Whether you write blogs and articles or your focus is on fiction, you need to find your voice. Every writer has a unique voice or style - but sometimes it can take a while for you to actually find your own voice. Especially when you’re first starting out as a writer, you may find that you’re trying to imitate another writer’s voice, and that means your unique voice is hidden.
Here’s the thing: you don’t need your writing to sound like another writer’s. In fact, imitating other writers’ style will not help your writing to get noticed. Your readers want something different, not another clone of a popular writer or author. They want to hear your voice - your unique, authentic voice.
Before we dive into the meat of this article, I want to take a moment to define what exactly I mean when I talk about your voice as a writer and how that relates to your overall style of writing. Some people argue that voice and style are two completely different things, but there are so many overlaps it’s impossible to separate them.
Your voice as a writer comprises:
You can see from this list how your true writer’s voice will be unique to you because it’s affected by your personality and your unique way of using language. When it comes to style, there may be some variations in your voice, depending on the audience that you’re writing for.
Ultimately, whether you’re writing for an academic publication, a magazine or publishing a blog, your voice should still shine through in your adaptation of a particular style. Your voice will also mean you favor particular styles of writing, too, so there’s no way of completely separating the topics of voice and style.
But why do so many writers struggle to use their own writer’s voice? There’s actually a superb explanation.
Those self-doubts that you experience every time you sit down to write, and that feeling that your writing can’t compete with all the ‘great’ writers out there, is often referred to as ‘imposter syndrome’. Although you love to write, you’re never satisfied with the results, and you’re constantly waiting for your readers to discover that you’re ‘not really a writer’.
Imposter syndrome is a huge barrier to using your own unique voice. While there’s no magic way of getting rid of imposter syndrome, when you focus on developing your own voice instead of copying someone else’s style, you will gradually see the value of using your unique style.
So, how can you explore your own writer’s voice when you’re so used to imitating your favorite writers? I’ve spent a lot of time researching this topic (since I really struggled with imposter syndrome when I first got started) and have pulled together some of the best advice and exercises that will help you discover your unique writing style.
When I first started writing fiction, blogs and articles, I found that I was focusing far too much on ‘doing it right’. I could spend days writing and rewriting an opening sentence or paragraph because I was worried about breaking the ‘rules’. I blame the education system for enslaving me to a long list of grammatical rules that must not ever be broken.
I was also too focused on finding stylistic guidelines to religiously follow, even though I hated those self-imposed regulations. The ridiculous part was that I knew that a lot of writers regularly broke both grammatical and stylistic rules, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that in my writing. I was trapped and I didn’t know how to get free.
Then I discovered freewriting when I took a creative writing course as part of my college degree. We were instructed to spend at least 15 minutes every day freewriting, and I found it so liberating. So, what exactly is freewriting?
Freewriting sets your voice free because you’re deliberately breaking the rules that hold your voice back. It gives you the opportunity to explore your creativity, to express yourself without restriction and stop worrying about ‘what people will think’. Because you’re freewriting just for yourself, there’s some psychological stuff going on that breaks the chains that have prevented your unique voice from truly emerging.
If writing is your career, it’s easy to get into the trap of only writing when you have a project to complete (i.e. you only write when you’re getting paid to write). That’s not good for your writer’s voice, because you’re losing that sense of writing for pleasure and your writing can become more formulaic.
Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote Outliers: The Story of Success,reckons that it takes 10,000 hours to perfect your craft - and while that figure may be an exaggeration (and has been disputed), I think it’s important to bear it in mind. You will not find your unique voice if you don’t get lots of practice - and that means you need to write for pleasure as well as for profit.
Setting yourself (achievable) writing practice goals - for example, to write (for pleasure) for at least 30 minutes every day - can give you the space you need to explore your writer’s voice. When you have a regular writing habit that’s not hampered by guidelines set by other people, it’s easier to get into the flow that will reveal your own unique voice.
At the end of each week, set aside some time to read back what you’ve been writing and you should be able to see patterns in your language and how your personality shines through your writing. That’s your writer’s voice, and the more you practice using it, the more comfortable you’ll become with sharing it with the world.
If you’re the kind of writer that sticks to one kind of writing (for example, you only write blogs, or you only write poetry, or you only write fantasy fiction), then getting out of your writing comfort zone can really help you discover more about your writer’s voice.
When you write in a genre or format you’re not used to or don’t read a lot of, you don’t have the same preconceptions about what your writing ‘should’ sound like. That means that when you start writing, your voice is more likely to emerge easier since you’re not trying to make your writing ‘conform’ in some way.
Here are some examples of types of writing that may be out of your writing comfort zone and can help you explore the way your writer’s voice emerges when it’s totally free:
A crucial part of exploring your writer’s voice is knowing yourself and understanding how you view and relate to the world around you. If you’re struggling with your writer’s voice, maybe you need to spend some time on a journey of self-discovery.
It’s really easy to be swayed by other people’s opinions and views - to the point that you can easily internalize someone else’s way of thinking and being. Because those views and thinking patterns can actually be at odds with your natural (unique) ways of thinking and being, there can be internal conflicts that may affect your writer’s voice.
To reconnect with your way of thinking and being, you need to do some deep work in getting to grips with your own opinions, way of seeing the world, and your passions. At the root of self-discovery is paying attention to what makes you happy, what inspires you, what brightens your day, what makes you angry, what causes you’re passionate about.
All of these things will impact on your unique writing voice, and so the more you explore them, the more you’ll be able to unleash your writer’s voice. Getting comfortable with you empowers you to take more risks in your writing and your writing voice will thank you for the investment you put into self-discovery.
Journaling is an excellent means of self-discovery, and it’s good practice to get into a habit of regular self-discovery journaling sessions. There are guided journals available to buy from places like Amazon if you feel you need help in getting started with journaling. Or you could use these questions as prompts for your self-discovery sessions:
Discovering and developing your writer’s voice is an adventure that can have a massive impact on the power of your writing. When you’re embarking on the adventure, though, remember that your voice continues to develop as you write. As you mature, for example, you may notice subtle changes to your writer’s voice and even the types of writing you enjoy the most.
The goal in discovering and developing your writer’s voice is to get out of the imitation trap and learn to love your own unique voice instead of feeling you need to copy another writer you admire. When you invest in developing your writer’s voice, you’ll gain confidence and your writing will become much more impactful.
Every writer has, at some time or other, struggled with their writer’s voice, even bestselling authors like Stephen King. Persevere with your journey of discovery and you’ll get to the point that Stephen King has reached - where your readers can recognize your voice without seeing your name.