Finding your writer's voice

These are highlights from various knowledgeable sources about how you can find your writer's voice. Reference links are provided at the bottom of the page.

Leslie Truex

“Voice” is a writer term that is thrown around a lot, but not easily defined. It’s not style, which is the design of writing. Voice is character and personality. It’s uniquely yours. You can write in the style of others, but not in their voice, at least not authentically. Of all the writing elements, voice is the one thing that isn’t taught, but instead it’s already a part of you, although you may need to find it and bring it out.

Esmé Weijun Wang

So to the question of how to find your writing voice, I’d say most of the typical things: read a lot and write a lot. But please don’t spend too much time thinking about The Voice That Will Define You, because it will eventually come out of you, and be recognizable. It will carry the ghosts of the writing voices that you love best. In the end, it will be as uniquely natural as your handwriting.

Jerry Jenkins

You have a story idea, a novel. How do you go about telling it, writing it? What is your voice to sound like?
Imagine yourself sitting your best friend down and demanding their full attention, insisting, “Listen, have I got something to tell you…”
What comes next is your voice. Your writing should sound like you at your most engaged. Writing first-person from the standpoint of your protagonist? Imagine them, sitting with their best friend, demanding their full attention…
If you don’t know your protagonist well enough to do that yet, you have more work to do.

Suddenly Jamie (@suddenlyjamie)

The way a writer uses words to shape a story is only the tip of the iceberg. The true essence of a writer’s voice lies far beneath the surface. It is less craft and more courage – less ink and more blood. The text on the page is nothing more than the corporeal manifestation of the very spirit that drives the writer to write. The true voice of a writer is the nameless fire that burns inside, turning up the heat, licking at mind and heart until it becomes unbearable to wait even a single moment longer before putting pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard.
This is the voice you need to listen to.
This is the voice you need to release into the world.
Like your words on the page, this inner voice, this internal fire is yours and yours alone. It may share certain aspects of other writers’ voices, but its particular alchemy cannot be replicated. It came into the world with you and was shaped – violently, subtly, irrevocably – by the journey of your life. Every story you consumed, every experience you enjoyed or endured, every doubt and dream and question became part of your writer’s voice.
Your voice is not only how you tell your story, it is the story you choose tell. The story you must tell. It is the reason you write. It is the fiery truth that burns in your heart. Your writer’s voice is not merely a matter of grammar and word choice. It is the ache to know, to understand, and to connect. It is, perhaps, the reason you are here at all. Each of us has something to say, something to share. Each of us has a piece of the puzzle that is life. Dancers dance, singers sing, painters paint, parents parent, lovers love, and you – you write with your irrepressible, inimitable writer’s voice.

Joanne Wadsworth

So how does one find their writer’s voice? Ahh, let me share the secret. Here’s the answer–and it’s so simple. One’s writing voice is easiest found when it’s closest to how you would normally speak. ... Here’s an example of what the wonderful author, Maeve Binchy, once said of her writing secret in finding her voice.
“I don’t say I was proceeding down a thoroughfare, I say I walked down the road. I don’t say I passed a hallowed institute of learning, I say I passed a school.”
What she’s saying is if we allow our writing to turn too fancy, it can become stilted. Her secret was to keep it simple and closest to how she would normally speak.

Richard L. Mabry, MD

I'm reading a book written by another author chosen to carry on the tradition of one of my favorite writers, the late Robert B. Parker. I've read two other books by writers Parker's widow chose to keep the line of novels alive, and frankly, wasn't impressed. They didn't have Parker's "voice." The one I'm now reading, a western, is better, although there are places where it's obvious that the writer has chosen to show off how much research he's done--something of which Parker was never guilty. The book may be pretty good, but it's not a Robert B. Parker.
I've just completed responding to an extensive set of edits of my novel that will be released this fall, Heart Failure. The line editor did a very thorough job of suggesting areas where the novel could be tightened, the wording improved. The edits were valuable, but at almost every juncture I ended up changing her words to mine. Why? The insertions weren't in my "voice."

Julie Butcher

Some people will be drawn to the dark and others to the light. Few people will be drawn to both. This is important to know because some people will never like your writing. You’ll always have a percentage who love your work and a percentage who hate it. Get over yourself because that’s how it goes. You’ll make yourself crazy trying to please everyone. It can’t happen. Period.
Eventually, about a million words in, you’ll find your unique voice. Then you’ll find people who love, and hate it.

Michelle Slee my experience your voice will actually find you. You will write & your voice will reveal itself. It’s usually a surprise. It might turn out to be a shiver inducing soprano or maybe a ground shaking tenor. Whatever it is it will be your voice and it will be true.

Roz Denny Fox

what is Voice? It’s you, the writer’s unique way of expressing emotions, situations or life events. It shows and reflects your spirit.

Strunk and White in The Elements of Style says voice is the expression of self.

