Voice is that nebulous, often hard-to-define concept that makes your writing sing. At its core, voice reflects the unique lens through with you see the world. Like Neil Gaiman once said, “The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision.” We’ve all heard the old adage that every story has already been told. Editors and agents read hundreds of queries every month, many pitching stories with similar concepts to yours. The only thing you have that nobody on earth can replicate is the unique combination of life experience and DNA that you alone possess. Your voice should come from this deep-down, irreproducible place.
So how do you find your unique voice? Here are a few tips that have helped me along the way:
1. It’s okay to fake it till you make it. Most writers start out imitating the voice of a favorite author. In second grade, I won a writing contest with what I’m pretty sure was a complete knock-off of Roald Dahl’s “The Landlady.” That’s okay. Just keep writing until you become comfortable enough with the process to let your unique voice shine through. Even after you’ve become an established writer, you voice will continue to change as you build life experience and write different/more challenging stories.
2. Forget about the rules. Keeping too many rules in mind while you write can stifle your creativity. Don’t put your voice, your most powerful asset, in a cage! Write whatever you want, however you want and rein it in during the revision process.
3. Think about who you are at your core. Yes, this is a lot like psychoanalysis, but don’t be afraid to be your own shrink. Unraveling all the wonderful, disturbing, crunchy layers that make you you may hurt, but it will also help you be more honest in your writing. For me, writing is the only time when I feel comfortable being completely honest about myself (even when my writing technically has nothing to do with me). Don’t worry about fitting social or genre norms, just write!
4. Read a lot. It might seem counterintuitive to read other people’s work to improve your unique voice, but it makes sense. You have to read a lot to be a good writer. And you have to be a good writer in order for your voice to shine through. The same way that artists undergo years of training to produce works that appear effortless, writers who master the basics will have an easier time capturing their voice on the page.