Developing your voice is one of the most important steps to becoming a writer, but the idea of a writing voice can be difficult to understand.


On the surface, it seems like a thing to cultivate, practice, and emulate. But the problem with this idea is that it places that voice outside of yourself, something to capture or attain. But your writing voice is a full embrace of yourself. Your unique experience, culture, background, perspective, and opinions.

So how do you embrace yourself, warts and all, to cultivate your voice as a writer? 


If you want to be a writer of any kind, then, of course, you must write! But only perfect practice makes perfect, so it's important to also read as much as possible! Recognize the authors and writing you enjoy reading, as well as the type of writing you enjoy writing. These might not be the same thing. Ask yourself why you enjoy these things. Subsequently, ask yourself what it is you do not enjoy! Knowing your preferences in both reading and writing can help you determine your voice. Bonus points for performing your writing!


"Narrative voice is your literary aura, your essence, the thing that allows writers the world over to write about the same topics in thrillingly different ways. Even though it's yours, your voice can take a long, long time to find. Postcollege, I spent two years trying to write like Raymond Carver. Raymond Carver I am not. But I got it into my head that this is what serious writing sounded like: alcoholic, importantly mundane. It was depressing to try to write like this, but the shorter my sentences got, the more I felt like I was approaching publication somewhere really big. It took me hundreds of rejections to give myself permission to dance like no one was watching - clearly, no one was. I embraced my inner freak and incorporated humor into my writing. And I started getting published." 

This idea of embracing yourself in order to develop your voice, rather than emulating it, transcends all art, not just the literary kind. A friend once told me that all it takes to act is to have the ability to lie. This is a huge misunderstanding of acting, or art in general. The truest art, the kind that resonates, affects us with a feeling that lingers long after we have left, is created not with masks or emulation, but with unabashed honesty. 

Here's a quick exercise to help you determine your individuality:

1. Describe yourself in three adjectives
Take a look at some of your writing. Is it humorous? Aspirational? Clinical? Dark? Write down three words that you feel describe you and your writing style.

2. Ask others to describe you in three adjectives
It's often hard to see yourself as others do. Ask friends, family, and even strangers if you feel bold to describe yourself. 

3. Write three adjectives that describe your favorite writers
Often, we're attracted to certain writers and writing styles because they resonate with us in some way. Ask yourself why you like these writers or styles. 

Now look at this list of nine adjectives. Notice any similarities? Any glaring differences or words that feel strange, shocking, or not quite accurate to you? 

Pay attention to which words resonate with you, and which do not. Then, most importantly, ask yourself why. An adjective that shocks you might just be the part of yourself to explore through your writing! By doing this broad analysis of yourself, you can pinpoint those qualities that make you unique!

"You are a very special person. There is only one like you in the whole world. There's never been anyone exactly like you before, and there will never be again. Only you." 

- Fred Rogers

Yes, it's advice from a children's show, but it's true! There is no one in the world with your unique life experiences, perspective, and personality. And yes, celebrating your uniqueness can be hard to do! It's hard to put your true self out into the world. It's scary! People may judge you! This is one reason it can be so difficult to hone your writing voice. But it is vitally important because not owning your authentic self in your writing will always keep your reader at a distance. 

Here is an old actor mantra (popularized by the new Barbie movie) that is useful for honing into a role before an audition: 

I am enough.

It's a powerful mantra, and it can be a powerful guiding principle for artists and writers alike. While it's easy to shoehorn yourself into the role, try to be the 'Jennifer Aniston' type listed in the scene breakdown, adopt the wizened tone of Ralph Waldo Emerson, or emulate the comedic timing of your favorite comedian, the real key to artistic voice is to embrace who you are as a person, as a presence, as a human being. To know the motivation behind the story you are telling and to bring yourself to it as fully as possible. You might be the right fit for the job, for the viewer, for the reader. Or you might not. But regardless of the outcome, you will have been honest and truthful. 

You will have been enough. 


Much like the background music can change the vibe of a movie (E.T. as a 90s sitcom anyone?), genre can influence voice, as well as the tone, mood, and style. The genre of any story sets up expectations for the reader. For instance, thrillers might have a frenetic, fast-paced tone. They might include short sentences and lots of action verbs. Romance might feel lofty or emotional. A coming-of-age YA may be angsty and intense, full of slang and pop culture references.

To illustrate how voice can be influenced by genre, imagine you see your next-door neighbor on the street outside of your house. Brainstorm the different things you might say to greet them if:

        • you just won the lottery
        • your cat just ran away
        • you suspect they poisoned the hedge between your properties
        • you have a secret crush on them
        • You are 10 years old
The circumstances behind the greeting can be likened to the genre. The way you might write these scenarios is unique to you. This is your writer's voice. Understanding genre provides the framework for the story - sets the stage, so to speak, but it's the writer's unique voice that brings that story to life! 

Finding your voice as a writer isn't done by copying the sentence structure of Charlotte Bronte, Stephen King, or Margaret Atwood. It is understanding the story you are telling and then telling it with the truth and view that is unique to you. It is embracing yourself as a writer, claiming your voice, and believing that you are enough. 

Looking for a fast and easy way to craft a broad story structure?

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