How To Find Your Writing Voice
This is a guest post by Lydia Athanasopoulou. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.
Putting yourself out there as a first-time blogger is not an easy thing. In fact, it almost feels like being caught in the headlights of an on-coming car. Your work is out in the open and subject to public opinion and all you can do is sit there, frozen in your seat, worrying about what’s going to happen next.
This often happens with new writers who are struggling to find their place in the vast on-line market. In an effort to try and satisfy other people’s expectations, they conform to standards and end up writing about ‘safe’ and boring topics. And in their attempt to try and impress with how professional and smart they are, they get caught up in long, difficult words and complex concepts. Of course, without a distinct writing voice, none of this makes for very good reading.
And this is because finding your writing voice isn’t about knowing the English Oxford Dictionary off by heart, or having five degrees in English literature, journalism, creative writing, social studies and history. If you run through your list of favourite writers, chances are that at least one of them was a drunken sociopath with minimum education. And yet their writing still captures you like a thief in the night.
So what is a writing voice? How does one find it?
Well, your writing voice is like your real life voice. It has intensity, a tone and a tempo. And just like with your real voice, the qualities of your writing voice depend on the situation. Different conditions make us speak in different ways.
For example, people who know me well, know that most of the time I’m a passionate and enthusiastic speaker. If, however, I’m frustrated or disappointed I’ll speak in a snappy, irritable voice and make sarcastic comments. I’m still the same person, it’s just my voice conveys different facades of myself each time.
Similarly, if you have to write a letter of complaint to your bank, it will sound very different to a letter you wrote to a friend or family member living in another country. You’re still the same person; you just take on different roles each time.
And that’s OK, it’s half the point. I doubt I’d enjoy writing so much if it weren’t for all the diverse characters i can take on. It’s a bit like acting. You can use contrasting voices, experiment with different styles, characters and moods and discover which ones suit you most.
So, why are you writing? And who are you writing for?
You can ask any kind of writer, from a political news analyst, to a fashion editor and from a advertising copy boy to a songwriter, ultimately they’ll all tell you the same thing: it’s about getting the message across.
While you definitely want your readers to understand what you’re writing about, you also want them to enjoy reading it. Your distinctive writing voice is the secret. Let your real voice be heard and your unique character will shine through.
Yes, it helps to have a particular audience in mind and yes, having a purpose to your writing is critical. But You must also enjoy what you write. And the more you enjoy writing, the stronger your voice will be heard.
So, how can you find your unique writing voice? Here are a few tips:
1. Write every day. The more you write, the more you’ll untangle your web of thoughts. Even if it’s just a paragraph on something random; something that got you angry or excited. It’s as therapeutic as it is beneficial. Because each time you write and filter your brain, the closer you get to what you really mean to say.
2. Read every day. Whether it’s the local free press, a promotional flyer or a yachting magazine; you never know where inspiration might be lurking. Read the papers and listen to the radio; watch the news, read album and film reviews, scan women’s magazines and scientific publications. Explore the many topics and styles and broaden your horizons as a reader to improve your abilities as a writer.
3. Imitate your heroes. There’s a reason why you enjoy your favourite authors so much. They have the ability to teleport you into a world of their own and you can clearly sense them up there in the corner of your mind, like a ghost narrator, as his words spring from the page and the images manifest in front of your eyes. Capture your own sensation and let it drive you. If there are certain techniques, styles and forms you find thrilling, then adapt them to your own work.
4. Write in different voices. Imagine there was a murder. Write a paragraph about it using different characters and view points. For example, write as if you are the victim, minutes before your death. Then write as if you are the killer and you’ve just left the scene of the crime. Then you could pretend to be the police officer getting a report from the 80-year-old neighbour next door who heard the racket. Then pretend to be that elderly neighbour. The idea is to become more flexible, while simultaneously getting closer to your own voice through experimentation.
5. Write from different locations. This doesn’t work for all writers. Some people can’t get into their zone if they don’t write from a particular spot, like part of a ritual. Others find it liberating to write from all over the place, as it can work as a tremendous inspiration booster. It could be a cozy coffee shop, a quiet park bench or the local library. I used to drive up to the top of the hill where I used to lived, perch myself on a bench overlooking the city night lights, take out my notebook and release whatever I had inside. There was something about seeing the whole of Athens before me that sort of locked me into a greater state of consciousness. Give it a try and see for yourself. You could come up with some pretty powerful ideas.
6. Make lists. Take note of things you like. Or dislike for that matter. Make lists, themed or otherwise. Like dream jobs, pet peeves, qualities you appreciate in a friend, you own best qualities, secret fears, favourite locations and films. You could try word-clustering, like words that rhyme with ‘fluff’ or all the words you can think of that associate to the concept of “love”. Anything you can think of that might seem useful or meaningful to you in the future.
