When I first began writing novels, I longed to pen my prose like the literary greats I’d read in high school and college. Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, Edgar Allen Poe, Leo Tolstoy, etc. were my beacons of beautiful prose.
But alas, their light flickered on me. Because I couldn’t seem to get two pages in without snark coming out on the page. So much for my lofty plans.
I’m not the only one who wanted or expected a different writing voice.
Too often, we struggle to be the kind of writer we wish we were. We imagine ourselves as the next J.K. Rowling, when world-building isn’t our superpower. We want to write funny books, when we’re at our best telling tissue-soaking tear-jerkers. We try to write juvenile fiction, but our stories sound like they were by a 35-year-old parent—and what kid wants to read that?
Hey, I get the frustration. I was kind of pissed off to find that I wouldn’t be digging deep like Dostoyevsky or rendering romance like a Brontë. But when you fully embrace your natural writing voice, you grow to love it and the writing flows much more easily.
I’m not saying it’s always easy. Even when you’ve embraced your writing voice, it’s real effort to turn out a book. Not to mention a great book, a book that more people than your mother and that reclusive aunt with the seven cats want to read.
But you might be working harder than you need to by avoiding the kind of writer you really are.
Here are five quick tips for discovering your natural writing voice—and embracing it:
Many writers try several genres before finding one that really fits. Give yourself time and space to discover who you are on the page.
Own your feelings and ask tough questions about where your stress is coming from. Is it just the deadline? The usual challenge of writing? Or are you trying to work outside your natural voice?
Very recently, I had my critique partner recommend a new genre for me to try. I balked at first, but when I ran the idea past several colleagues and friends who know me well, they all said something like, “That totally sounds like you.” Thank goodness, because I’ve just started a new, and very exciting, project in the new genre.
Plenty of authors started writing in one genre, then found their voice—and their success—in another. Throw a short pity party if you must, but then dwell on all the great stuff about being exactly the excellent writer you are.
You only have to commit to writing in the voice you have right now. That could change in the future, and knowing that may free you up to embrace your writing voice in the present.
Are you trying to be someone you’re not? Didn’t we all learn the folly of that back in junior high?
Writing is hard enough, so I encourage you to embrace your natural writing voice. Find out what it is, and then run with it. Like you’re running with scissors! It’s an adventure to write with your natural voice. So many possibilities will come to light. And your audience will benefit from reading what you uniquely offer on the page.
Do you feel like you've found your natural voice? If so, what helped you get there? What helps you keep it going strong?
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Julie Glover writes young adult—and possibly humorous mystery—fiction, collects boots, practices rampant sarcasm, and advocates for the interrobang. Her YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, finaled in the 2015 RWA® Golden Heart®. She teaches courses on YA characters and grammar and is represented by Louise Fury of The Bent Agency.
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Still finding mine. Good post
Yes, I think for many it takes time. And you need to embrace that process too. Thanks!
Great post, Julie. I've always liked Allen Ginsberg's quote: “To gain your own voice, forget about having it heard." It's cool, but kind of unhelpful. I mean, how do you DO that? It's like not thinking about an elephant, right?
The above is much more helpful. Thanks.
Thank you, Laura! And geez, I love your writing voice. So glad you embraced it!
Right? That Allen Ginsberg quote always left me scratching my head. My favorite was from Stephen J. Cannell: "Pretend you're sitting in a coffee shop, telling your story to your BFF. THAT'S your voice." And that's what has always made the most sense to me. Then it makes sense that sometimes it's lighter, and sometimes it's darker, but it always always sounds like YOU.
I've never heard that one, Jenny - I LOVE it! And, of course, your funny, emotional, snarky voice.
Sweet girl. 🙂
Thanks for the post. I gave a talk at a local library a few years ago. One of the women in the audience came up to me afterward and said, "You write just like you talk." And that's my voice. If I struggle with finding the right word, the right turn of phrase, it's usually not "me" on the page. Of course, it should never be "me" on the page--it's the characters who are talking, but when the words flow, I know we're working together.
I love that thought: "...when the words flow, I knew we're working together." What a great way to think of it!
Great post, "Be true to thyself" comes to mind.
Yep! And because I'm snarky, my mind immediately went to Madonna lyrics: "True blue, baby, I love you..." Lol.