Christie Craig and Faye Hughes in Your Writer’s Voice say your voice makes you stand out from other writers. Your voice could be described as poetic, gritty, dark, quirky, humorous, or sensual. But something about the way you create images speaks to individual likes or dislikes of your readers, who will say they like or hate your voice.

Kitty Griffin

Try this, just for fun. Go to Itunes and listen to the sample of "Mack the Knife" by an assortment of singers. As you listen, write down a few words to describe the voice you hear. I promise you, try this with five or six and by the end you'll have a new insight into the word, "voice."

Susan J. Letham

Voice is the way your words "sound" on the page. In writing, voice is the way your writing 'sounds' on the page. It has to do with the way you write, the tone you take--friendly, formal, chatty, distant--the words you choose--everyday words or high-brow language--the pattern of your sentences, and the way these things fit in--or not--with the personality of the narrator character and the style of your story.
Think of your manuscript as a long, long letter to your reader, and remember that we rarely have problems writing letters and journals.

Holly Lisle

Voice is born from a lot of words and a lot of work -- but not just any words or any work will do. You have to bleed a little. You have to shiver a little. You have to love a lot -- love your writing, love your failures, love your courage in going on in spite of them, love every small triumph that points toward eventual success. You already have a voice. It's beautiful, it's unique, it's the voice of a best-seller. Your job is to lead it from the darkest of the dark places and the deepest of the deep waters into the light of day.
  • Read everything. "The more you read, the more you will acquire a visceral instinct about what works for you, and an equally compelling instinct for what doesn't. You'll discover how stories are put together, get a feel for how good novels are paced and plotted and how bad ones fall apart, and you'll start developing a hunger to write specific stories, because you'll come across areas of fiction where nobody is writing the kind of books you want to read."
  • Write everything (different genres, different media, etc.). Nothing you write is wasted.
  • Copy the best.
  • Play games: make lists, play games with the components of those lists.
  • Challenge your preconceptions.
  • Dare to be dreadful.
  • Write from passion.
  • Take risks.
  • Remember that complacency is the worst enemy. Challenge yourself to go outside your comfort zone.
  • Remember that fear is your best friend. "At the heart of everything that you've ever read that moved you, touched you, changed your life, there was a writer's fear. And a writer's determination to say what he had to say in spite of that fear."

5 Tips for Developing your Writer's Voice

  • Follow your literary hunches. Take risks. Ralph Keyes wrote: "Confident writers have the courage to speak plainly; to let their thoughts shine rather than their vocabulary."
  • Learn the difference between good writing and voice. Practicing good writing will free your voice. Strunk and White: "As you become proficient in the use of language, your style will emerge because you yourself will emerge..."
  • Stop comparing yourself to other writers. It's ok to admire other writers' styles; just nurture your own as well.

george in Writing

"You don’t need to find your voice, you already have one! Your writer’s voice is there in your head. It’s what you hear as a constant word track throughout your day. Your challenge is not to find your voice, it’s to put that voice to paper."
  • Relax
  • Pay attention to authors you like. What resonates with you?
  • Ask for honest critiques from folks you trust.
  • Write. Discipline yourself to write 2000 words each and every day. Doesn't matter what you write.
  • Relax, write, practice.
  • Write like you speak.

Rachelle Gardner

  • Voice is not style. It's not technique. It's not branding. It's not a decision to write in first or third person.
  • 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.
  • So how do you find your voice? You can't learn it. You can't copy it. Voice isn't a matter of studying. You have to find it. And the only place to find it is within you.

Sharon Leah

This is how I detect a writer’s personality through their writing:

  • Sentence construction (unique characteristics).
  • Word choice.
  • Active, direct and immediate?
  • Does the writer present information in a linear or circular manner or something in between?
  • Does the writer know and apply the rules of good grammar and punctuation?
  • Does the writer care about the reader's experience?
  • I also agree with the advice about reading work out loud because doing so can reveal a lot of weaknesses in writing. But unless we want all of our writing to read and sound like blog posts, then we have to put more thinking and less talking into our writing.

Nathan Bransford

Voice, at its most basic level, is the sensibility with which an author writes. It's a perspective, an outlook on the world, a personality and style that is recognizable even out of context. You could drop randomly into a David Sedaris story or an Ernest Hemingway novel and probably guess the author within a few paragraphs because they have strong, unique voices. An author's voice is often imitated (think: Tolkien), but a truly original voice can never be duplicated.

Essential elements

  • recognizable style
  • personality of its own with a discernable tone and outlook
  • consistency--”A good voice is never lost when the plot shifts.
  • moderation – don't overdo it
  • transportation—envelopes the reader within the world of a book; gives a sense of the character of the world
  • authority—the writer is in control; there is sureness to a great voice
  • originality—a good voice is unique and can't be duplicated; but it is extremely contagious
  • authenticity—your voice is in you.

