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How to Find Your “Voice”
Voice is one of the most ambiguous, confusing, and highly sought after elements of writing. “How do I find my voice?” is a common question of young writers. And one that even experienced authors aren’t always quite sure how to answer. Everyone seems to have his own opinion on just what voice is. Is it our subject matter? Is it the way we construct sentences? Is it the instinctive tenor of our words—or is it something we have to learn? Your voice is something that is inherently you. It’s rather like a literary fingerprint. No one of us, no matter how similar our personalities or geographical or social upbringing, will ever put words on paper in exactly the same order. There will never be a second Hemingway (though many lit students like to attempt it), a second Austen, or a second Vonnegut. Even better, there will never be a second you. Therefore, the answer to whether or not voice is something you can learn is both yes and no. Yes, in that your voice will change, mature, and sharpen as you study and grow in the craft. No, in that it is something inborn within all of us. Katherine Anne Porter wrote, “You do not create style. You work and develop yourself; your style is an emanation of your own being.” In light of this inherency, it’s surprising how many young authors worry about finding their voices. Many of us go through growing spurts in which we attempt to shape our writing to the pattern of one of the masters—and therefore try to force our own styles to conform to his. We think that if we can learn what worked in the voices of classic writers, we can reach the same level of success. But the best and truest way to find success is to embrace our own voices. Allen Ginsberg and Janet Burroway, respectively, agreed:
To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard. Renounce that and you get your own voice automatically. Try to become a saint of your own province and your own consciousness, and you won’t worry about being heard in The New York Times. Voice and point of view are closely intertwined; therefore, it’s the hardest thing to teach. What I mainly do is say, “Don’t worry about it. Don’t look for your voice; just say things as clearly and as vividly as you can say them, and that will be your voice. To first discover your voice and then perfect it, the best thing you can do is simply tackle writing head on. Start putting words on paper, start figuring out what works and what doesn’t. But, more than anything, be true to yourself. Dig down inside and don’t put your fingers to the keyboard until you can write from a place of deep honesty. If you can read back over what you’ve written at the end of the page and admit that every word of it is you, then allow me to congratulate you. You’ve found your voice.
About the Author: K.M. Weiland grew up chasing Billy the Kid and Jesse James on horseback through the sand hills of western Nebraska, where she still lives. A lifelong fan of history and the power of the written word, she enjoys sharing both through her many fictional stories and her novel, A Man Called Outlaw. Visit her blogs Wordplay and AuthorCulture to read her take on the writing life.
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