Good post. I'm still searching. I usually try to write what I like which is in part, romantic comedy, but I fear I have to much dark angst to pull that off. Lately, I've been considering a dark, dystopic sci fi/fantasy, but that may just be current events influencing my choices. I know I've hit on something that works when the characters tell me where the scene is headed rather than trying to force them to perform. That's when writing is enjoyable.
I love that you're experimenting! And yes, when the writing feels particularly enjoyable, you know you've hit on something. For instance, I love reading a great historical, but when I try to write that it, it's like pulling-teeth...by a sadistic dentist. When I write to my voice, it's (mostly) enjoyable.
Love this post, Julie. I'm working on a new writing project (YA / New Adult magical realism) that's within the same "umbrella" genre as my previous manuscript (YA epic fantasy), but has very different requirements and writing style. And as much as I love reading straight-up high fantasy, I've found that I feel more at home with the new project. I feel like it's more... me, especially when it comes to voice. It's funny, because while I enjoy most of the magical realism books I've read, I had never considered writing it until two months ago.
Thanks for writing this. 🙂
Yay! I'm so glad you're finding a great fit. And yeah, the new project I'm working is a genre I've read for years, but never thought much about writing in before. All the best with your WIP!
Finding my voice is still a WIP. The first discovery for me was I have different voices. Yep, as a grandmother I found a children's book voice, and as a woman who's seen a lot of life, I found a dark voice. LOL Who knew. Good post. Gonna reblog.
That's a great point! Some people write very successfully in more than one genre, because they can tailor their voice well to each. Enjoy!
I love this post Julie 🙂 When I sent out my first novel (a murder mystery) for beta read, one person cautiously asked if I meant it to be funny. Before reacting I asked her why. She replied that while reading it she laughed out loud several times. Initially I thought I should re-write those scenes but then realized that it was just 'my voice' developing and also the reader relating to the characters. It's quite an epiphany when an author finds her voice!
The answer to "I laughed out loud, so is this supposed to be funny?" is "It is now." 😉 Thanks for sharing your journey! Sounds like you embraced your voice with a big bear hug.
Thanks for this, Julie. for the past two months I've been struggling with the final revision of my first book. When I started it, I wanted to write a YA SF with romantic elements. Turns out, to flesh out the character arcs, it's become more of a romance and now, it's much easier to revise. I may not be a traditional romance author, but all my stories are about two people who end up in love.
Oh--Your handmade cards are "in the box"! I'm not good about getting to the post office, but they should get off soon. And there are a dozen of my favorites, instead of six, since you had to wait so long!
Fae, I'm so delighted to hear that someone else is as bad at getting to the post office as I am! Your comment totally made my day. 🙂
It's funny how our genre plans can morph once we start writing! But how lovely that you didn't fight it but found your voice.
And I love your cards! Thanks so much.
Great post, Julie! I have finally found my voice by blogging on a regular basis. What a freeing experience it has been! I want to write historical novels, so now I'm eager to see how my sense of humor and compassion come out in novel writing.
Thanks, Janet! That's a great point, that blogging can help us find our natural voice. Sometimes we fight that on our blog, but if we just get conversational it's easier on us and our blog readers. Best wishes with the historicals!
Julie, I'm with Janet. Blogging was how I found my voice. That regular schedule (although not as much lately) and the More Cowbell Posse were what brought the true Jenny-writer out to play. 🙂
Oh, I love your voice. Can't wait to find your novel on the bookshelves, because I know your audience is out there! And More Cowbell? So much fun.
Yay, one more on the 'prod - er - encourage Jenny to the finish line' club!
I had a good editor who would give me useful tips
Yes, a great editor can help us laser in on our voice.
I wanted to write fantasy. I love Terry Pratchett and wanted to be able to bring humour and insight and magic to the page. What'chya gonna do. You can't be what you're not. Luckily my inner child runs strong in me and YA is a natural fit.
Yep. At some point you realize that you can adore those other writers for what they are and adore your own writing for what it is!
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Wonderful tips, Julie. Thanks for sharing these. I've shared the post online. Finding your natural voice is one of the most difficult things a writer needs to do. I always thought my voice was the humorous tone of a mother of five kids. But that can't relate in many stories. I need to be true to each character I create.
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