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:
- Try different genres. Don’t try everything, of course, but choose genres you’ve enjoyed and see how well and easily you can write a few scenes or even a whole manuscript in that voice.
Many writers try several genres before finding one that really fits. Give yourself time and space to discover who you are on the page.
- Pay attention to your stress levels. If you’re extra uptight about turning out that next scene and always dealing with high stress in your writing, it might not be the writing at all but trying to be something you’re not.
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?
- Listen to trusted colleagues and friends. Let others read what you’ve written and invite honest feedback. Ask, “Does this sound like my natural voice? Do you have an idea of what might be a better voice?” You don’t have to take their advice, but if several trusted colleagues and friends converge on a suggestion, it’s worth considering.
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.
- Get over unrealistic expectations. You wanted to be the next Janet Evanovich, but your stories come across more like John Grisham. You wanted to be the next George R.R. Martin, but your voice sounds more like Judy Blume. Get over it.
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.
- Recognize that you can adapt as your voice changes. Just because you write dark now doesn’t mean you’ll write dark forever. Or that funny authors must always be funny. We change and grow in life. Circumstances shape us. Our interests evolve.
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.