7. Take risks. Don’t be afraid to challenge convention and push your own boundaries. One of the greatest things about writing is that there’s always room for improvement. Perfectionists like myself know this well as we often spend more time thinking and worrying about our abilities, than we do actually writing. Don’t settle for mediocrity, be brave and take a stand. So what if some people don’t like what you say, or if you conclude that you could have done better? Next time you will. Writing is a learning process and it should be as challenging as it is rewarding. Trust yourself, push yourself, surprise yourself.
8. Write from your gut. If you have poetry uncontrollably whirling inside of you, don’t censor it, let it out! If you write for other people, sooner or later you’ll feel resentment and discontent. Your words will itch under your skin if you don’t let them out. Set them free and let them show you the way. Emily Dickinson once wrote “We never know how high we are – till we are called to rise”. Don’t be scared of your own abilities, give yourself the chance to be brilliant.
9. Throw away nothing. Ok, so not all your work will be prize worthy, that doesn’t mean you have to can everything. You never know when old pieces might come in handy. It could be to have a retrospective, or to dig up an unpublished article or recall a particular idea you had when you were younger. Writing helps us document our personal history. We archive our life by taking note of it. Don’t throw your efforts away. Only when understand the past can we have any hope of understanding the future.
Before you set off to find your own voice, here’s one final thing to remember. Generic, shallow writing and stereotypes are reinforced only when people decide to accept them. This not only lowers the quality bar, it also flattens personal excellence. Rise above and transcend the mainstream. Counter-create something that will opens people’s minds and make the world a better place worth living. There are enough corrupt and deceitful voices out there as it is, all screaming for attention. Don’t let yourself get carried away, sing your own tune.
Write for the soul and edit for the mind.
About the Author: Lydia Athanasopoulou is a professional dreamer, freelance writer and part of the Moneytized network. You can follow more of her writing at Moneytized.com.
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27 Responses to “How To Find Your Writing Voice”
Hi everyone! Sorry this is a late reply,I was on a brief trip to London.
I read all your comments and I must say I’m almost overwhelmed; i never expected so many people to read -and like- it. I deeply appreciate it 🙂
Thanks you all for your words, I agree that keeping a list of ideas (headlines , phrases, titles) is also a very useful tip and one I use all the time. In fact, if I have a good thought or mini revelation (however random) I write it down. 99% of the time I go back to it and use it (or filter it into something I’m working on).
As for positioning yourself, well…it really depends. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t; you could try it and see. I always feel my voice is stronger when i put myself in an environment that i find inspiring.
If I want to write about my city, I’ll go to a downtown cafe. If I want to write about the future, I’ll look out my window and I’m writing about my own emotions I have to stare at a blank wall, whatever helps me get into the zone.
Thank you all again, now that I’m back I can catch up on answering some e-mails! Cheers 😉
I enjoyed reading your article. I recently started a new blog about sales and I’m trying to learn as much as possible about blogging! This post is very usefull, thanks!
I’m one of those who needs to write pretty much in the same place all the time. It isn’t always where I get my best ideas but my disability limits my mobility. It’s annoying to say the least.
I’ve never thought about making lists. I write down phrases sometimes of ideas I want to use but that’s really not the same thing, is it? I’m going to try this one.
Lydia, you have a wonderful writing voice. I hope I can develop mine to your level.
ah, the all mighty list. i admit to being an addict of the list.
one of the reasons i love them is because it helps me clear my head. if i have a list of all the things i have to do in the day, then i don’t stress over forgetting something, because it’s all there.
i feel the same with writing: i jot down ideas and one-liners throughout the day.
and, if you can’t move about much, you could try the following:
– try writing with different types of music on (classical, pop, rock, jazz)
– try writing at different times of day (early in the morning with the sun rise, in the lazy afternoon, at sun set, in the dead of night when everyone is asleep)
– try writing after you’ve taken a nap. lying down, closing your eyes and simply focusing on your own thoughts can be a moment of great clarity and help you re-arrange your thoughts. see how you feel after 20 minutes or half an hour of rest. you might feel relaxed and clam inside; or you could feel excited and ready to go. either way, you’ll experience a difference in your writing 😉
– try writing when you’re angry, or disappointed, or sad. you may not come up with blog material (as it might be highly personal), but it will help you unblock your emotions and let out what is truly on your mind.
best of luck Glynis, you’ll find your writing voice! stay strong!
I really enjoyed your comprehensive post. Iâ€™ve been doing a lot of reading lately but not much writing. Iâ€™m going to try and strike a better balance and get to work producing more.
I like the idea of writing from different perspectives to become more versatile â€“ I think Iâ€™ll start there =)
Enjoyed this post, so much info to think about . I write from my gut quite a bit…I enjoy it but it sometimes makes me feel pretty vulnerable. I push “post” and often think…what did I just do? The feedback I get is good but it’s scary to put yourself out there even though at the time I am writing it all feels so natural. Does this make sense?
i know exactly what you mean about feeling vulnerable. i still feel like that sometimes, but then it’s usually because i know i haven’t done my best, or i haven’t written something i truly believe.
so, that feeling can be a good gauge, because if you write something which is true to you, then chances are you’ll be proud of it!