C. Patrick Schulze defines it as, “The distinctive style or manner of expression of an author or of a character in a book.” The phrase I see as most important in this definition is, “distinctive style”. I believe it is the way you, the author within, artistically projects your personality onto the page. It is the combination of tone, syntax or grammar, and the way you combine the words you choos. It is the distinct flavor or personality that reveals itself on the printed page.
  • Write with your heart
  • Write as you might speak to those close to you
  • Visualize your reader--keep them in mind at all times
  • Read widely in all genres
  • Play with your voice
  • Write, write, write and then write some more.
  • Look for patterns in your writing.
  • Fine tune your Voice. Write something, let it sit, review it and highlight those phrases and sentences that appeal to you and strike a memorable chord. Remove everything else. Let it sit again. Review: your voice will be within the remaining phrases.
  • "When it visits, you’ll notice things like sentence length, word choices, metaphors, similes and the like. You’ll see how you turn that proverbial phrase and your natural cadence. In effect, you’ll notice your writing patterns and your voice lies therein. How does one know when they’ve found and matured their voice? It’s when each of your characters has a voice of their own."

Christopher Wills: Can you change your writer's voice?

Yes you can change your writer's voice, just as you can change the way you talk and the way you dance and the way you walk. But to change means you will have to practice and practice and practice, until the new way becomes natural. And then you'll have to practice more and keep practicing in case you slip back into your old ways.

Mary Thompson

One way to discover the strength of your voice is to read back over what you’ve written, underlining the words, phrases, and passages that please you. Spend time reflecting on why you like them. Then write from this springboard – I am a writer who….

Cris Freese

... it is worth noting that the voice of many bestselling authors is as neutral as a national news anchor’s accent. Some say it takes blandness of style to break out; or rather, to rub so few people the wrong way that millions can read the author without any discomfort. My own feeling is that voice is a natural attribute. You no more control it than you can control the color of your eyes—nor would you want to. Plenty of breakout authors have a distinctive voice.

To set your voice free, set your words free. Set your characters free. Most important, set your heart free. It is from the unknowable shadows of your subconscious that your stories will find their drive and from which they will draw their meaning. No one can loan that or teach you that. Your voice is your self in the story.

Richard Nordquist

To find your voice, unless you're a crazy genius, you work your way through a bunch of phases. At one point, I was committed to writing the tightest transitions in the world--every sentence was locked in, like that kind of carpentry that dovetails a joint into the next. . . . Now when I see that, I react so negatively. It seems so phony to me. I had to learn to deconstruct a little bit. As I got more confident and grown-up, I felt that I could keep people paying attention, or bring them back in, not just by locking each sentence to the next but by putting in an aside, like saying, "By the way . . ."

What was happening was, I was moving more towards writing the way I talk. I began to think of writing as being like telling a story at a dinner party, learning to use timing, how much detail to tell, how much not to tell. . . . I was moving toward something that was subtler, a little braver. (Susan Orlean, quoted by Ben Yagoda in The Sound on the Page. HarperCollins, 2004)

Jeff Goins

Jeff gives 10 Steps to Finding Your Writing Voice: several exercises that can help you find your writer's voice. Here are three of my favorites:

  • Read something you’ve recently written, and honestly ask yourself, “Is this something I would read?” If not, you must change your voice.
  • Ask yourself: “Do I enjoy what I’m writing as I’m writing it?” If it feels like work, you may not be writing like yourself. (Caveat: Not every writer loves the act of writing, but it’s at least worth asking.)
  • Pay attention to how you’re feeling. How do you feel before publishing? Afraid? Nervous? Worried? Good. You’re on the right track. If you’re completely calm, then you probably aren’t being vulnerable. Try writing something dangerous, something a little more you. Fear can be good. It motivates you to make your writing matter.

Theo Pauline Nestor

2. Find Your Tribe and Gather Them Around You. Another essential step to finding your voice is locating those writers you truly love and immersing yourself in their work. Both steps -- the finding and the immersing -- involve reading. A lot. Read widely and outside of whatever it is that you believe you are "supposed" to read to be well read, hip, or cultured, and seek the writers who truly excite you. Your list won't look exactly like anyone else's. Because of my interests in first person narrative, the feminist, the comic, and probably the prurient, my lifetime list of writers I've loved happens to include Woody Allen, Anne Lamott, Erma Bombeck, AND Xaviera Hollander. Unless you and I are actually twins separated at birth, I'm guessing that you won't happen to have all those writers on your list.

Chuck Wendig

18. Listen To Your Voice — No, I Mean Your Actual Voice

There lurks an intimate connection between the written word and the spoken word. We pretend it’s not true, as if the written word is somehow higher up in the food chain, somehow more exalted, but that’s a big brass bucket brimming with bullshit. Language exists initially to communicate from person to person — it is born of speech and sound. Words aren’t just symbols: they’re really how we say things. And so it is that your actual voice matters in this regard. Listen to what you say and how you say things: your authorial voice lurks in this. You should endeavor to write at least in part how you speak. By doing that, you capture the essence of how you say things. Related: always read your work out loud.

Helpful References