose your voice is to pressure yourself to be literary. As a writer, you probably dream of becoming a bestselling author, millions of copies of each of your books sold, a seat among the greats. And maybe to you that means your writing should be literary. But while there’s nothing wrong with literary, if it isn’t naturally in you, if it isn’t a component of your natural writer’s voice, literary can be stuffy and unforgiving and boring.
One way to release that pressure and learn more about how you like to write is to journal about your writing, or even to write as if you are journaling. Give yourself a break from intense perfectionism and the crippling anxiety of not-good-enough and try freewriting, writing whatever comes to mind about whatever is on your mind. Letting the words flow (usually in the same voice you hear in your head) can help you discover your writing quirks and tendencies, your good practices and bad habits, those things you do really, really well and those things you may want to try to avoid to let your best writing shine. It’s the writing equivalent of lounging in your pajamas: it may not be pretty but at least it’s 100% you.
2. Keep a List
This is a habit I started a few months ago, and not only is it helpful for feeling your way around your writing voice, it’s also really fun. Lately, I’ve been keeping a running list of my favorite words and phrases, whether I run across them while reading or encounter them in a conversation.
Because I think a key element to a writer’s voice is using the right words, holding onto ones I like for later use has been so helpful for those moments when I know a perfect word exists but I can’t quite find it. I keep my list in my writer’s notebook so I always have it handy during my writing sessions, and classify by parts of speech. An added bonus, if people peep your list, they’ll think it’s an special coded message, but will never be able to decipher it’s meaning. Spy status: achieved.
3. Mimic the Masters
The writing world is a bit divided on this, and I see why. It’s completely counterintuitive to try to find your writing voice writing like other writers, but bear with me. The writers you emulate shouldn’t be any old people you know are really talented and you wouldn’t mind comparison to; rather, the writers you mimic should be your favorites, writers who have logged many hours in a genre you prefer and who showcase a style very much like.
Because your preference in books is a reflection of your inner writer. It’s no coincidence certain writers stand as your favorites, and you admire their writing styles for a reason. Those authors stir up something within you that is most likely connected to the reasons you write in the first place, and hoping to ever draw out similar sentiments in a reader is great motivation to finding your own place in the writing world. Even if, at first, writing in another’s style masks your own sense of prose, picking apart others’ writing so as to mimic them is always a good lesson in writing well, and since it’s your interpretation of someone else’s style, your voice will come through eventually.
So, when you’re just starting out or if you’re feeling lost about your writing style, go back to your favorite books and writers and find what it is you appreciate about their work. Try to incorporate their trademarks or techniques into your drafts, and keep using them if they feel natural to you. If it’s a strain to emulate them or if something doesn’t match your content, it probably isn’t a piece of your voice and it’s okay to drop it without feeling like a failure. Thank you, next!
NOW TELL ME // Do you struggle to write in your own voice? How did you achieve your personal writing style? Let me know below!
photo by: Josefin