I love the Idea of Taking Risk
Thanks for spotting this stuff. I like phrase where it says “There’s always room for improvement” and you listed most of the key for a successful writing.
The throw away nothing comment is your best tip on the list. That idea also implies writing down everything you think of throughout the day that could be the foundation of a good post.
Your suggestions for finding your writing voice are excellent. The key is to write a lot and with passion. Then your writing voice will take shape naturally. Thanks!
Beth @ Professional SEO Writer
I think a lot of people get blocked when trying to write because they have a preconceived notion that it is hard to write well. The truth is, if you can talk, you can write. If you find it difficult to write, pretend you are talking to someone and write what you would say. If you still have trouble, try using Dragon Naturally Speaking. Talk into the microphone just as if you were talking to a person and let the computer do the writing.
I enjoyed reading this article very much and your tips are all useful. My blogging is still in the infancy stages (less than one year) and I enjoy hearing from seasoned writers about what works for them.
For me, writing from the gut, as you put it, is by far the one thing that stands out above all other tips. The minute I lose connection to the words I write is the minute that my writing becomes crappy, boring, uninspiring and worst of all…not my truth.
Thanks for the tips!
I think your points 1 and 2 are by far the most important ones. Only through undertaking the process of writing very regularly will you give yourself a feeling of comfort and familiarity that will allow your own voice and style to make itself known to you and start to appear on the page.
Reading every day is also a great help as it continues your education in writing and either consciously or unconsciously, you will pick up words, styles and turns of phrase that can help develop your own style and bring your work to life.
I’ve always found, and been advised, that actively trying to imitate your heroes or any other writer’s style can hamper the development of your own style. I can see the argument you make, but I think it is fraught with risk, especially for someone still trying to establish their own voice. Once you’re happy and confident writing in your own normal style, sure, experiment with other writers’ styles. In the early days though, you’ll pick up elements of other people’s style and voice by osmisos as you keep up your reading.
indeed, complete imitation will hold you back. back i think this works positively in conjunction with the role playing. i often imagine myself to be hunter s. thompson and while i don’t sound anything like him (i wish!), it does help me get into a certain mode i’m after. so combining the imitation with imagination could lead to some pretty personal-boundary pushing 😉
A method that could also work in â€œuninspiredâ€ days is having a â€œstandby listâ€ at hand. This document could contain all article ideas that come into our mind when taking a walk, watching a TV show, reading an interesting book etc… as in case of poets, who note down their ideas to not forget them later.
Great article, Lydia! Congratulations!
IMO if you love writing there’s no need to find a voice it would come naturally. The tips defined here will help in keeping the passion alive.
Writing and reading daily are pre-requisites for any serious writer. Back in College, I practiced playing the guitar for about 2-4 hours daily. And I improved after dong that for a few weeks. Same thing goes for writing. If we keep practicing and honing our skills, we also improve over time. 🙂
mighty right! funnily enough, my summer plan is to start learning the guitar! he he! let’s see how it goes!
Enjoyed the post. I do have my own writing voice. Which is more often than not aggressive. But what-so-ever you have got uniqueness, you’ve got to change no thing but only to improve as what you are. I mean being aggressive ain’t a problem at all. Rather, be aggressive but don’t hurt an ant. That goes well, I suppose. Right? 😉
yeap, improving on what you are sounds about right. and yes, as long as you harm no one and blog with noble and honest intentions, your voice could be valuable to someone. 😉
Mani Viswanathan @ DailyBlogging
I prefer writing what I feel like or what I want to share with my readers/visitors. Also, it’s imp. to not look into the metrics when you are writing a post.
indeed, checking your analytics too much can just make you unnecessarily paranoid – best focus on the job at hand, always aiming to do your best
I really enjoyed your comprehensive post. I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately but not much writing. I’m going to try and strike a better balance and get to work producing more.
I like the idea of writing from different perspectives to become more versatile – I think I’ll start there =)
well Jerry, reading is also part of what being a writer is all about. reading newspapers, listening to the radio, watching TV, even just staring out the window for an hour, all these things are considered work. because if you don’t update your own brain, eventually your own ideas will shrivel up and become boring. so don’t worry if you read a bit more than you write at the moment, you’ll get the hang of it soon enough.
as for your perspectives, it can be quite fun actually. i especially enjoy it when i pour a glass of wine, stare down on the world from my balcony and get into my stalter & waldorf perspective 😉
Kevin @ ChangeTheWorld.me
It’s important to develop a writing voice because it distinguishes you from your competition and becomes a sort of personal brand. Recently the author of a blog that I have been reading for years has started using a ghost writer and even though the posts are formatted the same I could tell almost immediately from the tone or voice of the new author.
Justin | Mazzastick
I started out as well by writing about “safe” topics. The fact is if it is not interesting or cutting edge no one will follow your blog.
I have been wanting to take my laptop to a coffee shop and write from there. Must do this soon.
i hope you had a creative and productive day at the coffee shop 🙂 it definitely helps if you want to suck up some people action!
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